Have We Reached the eBook Tipping Point?

Doc's not sure the problems at Dorchester are all about a switch from print to e-books – could just be a slowdown in the romance category or some other market factors. But if the company thinks it can make a profit with this new hybrid scheme of e-books and print-on-demand, then it's worth taking some notice. Many publishers would like to lower their up-front costs for putting a new title on the market. This may be the way.

Doc's a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the hype about e-books. Don't get me wrong—I'm a huge fan, I just don't think the change is happening nearly as fast as some people would like us to believe. Because Amazon doesn't release sales figures for its Kindle e-book reader, it's hard to tell just how many devices are actually out there in the market (and being used).

So I was curious to find this worthwhile read over at the Digital Nirvana Site. It's about a large romance-book publisher shutting down its offset/retail channel and going just for e-books and print-on-demand.

Mass market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing has dropped its traditional offset printing business in favor of an e-book/print-on-demand model effective with its September titles that are "shipping" now. President John Prebich said after retail sales fell by 25% in 2009, the company knew that 2010 "would be a defining year," but rather than show improvement, "sales have been worse." While returns are down, the company has had a difficult time getting its titles into stores as shelf space for mass market has been reduced, Prebich explained. Dorchester recently let its field sales force of seven go. The editorial team remains intact, although Prebich said the number of titles released monthly will likely be reduced from over 30 to 25. He said the schedule for 2011 is set and Dorchester has books in the pipeline through June 2012.

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 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.

Prebich said Dorchester's e-book business has had "remarkable growth," which he expects to double again in the next year. Still, digital sales accounted for only 12% of total revenue prior to the company making the transition to the e-book/POD model. Prebich conceded that Dorchester will have lower revenues, but he expects margins to improve.

Doc's not sure the problems at Dorchester are all about a switch from print to e-books – could just be a slowdown in the romance category or some other market factors. But if the company thinks it can make a profit with this new hybrid scheme of e-books and print-on-demand, then it's worth taking some notice. Many publishers would like to lower their up-front costs for putting a new title on the market. This may be the way.

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