Monday, November 03, 2008

Are you still arguing with your publisher over paperbacks?

One of the many interesting discussions I had during visits to NYU Press and Columbia University Press this past week had to do with academic authors who want a paperback version printed at the same time as the hardcover version. They usually request this because university press hardcovers are notoriously expensive -- sometimes near or at $100 for a single copy. The academic authors rationalize this demand by saying they want their students to be able to afford the book.

However, the demand works against the author almost all of the time. First, most libraries will often acquire the least-expensive available version of the book, so many will buy the softcover if it is offered simultaneously with hardcover. Result? Not only does the press earn less money, but the author receives lower royalties and the book ages out on the shelves more quickly if it is used. Second, by blocking the publisher from earning more, the author chips away at the university press's already razor-thin profit margins. This has the net effect of making publishing more expensive overall, and (surprise) it increases the likelihood that hardcover prices will remain high. If academic authors really want to see hardcover prices decrease, one consistent way to do it is to work with the university press publisher to help them publish the book in an economically sustainable way.

There is a win-win solution that most publishers are willing to offer, but few authors know to request. If you really want your students to be able to buy the book economically, coordinate with your press to provide copies to you or to your university bookstore (if the bookstore will cooperate) that reflect the deeper author discount, which is sometimes as much as 40% or more. This can bring the price of the hardcover down close to where the paperback would have been priced anyway. Result? Your press makes its money on institutional sales, you get cheaper-priced copies for your students, and your students get a nice hardcover rather than a paperback.

No comments: