In early August of 2010, Dorchester Publishing announced that they were going to change their business model. They are now only going to release their books digitally and offer print on demand services for authors, libraries and other vendors. However, initial reports stated that only select authors would ever be available in print and that those print copies would only be available in trade paperback format six to eight months after the release of the digital format. Some materials would never be granted the traditional paper and ink. Representatives say that the shift is because of declining retail sales and increased market value of e-books. The details of the company’s plans seem to change a little every day.
This announcement and resulting speculation has sent bookstores, libraries and fans of authors that published through Dorchester into a tailspin. Dorchester, including their imprints, is a major publisher for romance, horror and western paperbacks, all of which have a fan base that is not likely to make a switch to e-books as a whole. While both groups have some fans ready for the transition, most vocal readers on blogs and message boards seem unhappy with the upcoming change. At least one imprint, Hard Case Crime, is considering moving their business to a new publishing house because of this change in business model. The latest news leaking from this apparently sinking ship is that the majority of the editorial staff has been let go and book orders by authors and bookstore have not been being shipped.
Speculation and rumor are further fueling discussion and concerns about the Dorchester Publishing house as a hole. There are reports that the company is behind in paying their authors and that the majority of staff were as surprised at the recent announcement as the rest of the book industry. Late payments and currently owed payments are major contention among current authors that have worked with Dorchester. Authors with outstanding royalty checks appear to hold little hope that they will receive all the money that they are owed. There has even been an official reprimand against Dorchester and had their invitation to a conference by the Romance Writers of America because of their failure to fulfill contractual obligations to their authors. The combination of publication format changes, the loss of key editorial staff and delinquent payments have many authors leaving the publishing house, and who can blame them.
Many, including myself, think that Dorchester is on its way to declaring bankruptcy. Despite the spin, the company is trying to give all the recent changes their actions seem to be rooted in desperation rather than a desire to improve their business and do right by their authors and readers. Is Dorchester dead in the water and just trying to save some assets at the last minute in preparation for going under, or do they really hope to salvage at least one niche of the market and call it their own? Is this a business decision that will be later echoed by other companies, or is it merely a last ditch effort by Dorchester to stay afloat?
I am a fan of the mass-market paperback format, and do not plan to switch to e-books. Like many others, I love the feel of a book in my hands and do not want the turn digital pages. I do worry what this means to my ability to read some of my favorite authors, such as Christine Feehan, Marjorie Liu and Katie MacAlister. I am left watching and waiting to see how this all plays out, just like everyone else.