I’ve just gotten home from New York, after a visit with my publisher, and am delighted to see all the comments about my last post,Â regarding print size.Â In his comment,Â JA Konrath (whose blogsite every writer should be familiar with) wondered what I thought of the new larger-format paperbacks, which some cleverÂ soul has christened the “venti” form.
It just so happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about this newÂ format.Â And I’ve been asking questions about it, too.Â The subject came up while I was talking to my publisher.
For those who haven’t noticed,Â the new paperback format is about an inch taller than the standard mass market paperbacks, but the same width, and they’re priced about two dollars more.Â I first noticed them about a year and a half ago, when I walked into a Borders bookstore and noticed that the top shelf of the wooden paperback display rack was entirely taken up by venti-sized titles.Â Not coincidentally, those same pb’s were also on the bestseller list.Â But which came first, I had to wonder: the chicken or the egg?Â Did the fact those books were on the top shelf HELP them onto the bestseller list?Â Or were they bestsellers to begin with, and therefore earned their way to the top shelf?
I asked a Borders sales clerk what she thought of the venti format, and wasn’t it interesting that theÂ best sellers just happened to be all venti?Â She gave a groan.Â “Oh, THOSE things.Â We put them all on the top shelf because that’s the only place where the damn things fit.”
What a stroke of publishing genius!Â You produce a pb in a new and unusual format that FORCES the bookseller to place the title on the top row — the very best place to catch a customer’s eye.Â What a brilliant move!Â Â Â Â
Those first venti paperbacksÂ appeared to be fabulous successes.Â TheyÂ hit bestseller lists, they had great visual exposure, and at the higher price ($9.99) author and publisher were making more money per copy sold.Â I wanted my paperbacks to grow up to be ventis, too.Â
Then I started asking questions.Â And discovered the downside to these paperbacks-on-steroids.
First,Â the venti format doesn’t mean bigger print — in most cases, it just meansÂ more white space around the margins.Â Yes, the reader may THINK she’s getting a book that’s more easily readable.Â But the font size doesn’t necessarily change.
Second, there’s that price.Â Two bucks more per paperback is starting to sound like an extravagance, especially for women, who buy the majority of paperbacks.Â It would certainly make me pause before buying.Â At $7.99, mass market paperbacks are already hitting the threshold for the budget-minded.Â At $9.99 — my god, that’s nearly ten dollars for a paperback! — you are going to see a lot of readers put the book back on the shelf and head for the library instead.Â Â My publisher told me that while the author and publisher may be seeing the same or more profits as always, due to the higher cover price of ventis, they’re actually LOSING volume of readership.Â They’re charging a higher price, but selling fewer copies.
That, I say, is a disaster.Â Because if you want to build a career as a bestselling author, you need word of mouth, and you need readers.Â A lot of readers.Â Not just thoseÂ readers who happen to have enough money to shell out ten bucks for a paperback.Â You want everyone — teenagers on allowances, moms on budgets, retirees who are watching their pennies.Â You don’t want to lose any of them.Â And asking them to pay two extra bucks may do it.
Finally — and this is the real problem — there’s that awkward size, which doesn’t always fit the standard mass market shelves that many bookstores now have in place.Â Sure, it’s nice to be on the top row for a week or two.Â But what happens when the next shipment of titles comes in?Â Where do bookstores and drugstores and supermarkets put those ventis, if they can’t fit them on a lower row, where older releases usually go?
They return them.Â That’s right.Â They don’t get the prolonged stay of execution a normal-sized mass market may enjoy, sitting on a lower rack for a few weeks beyond its pull date.Â If the store doesn’t have room on the lower rack, those ventisÂ are kicked out.Â Or they’re laid on their sides, spine out.Â They may have had theirÂ time in the sun, but it’s a briefer moment of glory.
So I’m happy to stay in the tried-and-true mass market format.Â Â Maybe my paperbacks don’t make that big visual splash that the ventis do, but I’m happy to linger a little longer on the shelves.Â Â Word of mouth sometimes takes months.Â I’ve discovered that my sales pattern has a prolonged “tail” –Â manyÂ of my readers discovered me long after my books were first released.Â Â But they’re not going to find me if my books have already beenÂ returned to the publisher.Â