Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Dorchester news

Okay, I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about Dorchester and what it means for digital publishing. My opinion can roughly be translated to two words: Not Good.

In case you don't know, Dorchester announced its cessation of mass market publishing (hat tip to literary agent Kristin Nelson for the news).

While some people involved in digital media may think this is one of the most critical driving nails in the coffin of print publishing, I think they're looking at the situation through rose-coloured glasses.

The fact of the matter is, Dorchester has been in financial woes for more than a year. So what's their solution? Go to digital! Does that necessarily give the right impression? If you were an interested bystander (and I assume you are), would you think that move is one of market savvy in this new, interconnected world...or would you think that was a move of desperation on the part of a company struggling to keep the ink black?

At Agent Nelson's blog, Anonymous (and I wish she signed her name because I think what she said is extremely important) commented that:
To do well in the ebook market you need a big web presence. Looking at Dorchester's website it needs a lot of work. The other thing is that so far the thing that sells well in ebook form is romance - erotic romance sells really well. The other genres? Not so much. [Tell me about it! - ksa]

Why are readers who've been shopping at Samhain, Elloras Cave and now Carina going to be buying stuff from Dorchester? What have they done to increase their web presence? Have they got any deals with big author blogs etc?
Anonymous nailed it. You can't just go from a mass market print publishing to digital and POD (Print On Demand) without some kind of well thought-out plan and, from the rumours I've been hearing, this move of Dorchester's was not well planned. Or, if it was, it didn't have complete buy-in from major stakeholders. As some Dorch authors know, I'm extremely sympathetic of the sudden game switch and wish all of them the absolute best for the future but, as I have nothing whatsoever to do with Dorchester, I hope they, and you, will forgive my cold gaze for a moment.

If digital is to be taken seriously, it should not appear as the last-ditch effort of a company desperate to remain profitable. I don't care who the company is, the rumour wolves can detect desperation the way you can sniff a hamburger half a kilometre away when your stomach's rumbling.

Secondly, while the juicy profits look enticing (even with a 30-40% royalty thrown at the authors), you still need a savvy marketing plan to, not only advertise your goods, but keep the offerings fresh too. One reason I'm a Carina author is that I have utter respect for Harlequin Enterprises and their ability to think strategically. Do I think Dorchester has been equally forward thinking in the area of digital publishing? Um, not so much.

Thirdly...folks, no matter how you cut the salami, while ebook sales have been increasing in leaps and bounds, it still dwarves something as trivial as sale of mobile phone ringtones. Yes, of course I read JA Konrath's blog, and I have a lot of respect for the amount of work the man has put into promotion, but it really is comparing apples and oranges, especially when it comes to first-time authors. People know Konrath's name. To be honest, they hardly know mine. Would I put myself in the same category as Konrath? No. Not yet, even though I already have an okay (but not stupendous) backlist.

I suppose what I'm trying to say here is, don't get caught out. The landscape of publishing is still in a HUGE state of flux and I know I may be incredibly unpopular saying so, but I personally believe that print is still the standard by which books are judged. The technology doesn't matter so much; it's a question of reputation. And Dorchester's move, again in my opinion, smacks of panic rather than measured thinking. I think people will pick that up. And that does NOT bode well for a form of publishing that's only just beginning to crawl along the carpet, much less pull itself up when it hits a sofa.

I think Dorchester has done digital publishing a huge DIS-service. What are your thoughts?

PS Happy National Day to all Singapore nationals reading this. To help celebrate, this post was brought to you by Carlo Rossi California Red. Ah, last Tuesday was a good year!

* Kaz Augustin is a writer who considers alcohol one of the major food groups. You can find her website at She blogs at and also has a food blog at If all that isn't enough, she's also on Facebook and Twitter. Just look for "ksaugustin".


Charles Gramlich said...

I just recently self published an ebook through Kindle and even though I've got a pretty good response rate on my blog I've only sold about 40 copies. I don't think the profits are likely to be what Dorchester seems to be expecting.

Liane Spicer said...

Lots to agree with here, KS. At the moment no one knows how the print vs. digital 'war' will turn out, where the trends will top out, how publishers will adapt and how successful their changes will be in terms of profitability.

I'm not an objective observer: my only published book is with Dorchester and my second has been pending with them for awhile. As such, I'm trying not to form any hard conclusions until more information about the transformation comes to light - admittedly very hard to do right now. I'm hoping for the sake of their authors and staff that much of the current conjecture is, well, wrong. We wait with bated breath.

Shauna Roberts said...

A good analysis, Kaz. Unless Dorchester has brought in new staff with experience at the successful ebook companies (which hasn't happened that I know of), it's hard to imagine that this move to epublishing could be anything but a flop. I hope not, for all the Dorchester authors' sake.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I'm a Dorchester author. It looks like my latest is among their last mass market paperbacks.

I think they should study Carina Press, who I think has done a fabulous job of marketing their e-books.

Unknown said...

I came across this interesting article on Pat Conroy's foray into e-books. (He's the author of Prince of Tides.) What I like about his venture is that it's more than words on an electronic reader. His e-versions contain value adds like author interviews. I do hope Dorchester has developed an entirely new business plan with out-of-the-box thinking that equates to more than just digitizing its print books. (And not just because I'm a Dorchester author, but because I'm an author who wants a future in the publishing business in all its varied forms.)

Kaz Augustin said...

Sorry for the tardiness in replying everyone (just come back from a l-o-n-g weekend away), and many thanks for your comments.

@Charles, one of the things that I think is holding authors back from making informed decisions about the direction of their books is the thick reluctance authors have to discussing their royalties with other authors. Of course, all publishers will say they're the best, so it's difficult to make a clear-eyed decision. Let's hope mid-list authors in particular start thinking that it's better to share intel with other authors and make everyone's life a little easier.

@Liane, @Phyllis & @Stef: Not sure what to say ladies, except my best wishes to you and the decisions you will need to take sooner rather than later.

@Shauna: Everyone makes the mistake of thinking a digital press is the easiest-peasiest thing in the world to set up. But the track to digital is already strewn with many an e-pub trainwreck.

As you all point out, to go digital needs savvy. Does Dorch have it? You know my feelings on this. Only time will really tell.

Jessica Ferguson said...

Thanks! Your post has added to my education when it comes to Dorchester, ebooks and publishing.