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In which John discusses the strange history and even stranger present of paperback book publishing, and argues that readers in 2023 should be able to read however they want to read for Day 1 of publication.

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Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday. So my first novel Looking for Alaska was published in hardcover almost exactly 18 years ago. And back in 2005, here's how traditional publishing generally worked. At least for first-time authors, like myself, your book would come out in hardcover and then if it sold well enough, 12-24 months later, it would come out in paperback. This is not actually the American paperback of Looking for Alaska, which I couldn't find. This is the Bulgarian edition, but basically the same thing, just different letters. And this is still how many books are published, but I'm not sure that it should be. Incidentally, the paperback for my new book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, is about to come out and I will be live and in-person in Miami, Florida to launch the book on March 23rd, tickets in the doobly-doo.

So numbers, I'm bad at math so I have to pick round numbers. Let's say the average hardcover costs $30, the average paperback $20. Now, hardcovers are somewhat more expensive to print. They have certain bells and whistles, the binding's a little better, they might a subtle tuatara debossed onto the hardcover, et cetera.  But they don't cost like $10 more to print, so hardcovers are more profitable per unit sold than paperbacks. Like if I get 3 or 4 dollars per hardcover sale, I might get $2 per paperback sale. Also, publishers and bookstores have higher margins per hardcover sold, but paperbacks, because they are less expensive, tend to sell overall more books. So from a publisher and bookstore perspective, hardcover first publishing makes alotta sense, both because it allows publishers to make more money on the first year of a book's life. And because it allows them to find out which books are likely to have a large enough audience to make paperback publishing profitable.

Sidenote: Paperback publishing didn't even really exist until 1935, and it didn't become a big deal until the armed services editions of paperbacks were distributed by the million to soldiers during World War II.

So you know, publishing can change. It just tends to change kinda slowly. So back in 2005, my entire goal for Looking for Alaska was to sell enough copies to make it to paperback because that meant it would be in print for an extra couple years. I was working at Booklist magazine at the time and so I knew that the vast vast majority of novels sold fewer than a thousand copies. But Alaska sold about 6,000 copies in its first year and did make it to paperback, and now, 18 years later, it's still in print and these days people expect to be able to read it however they want. Whether that's a $20 hardcover or a $13 paperback or a $12 audiobook or an $11 ebook, people wanna read how they wanna read. 

But I want people to read in their preferred format because that makes it more likely for them to enjoy the book and recommend it to friends and family, which ultimately is why Looking for Alaska is still in print. Right? Like it's not just good for readers when they have their ideal reading experience, i-it's also good for authors. So I understand the immediately business reasons for publishing hardcovers first, but in the long run, we want readers to love reading whether they're reading ebooks or audiobooks or paperbacks.

Also you can specialize for format, like the audiobook of The Anthropocene Reviewed has a couple different reviews that need audio to work; the paperback will have my review of ginkgo trees and the first art made in space because I wanted to put them there; the hardcover has a secret review on the last page where I review the annoying thing where they're like, "Hey, did you like this book? You might like John's other books." 

So yeah, part of me wishes the paperback had come out when the hardcover did, but I'm absolutely thrilled that the paperback is coming out at all. Also it means that the large print edition will no longer be confused with the paperback and I won't get emails from people saying "Why's the font so big in the paperback?" So that-that-that'll be nice. However you've read or might read my books, thank you for keeping them around and for allowing them to live lives I never could have imagined 18 years ago. 

Hope to see a lot of y'all in Miami and Hank, I will see you on Friday.