Monday, August 09, 2010

Dorchester Moving to a All-Digital Format

Dorchester Publishing has been around for nearly forty years. It is a well-respected independent publisher best known for its romance lines although it also publishes Westerns, horror, mysteries, and thrillers.

Its sister company Dorchester Media publishes the romance magazines (True Love, True Confessions, True Romance, etc.) that gave me my first writing paychecks many years ago.

According to Dorchester's website here:
Founded in 1971, Dorchester prides itself on being the oldest independent mass-market publisher in the U.S. Its efficient size affords the company the freedom and flexibility to adjust quickly to market changes, as well as take a chance on projects that don’t necessarily fit into neat categories within the various genres. For more than thirty-five years, its dedicated staff has worked tirelessly to discover and promote new talent.
For the last year, there have been rumors that Dorchester was having financial difficulties. Back in January, DearAuthor reported here that Dorchester had sold both the frontlist and backlist titles of some of their top authors to Avon, a division of HarperCollins. That author list included titles by Christine Feehan, Marjorie Liu, Nina Bangs and Lynsay Sands.

According to Marjorie Liu's blog here, she hadn't known anything about the sale until after it was completed.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for the investment firm Smith Barney. Back then, the prime directive was "never touch the principal." That precept's meaning is simple: Clients were encouraged to spend the interest on their investments, but warned never to whittle away on the main investment itself--the principal. When a client requested that we sell an investment to free up cash, it usually meant one of two things: either their income had suffered, or they were living beyond their means.

Dorchester's sale of its most valuable assets suggested two things: (1) They needed cash fast and (2) They were unable to produce that cash any other way (like through a bank loan).

Last month, right before their 2010 convention was scheduled to begin, RWA announced that, because Dorchester was unable to pay author royalties in a timely manner, the publishing house would not be permitted to participate in any editor appointments, workshops or spotlights (meetings in which the publisher describes its services and the type of manuscripts they are interested in acquiring) at the Convention.

Last Friday, Dorchester dropped the other shoe. They announced that effective today they are moving away from a mass market paperback format to a totally digital format with selective print-on-demand.

Publishers Weekly reported here:
Dorchester will continue to do print copies for its book club business and has signed a deal with Ingram Publisher Service for IPS to do print-on-demand copies for selected titles. According to [Dorchester president John] Prebich, some e-books that are doing well in the digital marketplace will be released as trade paperbacks with IPS fulfilling orders; the company, however, will not do any more mass market paperbacks for retail distribution.
The Wall Street Journal reported here:

Dorchester Publishing Inc., a closely held book and magazine house, said it is making the switch after its book unit sales fell 25% last year, in part because of declining orders from some of its key retail accounts, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart declined comment.

Teleread reported here:
Prebich conceded that Dorchester will have lower revenues, but he expects margins to improve. He said the company is working out a new royalty rate with authors that he expects to announce next week. Editors are talking to authors now about the changes. “We hope they’ll stay,” Prebich said.
This sounds like a wise and timely move for Dorchester. The decision will dramatically cut both their exposure to loss and their expenses during a very uncertain time in the industry.

As an privately held company, Dorchester has more freedom to make needed changes rapidly.

Dorchester also has a lot of years of publishing experience and some of the best-respected editorial staff in the industry. Just think of all the authors who got their starts at Dorchester. I once submitted a partial to Chris Keeslar (which he savaged) and would be happy to do so again. I've also talked to a number of authors who have raved about Leah Hultenschmidt as an editor.

During the years I was in graduate school, I worked on Dallas County's Mobile Crisis team. A friend gave me a sign for my desk. It consisted of the Chinese word wēijī, which he told me stood for both "crisis" and "opportunity."

A Chinese visitor to my office later told me that the characters have multiple other meanings besides "opportunity."

Nothing in life is simple. That sign still hangs over my desk today. I find it helpful to remember that every crisis in life holds some danger as well as great potential for positive outcomes.

Best wishes, Dorchester.


Tara Maya said...

It's an interesting move. I wonder if we will see more of this.

Maya Reynolds said...

Tara: I suspect few print publishers will so dramatically move totally from one format to the other. I think it is more likely that over the next three years they will offer e-book publication to new and unknown writers while continuing both e-book and print publication for their best-selling authors.

By 2015, I'm guessing e-books will be the dominant medium, and print books will be increasingly expensive and--except in rare cases--offered only via print-on-demand.

Kaz Augustin said...

Now you see, we might have to agree to disagree here, Maya. My take is at: It's not quite as, um, positive as yours.

Liane Spicer said...

Maya, I'm a Dorch author and I have to say it was good to read a positive, hopeful, kind post about this latest upheaval amid all the hysterical screaming.

Change is so often painful, this one none the less so. I too hope Dorchester not only survives this, but grows stronger as it adapts.

Former Dorch Author said...

Here is the problem -- whether Dorchester moves to a digital format entirely is not the real problem for authors. The real problem is that for years Dorchester has refused to pay authors the royalty monies that are due to them. They have been sued many times and for good reason.

Clever wording in contracts kept authors from receiving money from thousands of books that were "held against returns". That means money was held back by Dorchester in case books were returned by bookstores. This is a general practice in publishing, however Dorchester used the phrase "reasonable time" which meant it was up to them when they decided to release those monies.

Current contracts require Dorchester to release these monies after four years. However, they don't do it. I have books published over four years ago under the new contract stipulations and I've never received my "held against returns" money. Also, I had one book that was made into an eBook and I didn't know anything about it. I have never received any royalties from its profits.

Now I have tried to get back my rights on my other books, per my contractual agreement, but because they are going to a digital form, I can't get them returned. My other books are being made into eBooks. Will I ever see any money from these? I have no reason to think so because I have learned that I cannot trust Dorchester.

The editors at Dorchester were good, kind, wonderful people with integrity and class, and I'm sure they are not part of what has gone on behind the financial scene at Dorchester. What is happening now is a result of Dorchester's Powers That Be and the ways they have chosen to do business, essentially stabbing their authors in the back.

This is why authors are hysterical. Those who have just sold books to Dorchester are stuck! It's obvious that there is no money to pay them. Perhaps they will be be paid in the future, but there are authors right now who haven't been paid for a very long time. They must be paid first. If anyone gets paid at all!

It is so sad because in spite of their shortcomings, Dorchester had great editors, great covers and great distribution. But that won't pay my electric bill, and I sure could use some of that money that I am still owed, as I'm sure all the other authors could as well!

In conclusion--WARNING: Don't sell any books to Dorchester, thinking they are just going through a tough time and will rebound. Unless they come clean with the bad business practices they've been implementing for a very long time, they cannot be trusted, and you as an author will just end up being screwed over like the rest of us.

Sorry to sound so negative, but I feel that aspiring writers need to know what's really going on. I wish the former editors of Dorchester my very best wishes. They are all amazing and deserve so much more! I hope they are finding new positions that will give them the accolades they deserve!