In just a few years we have seen electronic sales of bestsellers go from 2% to 12 to15% of total sales. Next year, they may constitute 20%. Who knows where this will end, once bestsellers are on cell phones, blackberries and the like?
As someone who got his first job in publishing 40 years ago, working for a mass market paperback house, I have seen that area of sales rise and then nearly disappear. My first job was to open accounts and get a 64-pocket wire rack of Dell paperbacks into every imaginable outlet – variety stores, cigar stores – wherever there was foot traffic. At one point, there were more than 100,000 outlets for mass market paperbacks in the US. Those millions of customers didn’t disappear, but the racks and the distributers did.
I’d like to believe that electronic book sales can and should be the mass market of the future. For this reason, I requested that the bestselling Robert Jordan fantasy series not be available electronically until the paperback is released. Now, four weeks after its release in hardcover, The Gathering Storm has sold 24% more copies than the previous volume, even though the work was completed by another writer.
I have nothing to gain, personally, by urging all of you to consider postponing the release of the electronic version of your next bestsellers. As a first step, I suggest that the electronic versions not be made available for six months after initial publication, eventually being released when the paperback hits the market. There’s a clear line between the success of the mass market paperback and its electronic cousin – convenience and price.
The future of hardcover publishing is at stake. You don’t have a lot of time left to save it.