- abandoned the hardback fiction book altogether and let libraries and collectors simply laminate their own copies of trade paperbacks? Then the first printing of each book could be bigger and priced to reach the whole market. Publishers win by reducing their print costs and minimizing the number of returns. Readers win by getting a book they can afford when it first comes out, and writers win by reaching as wide a market as they can on the first publication. Novelists would also never be stuck in hardback form only—as many are—a spendy version that’s hard to sell at book fairs and special events and never reaches its full audience.
- changed distribution to a nonreturnable basis? Bookstores would have to be conservative in how many books they ordered at one time, and publishers could simplify their bookkeeping for everyone involved.
- printed only as many copies as were necessary to fill orders? Money (and trees) would be saved from not printing, shipping, processing, and shredding books that never sale.
If all that happened, bookstores would have fewer returns to process and they could make money by remaindering books on their own premises. They could offer discounts and buy one/get one free deals to keep product moving. Promotional bargains pull in customers who spend money. It’s how retailers make money at Christmas.
I am not the first to suggest these changes. So why doesn’t the industry do it? No one wants to go first. Every major publisher is afraid to lose business to the other company who isn’t doing it. Meanwhile, the big houses aren’t making real profits. Only the small publishers who have adopted some of all of these ideas are in the black year after year. What will it take for the industry to recreate itself?
As an novelist, would you care if your book never came out in hard back? As a reader, do you buy hard backs? Would you miss them?