Saturday, August 07, 2010

Hard Case Sticks to Its Guns

Yesterday’s news that depressed sales have convinced Dorchester Publishing, “one of the country’s oldest mass paperback publishers,” to give up producing traditional print volumes and instead make its titles available “in digital format and print-on-demand only” was more than a little surprising. It raised questions among many crime-fiction enthusiasts, because although Dorchester’s print list consists largely of romance works, it also distributes the Hard Case Crime line of new and classic hard-boiled fiction.

We asked Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai for his reaction to this news. He sent back the following note:

“As a lover of books, I am always sad to see a strong and long-lived publisher go through hard times, doubly so in this case because the people at Dorchester are good people and friends of mine. Triply so because the challenges they face to their business model are challenges all publishers, big and small, are facing these days. I wish book publishing were more robust than it is. I also wish peace would finally come to the Middle East. About equally likely, I’d say.

“As for Hard Case Crime, specifically, its fate is not particularly tied to this situation; I own Hard Case Crime, and if Dorchester is no longer in the business of printing and distributing our sort of books, we can hook up with another publisher or distributor who is. I am having conversations with several, and I imagine things will become clearer in terms of what options we have over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, the two books of ours that are on our Web site but haven’t yet been published will no doubt be delayed, and when they do come out it’s likely to be in collaboration with a company other than Dorchester, but I do expect they will come out, and that other Hard Case Crime books will follow.

“One caveat: Even before this development with Dorchester, I’d chosen to scale back our list (from 13 books in 2009 to just 4 in 2010), not because of anything to do with Dorchester but simply because of my schedule. I’ve been publishing essentially a book a month for the past six years and doing the vast majority of the work involved singlehandedly, and it’s left me precious little time for anything else. (It’s a miracle I somehow managed to also write four books in that time!) More recently, I started working as a writer and producer on the TV series Haven, and that has also consumed a lot of my time--in the most wonderful way, it’s true, but there’s no way I could have done that and kept up the book-a-month schedule. And I have other books I want to write, other TV and film projects I’m working on, etc., etc.

“So Hard Case Crime is likely to continue for at least the next few years in a scaled-down form--a few books each year, not a ton. But as Spencer Tracy once said of Katharine Hepburn, what’s there will be cherce.

“That’s pretty much all there is to say at this point. I have no interest in turning Hard Case Crime into an e-book-only or e-book-first publisher--nothing against e-books (some of my best friends are e-books), but that would just defeat the point of Hard Case Crime, which is to celebrate a particular sort of physical artifact, the mid-century paperback crime novel. I’d be happy to explore other ink-on-paper formats, such as trade paper or even hardcover--back in the Golden Age there were all sorts of book sizes and shapes, include those weird, long military editions and various bigger and smaller trim sizes of paperback, and of course a wide range of hardcover styles, from pocket bible to leatherbound tome. But paper is paper and pixels are pixels and Hard Case Crime is about paper.”

Commenting on another mention of Dorchester’s news, this one in Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, Ardai notes that the Hard Case publishing delay caused by this development will most affect two titles “currently planned for this October and next March.” The first of those titles is apparently Max Allan Collins’ Quarry’s Ex, while the other is Christa Faust’s Choke Hold.

We wish Ardai and Hard Case good luck in resolving this situation.

UPDATE: Author Robert J. Randisi points out in the Comments section of this post something that has not been made clear in most of the reporting on Dorchester’s decision: that while the company will stop producing mass-market paperbacks (presently more than 80 percent of its business), it will continue to publish trade-size paperbacks, along with e-books. Unfortunately, all of Hard Case Crime’s many books are, by design, mass-market paperbacks.

READ MORE:Hard Case Crime Update from Charles Ardai” (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine).


Naomi Johnson said...

I, too, wish Ardai and Hard Case all the best.

Ronald Tierney said...

Same here. And thanks Rap Sheet for keeping us informed about what's going on in the publishing world.

michael said...

I am not a book collector but I own over a thousand books. I am a reader. There are many books Hard Case Crime has published I would have bought if they had been available as e-books.

The reason I bought my Kindle was to organize my library so I could find any book I owned easily.

I am curious to the e-book rights to the titles published by Hard Case Crime. I understand and respect Mr. Ardai for his work to honor the mid-century paperback crime novel format. I hope he continues. And I hope he allows others to publish the titles in the e-format. Mr. Ardai's choice in writers and the books they wrote has been too good for the writers' work not reach every possible reader just because the format is more important.

RJR said...

Dorchester is not abandoning book publishing. They will be publishing titles in Trade format. Basically, they are moving into Trade and E-book publishing. This is not so much the act of a publisher falling on hard times as it is a publisher trying to move with the times.

Charles Ardai said...

I have no objection to other people bringing out ebook editions of our books, and from time to time people have -- Lawrence Block has brought out Kindle editions of all his Hard Case Crime titles, as have Russell Atwood and Jack Clark, to name just ones I'm aware of. And Dorchester has done ebook editions of some of our titles (such as my own FIFTY-TO-ONE) when we happened to have the rights.

But I have no interest in making the ebook either the first or the primary (or the only) format in which our books appear.

As for Bob's comment that "This is not so much the act of a publisher falling on hard times as it is a publisher trying to move with the times," the truth is it's both. When announcing the change, Dorchester's president cited as the principal reason for it a 25% drop in book unit sales in 2009, which drop has worsened in 2010. As he told the Wall Street Journal, "We've been putting in the effort but not getting the results." I very much hope this change winds up being a successful one for Dorchester and its authors -- and. hell, maybe even for me -- but it's definitely got an element of hard times to it.

Gonzalo B said...


Does that mean that your Dorchester Westerns will now be published as trades?

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RJR said...

Gonzalo B., Don D'Auria at Dorchester told me just today that they will be publish8ing as many original westerns as always. That means Trade.


Gonzalo B said...

RJR, Thanks for your reply. That's great news.

Amy said...

I am wondering what this does to its Leisure line of Western novels. It has published numerous reprints as well as a few new titles over the years.