Publishing Is under Attack from a “New” Technology … Paperbacks!

Publishing is under attack! It’s an economic downturn, and someone is selling books for much cheaper than they used to be! It’s an unsustainable market situation, and books will go down in flames if someone doesn’t do something!

I’m not talking about the terror eBooks has placed into the hearts of publishers. I’m talking about … paperbacks.

No, publishing wasn’t all too warm on paperbacks when they were first introduced in the 1930’s. According to Mental Floss there was, in fact, quite a bit of skepticism when “pocket books” first appeared to compete with hardcovers:

Quantity was key. De Graff knew that if he could print 100,000 paperbound books, production costs would plummet to 10 cents per copy. But it would be impossible for Pocket Books to turn a profit if it couldn’t reach hundreds of thousands of readers. And that would never happen as long as de Graff relied solely on bookstores for distribution. So de Graff devised a plan to get his books into places where books weren’t traditionally sold. His twist? Using magazine distributors to place Pocket Books in newsstands, subway stations, drugstores, and other outlets to reach the underserved suburban and rural populace. But if Pocket Books were going to sell, they couldn’t just stick to the highbrow. De Graff avoided the stately, color-coded covers of European paperbacks, which lacked graphics other than the publishers’ logos, and splashed colorful, eye-catching drawings on his books.

Even with the success of Pocket Books’ test run, hardcover publishers scoffed at the idea of paperbacks for the masses. Still, they were more than willing to sell Pocket Books the reprint rights to their hardcover titles, if only to humor de Graff. “We feel we ought to give it a chance—to show that it won’t work here,” an anonymous publisher told Time shortly after Pocket Books’ launch. For every paperback sold, the hardcover publisher would receive a penny royalty per copy—which it split fifty-fifty with the author. Pocket Books would also make about a penny in profit for each copy sold.

Since de Graff offered refunds for unsold copies, carrying the books was a no-brainer. In 1939, de Graff told Publishers Weekly that he’d been deluged with requests from “out-of-town dealers.” And from the get-go Americans devoured every 25-cent paperback de Graff could feed them. By the time Pocket Books sold its 100 millionth copy in September 1944, its books could be found in more than 70,000 outlets across the U.S. They might not have had the glamour and sophistication of hardcovers, but paperbacks were making serious money. It wasn’t long before other publishers decided to jump into the game.

Read the full text here:

–brought to you by mental_floss!

Replace the word “paperbacks” with “eBooks” in the cited text, and you’ll pretty much outline the reception digital books received at the start of their “revolution”.

Hardcovers are heavy and expensive; as such, they are inherently vulnerable to lighter, lower-cost offerings.

Paperbacks have many benefits; they are lighter and cheaper … and they were once a threat to the dominance of hardbacks.

eBooks went one better while still offering more advantages; they weigh only as much as the device used to “deliver” them, and as a result five books will “weigh” the same as 5000. And yes, in many circumstances (and after the initial eReader device investment) eBooks are less expensive than hardbacks or paperbacks. But perhaps best of all, eBooks can usually be read on a variety of devices, which allows the person reading to choose the device that best suits his or her particular needs.

With all that in mind, it is amusing to read about the disruptive force paperbacks were in their day … a scenario that has now been played on paperbacks, with eBooks as the interlopers.

Vive la Révolution!

Via teleread


Categories: eBooks


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