Thursday, March 31, 2022

What's the benefit of an initial hardcover publication?

One question that's been bouncing around in my head - why publishers put out debut novels in hardcover.


I think profit margins are higher on hardcover, so I get that for the publisher they make more on lower volume, so yay for them. Isn't it hard on a debut author?


Hardcover price is a tough pill to swallow if you're trying out a new author for the first time, so it must make some buyers hesitate. And if sales are low, there might never be a paperback version. So the debut gets stuck with a track record of low sales.

Is there an upside to hardcover for the author that I'm missing?

Is it ever something that comes up in contract negotiations, trying to talk a publisher out of a hardcover print?


Any light you can shed on this would be really educational, I haven't seen it discussed.



Back in the day, hardcovers were just about the only format that generated reviews. And reviews drove sales.


Back in the day, libraries only bought hardcovers. And they bought a lot of books.


So, hardcover was a valid choice. Yes it was more expensive, but it was considered worthwhile.


Now things are very different.

Libraries are buying fewer books, Amazon discounts hardcovers so steeply it's hard for anyone to make money, and price-sensitive buyers are migrating to ebooks.


So yes, savvy agents are talking initial publication format during contract negotiations.


It's one of the things I talk to about editors even at the pitch stage.


Each book is different so there is no one right approach.




I should mention that I'm a total book snob. I confess it freely. I love hardcovers.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

I share Janet's book snobbery. I must confess. I love a book in hardcover even if the price is difficult to swallow. This was a very informative post. Thank you, OP, for asking. I do try and get my favorite authors in hardcover but have noticed, as of late, that is not always even an option. I really want my debut to be in some form of paper copy - one that sits on a physical bookstore shelf. I hope that will still be possible. I hope the ever-changing sands of time will bring back some of the pure things - hard cover books, book shops with shelves piled with delicious titles to their ceilings with cozy coffee shops in the corner where readers and writers can hide away from the world for hours. Good question.

Steve Forti said...

I hadn't even thought about this, so interesting. I do love seeing my bookshelves full of hardcovers. But I realize there are only a handful from the past few years on there. I've moved almost entirely to ebooks and audiobooks. Doesn't have the same feel, but it's more convenient, and with the audio ones gets me through a lot more books. But it does stink not being able to see them or share them with friends. So there's a question - when are we gonna find a solution to share ebooks and audiobooks with others since they're property we paid for?

Julie Weathers said...

When I moved to Oklahoma, one of the boys I had hired to unload the trailer looked at me, sweat running down his face, "Ma'am, did you rob a library before you left Texas?"

"No, why?"

"Well, we've counted thirty-five boxes of books so far."

I love physical books. I love hardcovers. Sorry, trees. Having said that, with over 600 books on the Civil War alone and since many are books that are out of print, I've had to resort to e-books. Oddly enough, Allan Pinkerton's first edition The Spy of the Rebellion was very reasonable. Maybe it's like the first edition Melville's sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

I had an indie publisher contact me on Twitter once asking to publish my fantasy. I politely declined, not because he was indie, but because he was flakier than Montana in January. "Oh, you're one of those authors who wants to hold that hardcover in your hot little hands."

"Yes, yes, I am. Thank you for understanding."

Adele said...

In one of my lives I'm a bookbinder, so I can turn a paperback into a hardcover any time I want. I'm also the only person in the world who owns a copy of "Harry Potter and Hatf-Blood Prince" thanks to a co-worker who failed at the task of correctly returning type to the case. One day I will forgive his crime. Not just yet.

Leslie said...

I also love physical books, but after the last move from one apartment to another, I wound up selling/donating boxes of them and adjusting to reading on a tablet. I still have two bookcases with old school actual books.

That said, I still remember being in the hospital years ago and my dad's friend walking into my room and handing me a wrapped gift. Inside was a leather-bound, gold-edged copy of a book he knew I'd like - I'd been reading a Bronte book the day before while in the ER, so he got me a different one

AJ Blythe said...

I used to buy only hardcover, and would save my pennies for the luxury. But then shelving became premium real estate in our new house so I went to paperback. Now, in this house, bookshelf space is even more hard-to-find so ebooks are a regular purchase. Having said that, I still manage to fill box after box of paper books. In my dream house I have a designated library room.

Fascinating question, OP. Thanks for asking. Like Steve Forti, I'd never thought about it before (my brain hadn't got past agent discussing my book with editor!).

John Davis Frain said...

Nice scene, Leslie, thanks for sharing.

I also like the scene with the Octopus reading Moby Dick (the red cover) and more at the same time. If I can get her/him as a reader, I'll throw together a whole series! In hardback, of course.

Craig F said...

I remember the days of buying three or four extra hardcovers as those spare Christmas presents, in case I forgot someone. If I didn't, I got to keep them.

Those days were failing before the world fell to the pandemic. The big box book stores were carrying fewer and fewer hardcovers; maybe as a response to the 2007-2008 bursting economic bubble.

Then tablets came out. Now I just borrow books to read electronically.

Sometimes advances are a drag.