As a small, independent publisher we are fortunate that most of our publishing decisions can come from the heart (‘do I like this book?’ ‘is it important?’ ‘is it new?’) rather than the head (‘will it make money for our shareholders?’ ‘will it help me hit targets?’). However one of the downsides of being such a small operation is that our margins for error are not huge, and when things go wrong, or the market takes a downturn, we don’t have a large university or a multinational conglomerate to cushion us: we stand or fall by the quality of the books we’ve published recently and the number of people prepared to buy them.
Until relatively recently we were unusual in publishing virtually all of our books in both paperback and hardback, with the paperbacks appearing at the same time as the hardbacks. If money were no object this is undoubtedly how we would choose to publish our books: making quality research widely available is why we do what we do, and publishing any other way is a wrench for us. I hate telling authors that they aren’t getting a paperback of their books, and none of us like to stand behind a conference table and hear how students can’t afford to buy our books. There’s little joy in publishing if your audience is small and getting smaller.
But about 18 months ago we were hit by the perfect storm of the continuing effects of the financial crisis on both library and individual budgets, increasing costs, and library ebook deals which meant that we were often receiving a tiny percentage of the income we did 10 years ago for providing the same product. In effect, large numbers of our books were no longer selling enough to cover our costs in producing them, let alone make us a profit. We were faced with a decision: do we throw our hands up, accept that there is no longer a role for independent academic publishers, and go and do something else? Or do we make changes to ensure that most of the books we publish at least pay their own way? And it’s sad but true that it’s easier for us to cover our costs on a book where we sell 80 hardback copies than where we sell 30 hardbacks and 100 paperbacks.
We recognise that this means we are producing books that are unaffordable for some people who might want to buy them – what do we do to try and make our books as affordable as we can?
- We still publish over half our titles in paperback and hardback simultaneously.
- We offer many and varied discounts and promotions. Anyone who has ever written for us is entitled to a permanent 50% discount on everything we publish.
- When only a hardback is available, we price the ebook as if there were a paperback – not all publishers do this.
- We offer substantial discounts at conferences, bigger than those of most of our competitors.
- We review all of our books 6 months after publication and if sales of either the hardback or the ebook suggest that there might be a bigger market than we anticipated, we produce a paperback. We also take into account feedback from readers, librarians and our sales reps: if enough people are asking for a paperback, we produce one.
- We keep prices down on our most popular books, rather than charging as much as we could for books that readers have to buy for courses or to keep their own work up-to-date.
As an author, you can give your book the best possible chance of being published in paperback by keeping the widest possible (realistic!) audience in mind when writing – might your research be of interest to teachers, policy-makers, parents? Are you writing to make your research accessible to scholars from other disciplines? Are you linking your research to wider debates so it will be of interest to readers not specifically working in your particular research context? When the book is written, let us know if there are specific courses that might use your book. And after the book is published, pass on feedback to us – if people are asking you for a paperback, tell them to ask us.
We’re always very happy to discuss any ideas our authors and customers might have for making our books more affordably or widely available. Please get in touch with me if you have any thoughts! Every decision to publish a book in hardback only is accompanied by a good deal of soul-searching in the CVP/MM office, but I do believe that if we are to continue to publish important books, to innovate and lead the field, and to be a small force for good in the world, we do sometimes have to take hard decisions.
If you have any thoughts about this blog post, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.