Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Sky Is Falling, The World Is Ending

Yesterday Dorchester Publishing, the publisher of horror line Leisure books, announced they will no longer be producing mass market paperbacks, instead publishing their titles as e-books and print-on-demand, with some books eventually appearing as trade paperbacks. Reaction has been frenetic, to say the least. 95 percent of the comments are some variant of “this is the end of everything”, while the other 5 percent are fairly gleeful (this 5 percent is made up of some small press publishers who believe this means they have vanquished an enemy and some authors who were rejected or dropped by Leisure and are enjoying the revenge). Everyone has an opinion, and I’m here to tell you what sort of supplies and weapons you should stock now that the apocalypse is here…

No, actually I’m here to say “Don’t panic.”

I enjoyed Leisure Books, well enough to be a subscriber. The low price for home delivery made it cost-effective to try new authors, and some of the books they published were pretty good. I’m not the e-reader type, either, probably because I’m too old to embrace new technology, although I do think the CD is going to replace vinyl. I enjoyed all those paperback horror lines of the 80s and early 90s, too, though, the Signet and Berkeley and Zebra and so on, and I survived their passing without having to live in a bunker. Maybe it is the end of the book era, but that is a lot to lay on the passing of a publisher known more for the quantity of titles they published (24 a year, huge in today’s market) than for their actual sales. It’s hard to know exactly what their sales were, since that is usually proprietary information, but it’s a safe bet the top Leisure titles didn’t equal a bad day for the Harry Potter books.

As I’ve said before, the horror genre of storytelling goes back as far as there are records. Both Beowulf and Odysseus battled monsters, and still do on the printed page today. It is safe to say that there is still a basic human desire for what we call horror, and horror stories are not going away. There is still a question as to what format these stories will be printed in, but it is still too early to tell and speculation is rampant. (For those who see the e-readers as Satan, you might be heartened to know that some tech people are predicting e-readers such as Kindle and Nook will be obsolete themselves in a year, driven out of the market by the tablet-sized readers).

Leisure’s departure from the mass market paperback market leaves a hole, one that another publisher may at least partially fill. Leisure titles may not have been block-busters, but they did produce some sales, and other publishers will be considering whether it is worth the investment to move into the void. Perhaps Leisure published too many titles a year, and could have been more profitable by concentrating efforts on fewer, quality titles. Perhaps more promotion would have helped. Perhaps Dorchester is being laid low not by poor sales as much as internal problems. Time will tell. I'm certainly not implying, by the way, that this may not be a hardship for authors who depend on Leisure for income, and I am sorry for them.

My prediction is this: If there still exists a market for mass-produced paperback horror, then sooner rather than later another publisher will take advantage of it. If there isn’t such a market any more, well, that sucks, but the makers of buggy whips and vacuum tubes feel our pain.

So, stay calm, and remember the aluminum foil has to be at least three sheets thick in your hat to protect you.


The Doctor said...

Sad news. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting, to say the least.

Rabid Fox said...

I've heard Kensington mentioned more than once as a possible publisher to pick up the slack left by Leisure. Hard to say, though. What I do know is that most of the horror genre paperbacks on my shelf are from Leisure.