The hard truth about soft covers?

A philosopher writes me:

I’m considering a book contract …  Part of the deal is that the book would only come out in hardcover initially, with the paperback version to appear on an on-demand basis a year later.  I’m nervous about this, because it would seem to make class adoption of the book far less likely.  But I’m starting to get the sense that this approach is more and more common. 

Do tell, philosophers: Is it increasingly the case that paperback editions are less likely to be offered by publishers than in the past?  (I hope it is not so, because if we are working to make it more likely that feminist texts are adopted for classroom use, then alas, it would seem such a trend is counter to our aims.)  Comments welcome, especially if you have a sense of the state of academic publishing.

6 thoughts on “The hard truth about soft covers?

  1. I don’t really have much sense of how likely they were in the past, but I do have the sense that they won’t be very likely in the future. Presumably this will vary with publishers a bit.

    One thing I have noticed is that feminist books don’t seem to be making to kindle. That’s a great shame, I think.

  2. I’ve published 3 books, only 1 of which came out in softcover initially. The others may at some point in the future (at least 1 year after publication in hardcover), depending on sales.

  3. I think the arrangement is fairly standard for paperbacks to come out after a year, or sometimes even two years. In the case of at least one of my books, this has not hurt the sales or textbook usage at all, and I would encourage you to go for it.

  4. It’s pretty common for books to come out in hardback first and paper only after a year (or so), sometimes quite a bit longer. Perhaps more important, though, the price for both hard and paper can vary greatly, with some paperbacks now costing $40 or $50, so barely cheaper than hardbacks. (Sometimes the hardbacks will be even more crazy, of course.) There was a big jump in price recently, supposedly related to increase paper costs. My impression is that paper has gone down (like all commodities) but the price of books hasn’t. Most philosophers don’t have a lot of bargaining power with presses. But it annoys me when philosophers who clear do have such power, as they are writing books that will be big sellers (for academic books) and who could go anywhere, still have their books come out only in expensive hardbacks first. (G.A. Cohen’s recent books come to mind.) Also, it’s the “on demand” aspect that worries me especially about the case above. I suspect that means the book won’t be in many bookstores in paper, making casual browsers much less likely to pick it up.

  5. When I found out from my students two months back that the paperback philosophy anthology cost $91.00 (USD), I told them to take the book back to the bookstore, took the articles the students were assigned, had them photocopied, paid the copyright fees and had a reading packet produced on campus. I am sorry but $91 for a paperback text is over the top. It had been a bit since I’d checked the price paid by my students. I will check from now on whenever I require a text. To the question: I would be more concerned about the price rather than whether it was hardback or paperback.

  6. Here’s my experience. My most recent book contract (signed in 2009) specifies that my book (which will probably be published in early 2011) will come out in hardcover first. (This is in spite of the fact that I tried to negotiate the simultaneous appearance of hardcover and paperback–to no avail.) The reasons I was given are the following: First, many prestigious publications (e.g., New York Review of Books) will ONLY review books that are in hardcover. Hence, any academic books that have “crossover” potential–academic and mass market–need to be among those that (more or less) mass-market publications will review. Second, the obvious market for academic books is university libraries. They will be among the first buyers of the book, and they much prefer hardcover, for its durability.

    In my experience, after the publication of several books, any publishers who have told me they will publish my book in paperback AFTER the hardcover edition have kept their word. However, I agree with Matt that it is the “on demand” phrase in the original posting that is worrying: it suggests, that a complete run of paperback books will not be published, but merely one-off responses to book orders.

Comments are closed.