Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

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dgaughran
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Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by dgaughran » April 20th, 2011, 7:00 am

There was an interesting, but brief, article in The Bookseller today by an English bricks-and-mortar store manager who argues that hardback windowing is hurting overall sales, and that paperbacks should be released at the same time.

He feels that the blaze of publicity tends to accompany the hardback release, and many customers are unwilling to pay the price, and that by the time the paperback release happens, they have forgotten about the book. He states that "hardbacks, or rather delayed paperbacks, are killing bookshops".

He further argues that the release of the e-book at the same time as the hardback further confuses customers about why the paperback isn't available too, and is forcing customers online, and away from booksellers.

In the comments, one bookseller makes the point that the paperback release date is often unknown when the hardback is released, which customers are not happy about.

There was some pushback in another article in Teleread, where the writer argued that publishers have no choice, as they need the extra profit from the hardback, and no-one would buy the hardback if everything was released together. Although he does acknowledge that most hardbacks don't sell out their print runs then end up on discount tables, which does nothing for writers or publishers.

My personal opinion, is that the bookseller is right, that the superfans would buy the hardback anyway (and probably an e-book too), and that giving the customer as much choice as possible is the best way to maximise sales. Also, with the healthy margins for the larger publishers in e-books, there isn't as much logic in protecting the hardback sales anymore, not at the cost of overall sales

The original article from The Bookseller is here, and the response is here

What do you think? Is hardback windowing costing too many paperback sales? Should it be scrapped?

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by Mira » April 20th, 2011, 7:19 pm

Interesting discussion. Your point that hardcovers don't usually sell out is a good one.

I've always thought that publishers made a huge mistake not releasing the hardcover and soft cover together. They lose a huge potential readership, who forget all about the book by the time it comes out in paperback.

I'm one. I absolutely and completey refuse to buy hardcover. I don't like it. I don't like the space it takes up on my shelf and how hard it is to read. It's too big, it hurts my hands and is hard to hold up.

Sometimes Amazon used to send me the hard cover rather than the paperback that I ordered, and it always made me mad.

Now, I buy e-books, so it doesn't matter, but still.

I think the biggest mistake publishers make is ignoring the benefits of volume of sale. Sell enough at a low price and you can make ALOT of money.

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by dgaughran » April 20th, 2011, 8:39 pm

Here's one simple thing that publishers could do:

Give a free e-book with the hardback.

I know Cory Doctorow did it with his self-published book, and Baen do it, but what about the rest?
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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by Nathan Bransford » April 24th, 2011, 12:50 am

I wonder if rather than a sign that windowing is the problem, the real problem is that there are very few buyers out there for $25 hardcovers to begin with?

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by cheryl-murphy » April 24th, 2011, 1:19 am

I would have to say yes, there are few people willing to spend $25 on a book. Most of those that do spend $25 on a book will do so whether there is a a paperback out or not. It is kind of ridiculous that they don't release the paper back but they release the e-book.

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by dgaughran » April 24th, 2011, 6:05 am

Nathan Bransford wrote:I wonder if rather than a sign that windowing is the problem, the real problem is that there are very few buyers out there for $25 hardcovers to begin with?
But doesn't this just exacerbate the problem?

So if you are correct, and I believe you are, we are holding back popular paperback sales to make a small number of hardback sales.

Not a great business plan. It seems to me like the publishing industry has drawn a line in the sand and is going all out to protect hardback. This is stupid for two reasons:

1. Nobody buys hardback anymore, not in numbers worth sabotaging paperback or e-books sales for.
2. Hardbacks are no-longer the real cash cow, e-books are.

That's right, e-books are the new cash cow. Most are retailing around $9.99, some more, some less. That's $5.25 a copy for the publisher for something that costs nothing to distribute, store or produce extra copies of. All the costs in an e-book are sunk costs meaning the publisher pays once and that's it. They don't have to calculate print runs, cover the cost of returns, pay to warehouse the books, pay to distribute them, and pay to print them again.

Plus, if it's a backlist title, production costs are minimal and pretty much everything is profit.

E-books are now the #1 selling format in the US. And they are the most profitable format for publishers. So where's the logic for hardback windowing?
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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by J. T. SHEA » April 24th, 2011, 2:39 pm

Very few buyers out there for $25 hardcovers, Nathan? Nobody buys hardcovers anymore, David?

Depends on the hardback, I suppose. And the discounts, which are a paradoxical aspect of windowing. Windowing vs introductory offers is a classic reversible situation, with no single correct answer.

I buy lots of hardcovers, both at full price and discounted. Discounted they're often little more expensive than trade paperbacks.

Bundling the e-book with the hardcover is something I suggested in these forums last year. At that time Amazon could not do it for technical reasons, I think.

One thing that really impressed me about the late night Harry Potter bookstore release parties was that the books were all hardcovers and looked too big for some of the kids to lift, much less read. But lift and read them they did, in their hundreds of millions.

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by dgaughran » April 24th, 2011, 3:29 pm

Hi James,

In February this year, e-books overtook paperbacks to be the #1 selling format in the US (for all trade publishers reporting to the American Association of Publishers).

E-book sales were up 202% year-on-year. Print was down 34.4%. Hardback sales were almost halved.

E-book sales in February 2011 were almost double hardback sales.

To give some perspective, in February 2010, hardback sales were more than double e-books sales. In February 2009, hardback sales were over ten times e-books sales.

These trends will continue.

These figures do not include self-published work, if it did, the gap would be even more pronounced.

Harry Potter is an outlier. As Nathan said, he would pay $100 for a new Harry Potter book, and he is not alone.

But I bet if paperbacks were released at the same time, the kids would have been holding those up too.

And when Rowling finally releases the e-book versions, the reaction will be similar.

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Re: Is Hardback Windowing Costing Too Many Paperback Sales?

Post by sierramcconnell » May 10th, 2011, 1:00 pm

When I do buy a hardback, it has to have the following:

...an extremely beautiful cover.
...an extremely good price (on sale, percent off, I can has coupon).
...there is no paperback and I have been WAITING FOR THIS FOR MONTHS.
...it is in a series and the others are in hardback and I have to have everyone match.

This is actually rare. I'm a paperback girl, because I buy so few books. When I do buy books, I buy them used. If I do buy new, I buy them with discount clubs and coupons, or I wait until they go out to the resellers or have been discounted online. BN undercuts themselves, and I have their card, so I get 30-40% and free shipping.

A $25 hardback is now around $15-17.50, which is still a little steep, but I don't have to go get it, it comes to my apartment. Saving me gas money or a lunch break trip to the store where I won't be psychologically tricked into buying something I don't need or coffee.

Ah ha. You see? It works.

Also, I forgot to mention. One thing you can do, if you can afford to buy hardback and then paperback once it comes out, is to donate the hardback to your local library. They will thank you for that. People hate it when they can't check that out and decide if they want to buy it.
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