Richard Gavin, the highly regarded “master of numinous horror fiction in the tradition of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and H.P. Lovecraft,” recently announced that his story collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm (also available on Kindle) was about to go out of print—on paper, at least.
I took the chance to ask him a few questions about the whole notion of going out of print in these days of permanent e-book availability, and how he sees print and digital relating to each other.
TeleRead: What’s it like to have a print version go out of print nowadays, especially a limited edition? How do you see the print editions fitting in with the Kindle edition?
Richard Gavin: Because The Darkly Splendid Realm was a limited edition, it stood to reason that its days on earth were numbered (literally). That being said, it always feels a bit strange to see one’s book transition from a current title to an item from history, even if it is recent history.
In terms of how e-books fit in with print editions, I think electronic “books” work well as an adjunct to traditional publishing. For example, Dark Regions Press consecutively offered the very affordable e-book of The Darkly Splendid Realm and a limited edition hardcover. Those readers who wished to read the text alone could obtain a digital version. But for those who appreciate the book-as-fetish, there were also high quality editions available, books that offered elements beyond a text file. For example, I included a gift for each of the thirteen collectors who purchased one of the deluxe editions of The Darkly Splendid Realm. They were sent a scroll containing a horror vignette that was handwritten, dated, and signed by me. These vignettes will never see print. The sheets used for the scrolls were decorated, scented with a special incense blend, and bound with a black ribbon. These are the kinds of magical elements that a reader will never experience with a download.
TeleRead: How was the experience of seeing the e-book version come out? How did its sales perform compared to the other editions, and to your other works?
Richard Gavin: It was nice to have a title to offer readers who like the electronic option, but I don’t own an e-reading device and have absolutely no interest in reading e-books, so the full experience was somewhat lost on me. I prefer the simple, portable and durable technology of paper and ink. As to how well the digital version sold, I honestly cannot say. To an extent, e-books become an amorphous entity, one that slithers about with no real life outside of a digital vessel. It is vastly different from having a limited print run where the artifact can be seen and held.
TeleRead: What these days do you think decides when a book should go out of print, especially with e-books available more or less indefinitely?
Richard Gavin: As a small press author, my books are almost always issued in limited printings. The publishers often announce the actual number of available copies prior to publication so that readers can place advance orders if they so desire. Once these copies are sold, the book is then out of print. In terms of larger publishers, the determining factor as to whether or not a book stays in print is sales. It is a matter of economics, not artistry.
TeleRead: Do you have any plans for new editions of the book later, print or digital? What would decide this?
Richard Gavin: There are no reprint plans at this time. Books are portals, and portals rarely yawn open indefinitely. When we own a particular edition of a book we possess a talisman. The font, the smell of the paper, the art, the binding; all of these qualities are unique to a given edition of a book. So if the stories in The Darkly Splendid Realm ever return to the world it will be an entirely different portal. True, there is a timeless quality to literature, but the vessel that hosts that timeless quality is always a snapshot in time. Editions change.
The Darkly Splendid Realm as manifested by Dark Regions Press will never be seen again. Its unique qualities, such as the cover art by Harry O. Morris or Laird Barron‘s introduction, all coalesced to give readers a singular experience. If there ever were a future edition of this book, its readers would encounter a different vessel: different art, different font, perhaps stories in a different order, etc. I suppose the deciding factors for me would be a) sufficient demand from readers who wish to see the book return to print in full, and b) a publisher who was interested in giving The Darkly Splendid Realm a fitting and wholly different complexion from the original edition.
TeleRead: Any other general reflections or reminiscences about this book as an e-book, or about e-books in general?
Richard Gavin: I think e-books will increasingly become the norm for most recreational reading. Books will still exist, but likely as equal-parts literary document and art-object. I think mass-markets and other cheap paperbacks will eventually go the way of pulp magazines. E-books will fill the need for an inexpensive reading option.
I believe that the key to the perpetuation of the book is for authors and publishers to creatively emphasize those elements that a reader can only get from a book. Special details such as unique and durable bindings, evocative artwork, and so forth will become more important than ever before because a collector will want or need something beyond the text alone.
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The Darkly Splendid Realm by Richard Gavin was originally published by Dark Regions Press in October 2009 with an introduction by Laird Barron and cover art by Harry O. Morris, in three editions:
1. Thirteen leather-bound deluxe editions in slipcase. Signed by author, Laird Barron and Harry O. Morris.
2. One-hundred limited edition hardcover editions with dust-jacket. Signed by author.
3. Two-hundred trade paperbacks, the first 100 signed by author.