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).