Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Sticker Shock, Part Two

Last week, we talked about the dichotomy between authors pleas to buy new and a reader’s desire to get the most books for her money. The problem isn’t with the authors and the readers. It is the publishers’ desire to make money without regard for anything else. Publishing houses used to focus on the content rather than the bottom line. Now its all about the bottom line. There isn’t really anything wrong with having that motivation. The problem is that within the romance genre lines are failing, good authors are being pushed out, print runs are diminishing, and readers are becoming disenchanted.

Maribeth was frank in her response to the authors:

Forgive the langauge, but bullshit. . . Find me a good, solid author with consistent ‘sink into it’ writing and maybe I’ll buy you. Otherwise… no can do… you can wait.

Bev was so disturbed, she blogged about it. Twice.

Ironically, it’s the midlist and and new authors who are being bought at the used bookstores.

Wendy noted:

The UBS is reserved for authors I want to try, or again, authors on my “close to getting dropped” list.

The publishers are the ones who control the market to a large degree. I believe that if the publishers were more careful in shepherding the market, the genre would be stronger. Is it possible that the western is failing because no one is writing good westerns rather than the fact that readers don’t want westerns?

Rosie commented:

This problem isn’t all about the readers. I think it is also about the publishers, promotion and the sheer number of books out there.

Publishers’ desire to make money above all else is pushing readers out of the market. According to School Library Journal, average book prices have increased by more than 35 percent in the last 20 years. R.R. Bowker, an industry player devoted to studying and reporting book publishing trends, reported that mass market paperback fiction has increased by 328 percent from 1975 to 2000. Adjusting for inflation, the average mass market has gone up almost 40%. In a Publisher’s Weekly article, the justification for the price increases were due to the slow growth or actual decline in mass market books.

As Salon.com correctly notes, however, it isn’t the increase in paperback fiction that is killing us (although at $7-8 per pop it certainly helps). Indeed, the greater culprit to the book buying crisis is the rise of the trade paperback. The average trade sells for $12 – $16 and sells well. The baby boomer generation who bought mass markets in droves have moved onto the trade and the hardcover and left the mass market faltering. Younger readers are not replacing the departing baby boomers. Publishers acknowledge that the margins for trades are much higher than that for mass markets. This is supported by a fascinating series of posts by Anna Louise, a Tor staffer.

Tara Marie said:

I simply can’t afford it. I buy 10-20 new books a month and usually those are new releases that I “must” have. I order just about everything through a local UBS/Indie bookseller, but if I see something I was planning on buying new already on the used shelf, I’m saving my pennies and buying it used, especially if it’s a new to me author or a trade paperback.

Michael Cader, the creator of Publisher’s Lunch, argues that prices must come down due to inversely proportional rise in book production versus the decrease in volume sold. Zebra was the first publisher I saw to offer a special below $5.00 pricing for books. It releases one book a month at a $3.99 price point. Simonsays offers its ebooks at 40% off.

But the overall cost of books, whether it be from rising mass market prices or from the increased number of books published in the trade and paperback format, does drive down the number of books bought and decreases the chances I will take on new authors.

I am forced to buy less new and more used. Further, I am contributing to the used market at a greater rate. When, in the past, I would have kept most of my books, I am now selling most book soon after I read it on half.com. Jayne makes regular use of her used bookstore. Several readers take advantage of paperbackswap. All of the aforementioned reader practices negatively impact all authors, regardless of rank at the publishing house.

With ebooks the pricing can even be more frustrating. Why should we pay near $7.00 for an ebook when there are virtually no distribution costs, no warehousing costs, no paper costs, no binding costs, and no chance for return or resale? Further, word counts on ebooks can be shockingly low for the prices you pay. (Look for a rant on this topic in a couple Sundays).

With rising prices, a stagnant economy, what will publishers do to meet our needs? Probably nothing. Which means lower sell through numbers for the mid-list. Less publisher’s taking chances on new authors or new genres. A tightening of the variety of the marketplace as each publisher tries to capatilize on the next best thing. Romantic military suspense dead. Long live the paranormal. Paranormal dead. Long live the erotica. etc. etc. I don’t really have a concrete answer for what is happening. I do know that I have to rely more and more on alternative sources to fulfill my reading needs rather than buying retail. I recognize that those buying actions only serve to feed the vicious publishing cycle but what is a reader to do these days?

I would like to think that ebooks can be the answer. Low margins, no distribution costs. But until the Tower of eBabel is resolved. Until a decently priced and easy to use ebook Reader is sold. Until publishers start charging reasonable prices for those ebooks (like Simon & Schuster). Until . . . well, I just don’t see that happening anytime soon so authors prepare yourself to write better, write more, or not write at all. And readers get ready for higher book prices, more trade paperbacks, loss of favorite authors, more of the same and less of what you want.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

33 Comments

  1. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 08:30:28

    I’ve never felt publishers are ONLY interested in the bottom line. I would agree that they’re VERY interested in it. If a publishing house doesn’t make a profit, they will–eventually–have to shut the doors. Which narrows the field for writers and readers.

    Having said that, I’ll add I’ve never had a problem with buying used. Not now, nor back in the day. Readers’ choice, and often driven by volume read or simple economics. Besides, the book was bought at some time, paid for, and is now the property of the purchaser who can do whatever he or she likes with it.

    I would also agree that buying largely–or in some cases only–used can put the squeeze on a new author or a mid-list author. BUT if that new or mid-list author delivers some serious goods, it’s very, very likely that the next time out more readers will buy new, because they simply won’t want to wait. It’s always worked that way.

    Above all, I don’t think posters here, or on other internet sites, are the average reader. You guys are above average. You read more books than the average Jane, and you are more demanding–and I mean that as a compliment–of the books you read. There are scores and scads of readers out there who routinely or most often buy new. They just don’t buy as many as they don’t have your thirst.

    Lastly, though it may be an unpopular stand with some of my peers, I don’t think it’s the author’s place to push the reader to buy new, or to expect the reader to care overmuch about how the author earns her living. The reader is interested in the story, not the author’s career. Then again, if the reader is going to complain and blame the publisher–or anyone–when a particular author isn’t picked up, or her career flounders because of low sales, she should understand part of the reason might be the book(s) didn’t have a strong sell through.

    I simply have to doubt that the used book market plays a defining role in that event. It can and will cut into sales, but I can’t believe it will shoot them down into the red. It takes more than this one avenue for that. IMO.

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  2. Jenny
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 09:18:18

    Nora, you’ve been on my mind lately as I’ve been glomming the Eve Dallas series. I just love the way Eve and Roarke’s relationship develops! I kind of agree with you because the majority of readers who buy used are not likely to buy those books new in the first place. The used market like the library helps to sustain the love for reading and enables readers to discover authors they would otherwise not take a chance on. If they discover a keeper author, you can bet they’re going to buy new the next time. Even if they did not buy new, they may recommend the books to their network of friends and relatives who may buy new. Readers would always buy new when they think the author is value for their money and they can afford it.

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  3. Bev (BB)
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 11:12:07

    Ironically, it’s the midlist and and new authors who are being bought at the used bookstores.

    Well, hmmm. I’m not sure this is true. At least it isn’t for me. I’m much more likely to discover and pick up new-to-me authors at Kroger or Walmart and use the UBS for hunting down backlists of tried and true authors, particularly those that I’m wavering on continuing neverending series with. That doesn’t mean I won’t pick up current auto-buy “absolutely must have NOW” books by favorite authors the minute I see them. It just means I pick and chose and sometimes I pass and wait.

    But then I live in a not metropolitan area and the UBS are almost as scarse as the new ones, so quick surveys of those supermarket shelves are my routine source of new books. Those and Amazon.com.

    And speaking of Amazon, last week I got my eBookwise reader and when I browsed the eBookwise catalog the first book I snapped up automatically was Stephanie Laurens newest, released September 2006.

    The print mass market of By Distraction is listed on Amazon for $7.99.

    eBookwise is selling the electronic version for $4.

    Put it this way, if that’s a continuing trend, I may’ve found a new place to buy some of those new books, particular since I’m one of those readers that likes Avon and it looks like a lot of their authors are there. New and a lot cheaper than even at the supermarket discounts.

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  4. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 11:27:25

    Fascinating — great links, too, especially to the PW article and Anna Louise’s posts.

    Here’s my question that hopefully someone can answer. Whatever is happening from the publishers end with trade, etc., their measure of success is sales numbers. So who is buying these books? Who is keeping some authors on the racks and causing other authors to be dumped? Obviously the publisher is making those decisions, but if the bottom line is profit, readers are driving some of this process. So who are they and how is it that I’m still surprised by the sheer NUMBERS of MM Romances being published, even though I am reading only a tiny fraction of those books, and apparently not always the same ones that keep certain authors in contract? And DO the most talented authors really float to the top? Really? Sometimes I feel like publishers basically throw a bunch of authors at the wall of the market, and whoever sticks gets picked up. But unlike pasta, who knows what makes certain authors stick, and since publishers are not likely to produce FEWER and BETTER books, how is it that publishers continue to think they’re letting readers drive the market?

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  5. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 11:29:09

    Oh, and I’m still haunted by a comment Liz Carlyle made recently in an interview on the Book Bitches blog, in which she says that “the market” forced her to write shorter less complex books, because her longer more complex ones weren’t selling. So if authors are supposed to write “better” books, who’s setting the bar, and why does it seem to be dropping instead of rising?

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  6. May
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 11:46:50

    Cader’s argument is one I agree with. Simple supply and demand economics: If supply is increasing, then the price should fall.

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  7. Bev (BB)
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 11:52:22

    I need to correct/add something to my last comment because I was just checking again at eBookwise and apparently the $4 price on the Laurens book was a pre-release special. It’s now listed as $6.79 – 15% discount on $7.99, which is either comparable or not as good as the supermarket discounts. Still I doubt it was a one time thing so if a reader is actively watching for their favorites, they can get some really good deals. I just find it fascinating that they could even do that at all.

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  8. Keishon
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 12:14:16

    While browsing used bookstores, no new authors are rarely there. If readers aren’t buying them at the bookstore, they won’t show up at the used bookstore. It’s your more popular titles by Nora Roberts, Diana Palmer, Danielle Steele and others who take up three to four rows of used bookstore shelves. But’s it’s just as many of their books sitting on the bookstore shelves as well. As I’ve mentioned on my blog, I buy new when it’s an author I really enjoy reading – no question. Hardcover, trade, it doesn’t matter to me but I know there are readers who strictly buy used because they can’t afford to buy new. I remember running into a reader who had bought a Lisa Kleypas title used (Then Came You) and when to Barnes and Noble and bought a new copy.

    Whatever the arguements – it’s not a simple answer from what I can see. Quality writers don’t have the audience but who are quality writers? Every reader has different tastes, different interests and different economics.

    I’m oft reminded that publishing is a business because many of the writers I enjoy like Roberta Gellis’s medieval series wasn’t picked up by her publisher and I bought all of her books new. No matter. It’s a fustrating business no matter how you look at it, divide it up and analyze it. There seems to be no clear answer to the decline in sales to me.

    Just my two cents. Carry on.

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  9. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 12:18:43

    ~how is it that publishers continue to think they’re letting readers drive the market?~

    Because, essentially, they do. I’ll go back to what I said about posters here and on other internet sites not being the average reader. How many book buyers/readers post on these sites? Let’s be generous and say 50,000. That’s not even a fraction of the book-buying public out there–the SAH moms or the busy lawyers, the retired grandmas, etc, etc who REGULARLY buy books. There are literally millions of readers out there who don’t use the net, don’t post or lurk. Many, many of them might (and obviously do) enjoy certain authors or styles that the majority of posters don’t. A big chunk of them can afford to buy new, and do. Like I did way back when, a lot of them likely pick up a book or two at the grocery store, or on a trip to the mall, or while cruising Wal-Mart.

    And if a lot of those book people weren’t buying a particular author or particular type of book, sales would drop, and the publisher would have to switch gears. If bottom line is vital–and it is–who brings in that bottom line if not the reader who’s buying the book?

    If Amazon is only about 5% of sales, I’d venture to say, even with the voracious readers here, the proportion of sales on any particular book from the internet world is about the same–new anyway. Even the readers here don’t agree on what they like–book or style.

    On one hand, I often see it said that pubishers jump on the bandwagon–paranormal, erotica, chick lit, whatever’s going around at the time, then the genre often becomes glutted until the reader looks somewhere else, and the cycle continues. I believe this is exactly so.

    Publishers don’t toss a group of authors out there to see which one sticks. It’s hard to sell a book. It’s harder yet to build a readership–and for the publisher to build an author. Every time a book’s published (or certainly the vast majority of the time) it’s with the hope that the book WILL sell, the author will build and everyone makes money. Can’t do that if the bulk of the book buying public isn’t satisfied. Just can’t.

    You may not be. Believe me, there are times I’m not. I’m not a big fan of chick-lit (sorry) and only like romantic comedy now and again–and it best not be Lucy-Desi style, or I’m gone. Still, for awhile it seemed that’s almost all I could find out there. Lots of people are willing to buy the book–or books–you and I don’t particularly want to read.

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  10. Jenny
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 13:02:06

    Keishon, that reader you ran into sounds just like me. I first discovered Kleypas through a battered used copy of Then Came You 12 years ago and just had to get a new copy. I’ve been buying her new ever since.

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  11. Jenny
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 13:11:37

    Robin, was your comment about “sheer numbers” of MM with reference to epublishers or traditional publishers? I do read MM and know it’s a fairly popular niche in the ebook market but haven’t noticed a significant rise in MM titles in the print market or perhaps I’m missing something.

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  12. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 13:21:46

    Robin, was your comment about “sheer numbers" of MM with reference to epublishers or traditional publishers? I do read MM and know it’s a fairly popular niche in the ebook market but haven’t noticed a significant rise in MM titles in the print market or perhaps I’m missing something.

    I wasn’t really making a distinction as to ebook or trad publishers, only commenting on the fact that from where I sit, there just seem to be so many MM paperbacks produced — all tolled, that is, when you factor in all the category Romance and all the different sub genres of single-title Romance. In other words, outside of the small, small slice of books we often discuss online, there just seem to be tons of actual books produced, and it makes me wonder who’s reading all of them?

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  13. Jane
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 13:33:46

    While I agree that there a many readers not on the internet, I think that number is decreasing daily. And I think the “new” readers that publishers are trying to capture ARE on the internet. Harper Collins has posted record profits each year for the last eight years since Jane Friedman took the helm.

    Harper Collins is going “e” in a big way. Friedman has pledged to digitize the entire back and front list of its authors. Avon is engaging in more and more online intiatives (the FanLit and the TeenLit competitions). Given Friedman’s past success, it seems clear to me that she believes the future for Harper Collins includes e publishing in some major aspect.

    What I would like to see happen is for ebooks to take off like IPOD/ITUNES because it allows a greater market for those “misses.” Perhaps I am just a cockeyed optimist, but epublishing can provide for readers what major publishing houses can’t.

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  14. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:03:13

    While I agree that there a many readers not on the internet, I think that number is decreasing daily. And I think the “new" readers that publishers are trying to capture ARE on the internet.

    My take on this is that the rise of the Internet readership has exposed the fallacy of the “average reader” as the RWA, for example, has been content to represent her in their publicity materials. I’ll never forget a couple of years ago when the RWA announced in their press packet that the number one quality women readers wanted in their heroes was — get this — MUSCLES! Had I not already doubted the accuracy and comphrensiveness of their research, that would have done it for me.

    Perhaps there are several identifiable markets of readers, and I agree with you that publishers who cultivate the online reaership recognize an important facet of the overall market in our $$. Plus, with technology becoming increasingly accessible and inexpensive, even the traditional economic divisions that have disproportionately limited Internet access are beginning to break down. While I am in no way anxious to see print books disappear, I think ebooks are definitely a venue in which publishers take less risk and readers gain more opportunity to enjoy greater diversity.

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  15. Estelle
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:07:56

    Forgive the langauge, but bullshit. . . Find me a good, solid author with consistent ‘sink into it’ writing and maybe I’ll buy you. Otherwise- no can do- you can wait.

    I agree. And I also agree with Nora Roberts 2 posts. If someone buys an author she finds excellent used, in 90% of cases she’ll buy this author next book new.

    Also, it’s logical that publishers want all the books they put out to do well but, frankly, there are quite a lot crappy books published these days. Why would I want to buy them? And they’re published by biggest publishers too. And no, I’m not a frustrated wanabee author who has been rejected time and again.

    There are very few authors who writes truly excellent books imo–Laura Kinsale is one of those few and she refused to change her writing to sell more books. You go girl!. Most of what’s published these days feel like half-baked cookies to me. It’s very frustrating.

    For me it all comes down to quality. If it’s good, I’ll buy it.

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  16. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:17:59

    When I speak of internet readers, I’m not discouting ebooks. They may not yet be in the mainstream, but I absolutely agree this market will increase over time–and with technology.

    What I was speaking of is the reader who joins in and regularly posts on sites like this one. Readers who tend to analyze books rather than simply read them–think I liked it, I didn’t–then move on to the next.

    I don’t think your typical reader can or would write a solid, articulate review or analysis of a book such as you see here, or on other sites like this. I doubt that your average reader–and no slaps to them either–hunts up sites like this as a rule.

    Reading is a past time for the typical reader, imo–an entertainment choice. For the reader who comes to sites like this, reading is a passion.

    I think there are–in the millions of regular book buyers–far, far more typical readers than passionate ones.

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  17. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:21:07

    Most of what’s published these days feel like half-baked cookies to me. It’s very frustrating.

    This bothers me, too, because it suggests to me that publishers have little respect either for the work they publlish or the readers they are hoping to attract. If readers are driving the market, we are driving a relatively closed market, IMO, in that our choices are already somewhat limited. And I’m not talking about the number of books published, but about the variety and quality (and by quality I’m talking about the attentiveness of editors, typographical errors, and adequate pages for a thoughtful story to unfold and develop). What’s so frustrating to me is that one the one hand it feels like there are too many books published overall but so few worth my time and money. Publisher A, for example, says that reader prefer Regencies, but is that because readers who are loyal to the genre of Romance will buy whatever is available, most of which are Regency Romances, or because readers really prefer Regency Romance? As long as sales are at a certain level, I don’t think publishers actually care if readers are truly satisfied, and that bothers me. Yes, publishing is a business, but writing is a craft, and I feel that gets lost in the machinery of production and profit.

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  18. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:27:01

    I don’t think your typical reader can or would write a solid, articulate review or analysis of a book such as you see here, or on other sites like this. I doubt that your average reader-and no slaps to them either-hunts up sites like this as a rule.

    But even if this is absolutely true, I don’t think that the desire for good entertainment necessitates the production of so many mediocre books. While the reader who simply wants a grand escape or a few pleasurable hours may have no interest in analyzing a Romance, I don’tthink that means she won’t enjoy books that benefit from more attentive editing, more freedom for an author in plotting and character development, and additional pages in which to develop a plot and characters more. The part of this whole issue that frustrates me most is the unspoken assumption (not on anyone’s part specifically) that the “average” reader won’t be equally or better entertained by more diversity and higher writing, editing, and production values.

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  19. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:27:41

    ~there are quite a lot crappy books published these days. Why would I want to buy them?~

    I’m not going to disagree, but say–imo–this has always been so. At least as long as I can remember. Plenty of crappy gothics–featuring the heroine running away from the castle/manor/spooky old house with a light in the window–joined the ranks of Phyllis Whitney or Dorothy Eden.

    In the early 80′s when Silhouette broke out in Americanized category romance, every major publisher started a category line. It was good business, but only LoveSwept managed to carve a real niche at the time.

    About a decade ago there were a zillion categories that were, basically: The Runaway Cowboy Bride’s Secret Baby…Texas Style!

    Readers complained (I myself was baffled), but those book sold. Obviously your typical category reader ate them up like candy. Why wouldn’t the publisher hand out the candy until the reader was sated?

    Simply, what’s crappy to one reader is fine entertainment to another.

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  20. Bev (BB)
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:33:34

    [quote comment="3688"]While browsing used bookstores, no new authors are rarely there. If readers aren’t buying them at the bookstore, they won’t show up at the used bookstore. [/quote]

    Exactly. This is what I was getting at before. Our local UBS is overun with lots and lots of established authors backlist and odd books by authors I recognize but wouldn’t buy anyway. Even if there are brand new authors at the UBS that I’m missing, they got there somehow and unless something strange is going on, someone bought them new originally.

    Robin is right, though, that one thing that isn’t clear is where all the books that are published are going. What happens to the ones that don’t sell because surely not all of them are selling or we wouldn’t even be having this discussion? Do they get completely distroyed if they don’t sell new?

    If so, how in the world are any readers ever supposed to discover the new authors then. To me that would be an even greater shame than readers loving UBS in the first place. At least then we can maybe find them. Eventually. Because there have been those rare occasions when other readers have alerted me to an author/book I missed and the only place to get it was used.

    Will some authors get left out, overlooked or fall by the wayside? Yeah. But you know, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the authors I regret never seeing another book by and I’ve read a lot of authors over the years. Is it really a big problem or just natural selection of a commerical type?

    Heck if I know but my gut tells me that either way it’s not a reader problem even if it is a concern for authors. Especially with the advent of ebooks as Jane suggests the choices for readers are wider than ever and it’s really hard to feel a lot of regret when I’m constantly finding new books to read anyway.

    Hmm, and here I thought this one was going to be a short one. Oh, well. ;D

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  21. May
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:35:43

    No single person dictates what is bought and what is sold. Like Karen Templeton said, the majority rules.

    That author you adore and buy in hardcover at full price from an independent every single time will not get another contract if you’re the only person who does that.

    Robin talks about respecting the work. I think that publishers respect the bottom line more.

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  22. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:38:31

    ~The part of this whole issue that frustrates me most is the unspoken assumption (not on anyone’s part specifically) that the “average" reader won’t be equally or better entertained by more diversity and higher writing, editing, and production values.~

    Maybe they would, but many readers may disagree with your definition of `higher writing’ for instance. And I see a lot of diversity within the genre, from your traditional category romance to barely any holds barred romantica, and everything in between.

    Last week I picked up and read a Historical from a solidly successful writer I’d yet to read. I picked it up because I wanted to read her–nice things are said about her on the sites pretty routinely, and this particular book had gotten very solid reviews.

    I found it absolutely ordinary. I wasn’t engaged by the characters–in fact found one of them incredibly annoying. The writing wasn’t–for me–compelling or especially fresh. I wouldn’t call it crappy, but I found it dead medicore.

    Who’s wrong? Me or the on-line reviewers, the other readers who enjoyed it very much? None of us. But for me, I won’t bother picking up this author again, as her style and voice, and the content, just didn’t do it for me.

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  23. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:51:54

    No single person dictates what is bought and what is sold. Like Karen Templeton said, the majority rules.

    It’s so interesting to me that in the market, we worship the majority, but in government, we distrust the majority and put in place numerous obstacles to “mass” rule.

    Who’s wrong? Me or the on-line reviewers, the other readers who enjoyed it very much? None of us.

    I agree that taste will always vary, which is why I’m so interested in greater diversity within the historical market in particular, where so many readers feel we are are being poorly served.

    I have a friend who has this whole argument about how certain shopping chains that cater to minority and low-income clientele also marginalize them through, for example, the use of patterns and fabrics that advertise themselves as of a lower economic status (in her words — and keep in mind that she’s African American herself — the black folk are always sold the flourescent colors). To some degree, I think the same thing is happening with Romance, and it bothers me. I think there is a class structure and a hierarchy within the genre that is rarely talked about in those terms, but powerful, nonetheless. But in this case, even at the so-called top of the scale, there is still, IMO, a sacrificing of objective measures of quality for profit. I’m not talking about whether someone prefers Judith Ivory of Julia Quinn, which very clearly is a matter of taste; I’m talking about things as straightforward as copyediting, allotted word count, and diversity of setting.

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  24. Jane
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 14:52:01

    The average reader is my neighbor whom I love to death but she doesn’t really care why she likes books or she doesn’t like them. AND she can’t remember from book to book which authors she liked and which she didn’t for the most part unless it is a BIG name.

    I am interviewing her for the blog (we are trying to do a podcast – for the fun of it – and haven’t yet found time that fits both our schedules). Her comments are pretty illuminating about romances and romance purchases. She generally only buys at Wal-Mart, Target, and the grocery store because her schedule precludes going to the bookstore.

    She is an avid reader (reads at least 1 book a week if not more) but doesn’t keep track of who she reads. She doesn’t go online. She doesn’t read reviews (she didn’t know that review sites for romances existed but now that she does know, she still doesn’t read them). She has a small keeper shelf. She likes a lot of the books that I don’t like and her explanation for that is – they are comfortable.

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  25. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:00:28

    Maybe they would, but many readers may disagree with your definition of `higher writing’ for instance.

    Maybe because I’ve spent so many years in education, I feel we generally shoot low when we anticipate what people will take to and comprehend. All you have to do is look at which schools offer college prep courses (the richer, whiter ones) and to the history of tracking students into vocational and non-academic programs in high school to see the way the patterns emerge. In no way do I think this problem is limited to Romance publishing. But in general, I think people often aim exactly as high as the bar is set, regardless of how low or how high that is. And in so many ways, I think our society is aiming ever lower. And it bothers me.

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  26. May
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:00:50

    [quote comment="3703"]It’s so interesting to me that in the market, we worship the majority, but in government, we distrust the majority and put in place numerous obstacles to “mass” rule.[/quote]
    My point of view is easily explained: I plan to become an economics major. :D

    [quote comment="3704"]She likes a lot of the books that I don’t like and her explanation for that is – they are comfortable.[/quote]
    Bestselling Author X’s books are reading like same old, same old to Bookbuyer.

    But Bookbuyer buys them anyway. Why? She knows what she is getting, therefore there is less risk as opposed to buying that paperback by Unknown Author.

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  27. Nora Roberts
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:02:38

    ~That author you adore and buy in hardcover at full price from an independent every single time will not get another contract if you’re the only person who does that.

    Robin talks about respecting the work. I think that publishers respect the bottom line more~

    I absolutely agree with the first part of this statement. But I don’t understand the second. If indeed this beloved to you author has–say–a print run of 5,000 in hardcover (a number I pulled out of my hat) and only a thousand of those books sold, what should the publisher do? This book tanked, it was a huge failure. It cost lots of money. They will try to recoup by putting it in trade or mm. Maybe the book will do well there, and everyone’s happy and relieved. But what if it doesn’t? What if it goes out with a print run of 100,000, and returns are 70 percent? What is the publisher’s responsibility to the readers who bought and enjoyed it? If, the publisher would likely think, there had been good work-of-mouth–through booksellers or readers–the book would have sold considerably better. It didn’t.

    If they didn’t look after their bottom line, they couldn’t publish the next book you might adore.

    I think some are looking to find an element to blame here. There is none. It’s not the readers’ fault, the writers’ fault, the publishers’ fault that many aren’t getting more of what they want and love.

    Because there are tons, tons more of Jane’s neighbor out there, happily 4reading. They’re not wrong either.

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  28. May
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:10:12

    [quote comment="3707"]
    Robin talks about respecting the work. I think that publishers respect the bottom line more~

    I absolutely agree with the first part of this statement. But I don’t understand the second. If indeed this beloved to you author has–say–a print run of 5,000 in hardcover (a number I pulled out of my hat) and only a thousand of those books sold, what should the publisher do? This book tanked, it was a huge failure. It cost lots of money. They will try to recoup by putting it in trade or mm. Maybe the book will do well there, and everyone’s happy and relieved. But what if it doesn’t? What if it goes out with a print run of 100,000, and returns are 70 percent? What is the publisher’s responsibility to the readers who bought and enjoyed it? If, the publisher would likely think, there had been good work-of-mouth–through booksellers or readers–the book would have sold considerably better. It didn’t.[/quote]

    I’m saying that an author may be the most talented writer ever to walk the earth, but if her book tanks terribly, she’s going to find it very difficult to publish her next book, especially in the current publishing climate.

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  29. Robin
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:13:32

    My point of view is easily explained: I plan to become an economics major.

    I’ m not criticizing your statement, May, just taking off on your point. When it comes to money, we value the votes of the majority more, but when it comes to our personal autonomy, we distrust the wisdom of the “masses” — it’s just an interesting tension to me. Competition is supposed to enhance quality, but look at the consolidation in publishing over the past several years. How much competition is there, really?

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  30. May
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:25:43

    [quote comment="3709"]

    My point of view is easily explained: I plan to become an economics major.

    I’ m not criticizing your statement, May, just taking off on your point.

    When it comes to money, we value the votes of the majority more, but when it comes to our personal autonomy, we distrust the wisdom of the “masses” — it’s just an interesting tension to me. Competition is supposed to enhance quality, but look at the consolidation in publishing over the past several years. How much competition is there, really?[/quote]
    I didn’t think you were.

    It’s more than just the lack of competition. Consolidation means bigger organizations and bigger organizations tend to be less flexible.

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  31. Jane
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 15:30:39

    For me, it’s not so much who is right (the online reader v. the offline reader), but that more variety could satisfy a greater number of readers. I understand a publisher not wanting to financially support an author, but I would like to see authors who don’t make as much money as others but are still profitable be kept in the publishing stable. It appears (and of course I don’t have any numbers to prove this) that there is enough of a market to support serious, complex romance as there is the light hearted romantic comedy.

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  32. Alison Kent
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 18:49:17

    [quote comment="3700"] Do they get completely distroyed if they don’t sell new?[/quote]

    Yep. Covers stripped and sent back so the stores get credit and the money the publishers have withheld from authors (reserves against returns) to pay at a later time (when those books sold) is reduced.

    Hardcovers are often remaindered instead.

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  33. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 04, 2006 @ 21:49:57

    The average reader is my neighbor whom I love to death but she doesn’t really care why she likes books or she doesn’t like them. AND she can’t remember from book to book which authors she liked and which she didn’t for the most part unless it is a BIG name.

    Actually… this describes me. :)

    Before I had my first child, I read easily a book a day, sometimes starting on the next one. This was also when I had very little spending money and I couldn’t afford 30 books a month new. I bought 5 or 6 new, checked out some from the library, bought some used.

    After my daughter was born… had to cut back to maybe two to four a week. Then my son came along… and maybe one a week.

    Then I started writing for living, had to cut back to one every couple of weeks. There was while when I only read a book a month. Trying to do better than that now, even though I’m now dealing with my third child (and loving every second of it even though they do kill reading time).

    I’m rambling though… bottom line is I read a decent amount, half several hundred books in my TBR pile, but I don’t analyze a book. If I don’t like it… I pitch it into the pile that I donate to Goodwill and I don’t go out of my way to find another book by that author, unless it’s somebody I’ve enjoyed before. If I love it, I’ll check out their backlist and I may mention it to friends.

    But I don’t tend to analyze books. To me… that takes the fun out of it.

    There’s no hard and fast solution here. If authors want to make it, we have to put out a quality book. There are plenty of readers looking for new authors, and the bottom line is for every reader that buys used, there are plenty of readers who buy new and only new.

    I think publishers do see some of the concerns voiced here. Maybe we’ll see some more of the books at a special promo price. I don’t know.

    Readers need to do what they have to do, whether it’s buy used, buy new, trade, go to the library. Then there’s what I did ten years ago… I sold plasma to buy books. :o) It was worth every needle stick, too. But I did it to feed my reading addiction… not to take care of an author.

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