Friday, March 11, 2016

Hell hath no fury like heirs who've had to wait too long for their ship to come in: Harper Lee's are cashing in

First, the second, lesser book. Then the Broadway musical. What next? A theme park- The Harper Lee Experience- made of up an empty warehouse where there's nothing to see for the $49.95 family day pass? 

Having gotten her will sealed, Harper Lee's heirs are busily monetizing her legacy for their greater profit. Now they are shutting off the cheap edition of To Kill A Mockingbird generations of kids have read in school.

The New Republic has obtained an email from Hachette Book Group, sent on Friday, March 4 to booksellers across the country, revealing that Lee’s estate will no longer allow publication of the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.
...According to the email, which a number of booksellers in multiple states have confirmed that they received a variation of, no other publisher will be able to produce the edition either, meaning there will no longer be a mass-market version of To Kill a Mockingbird available in the United States. Mass-market paperbacks are smaller and significantly cheaper than trade paperbacks—sometimes called “airport books,” mass-market paperbacks are typically available in non-bookstore retail outlets, like airports and supermarkets. The most popular trade paperback of the last few years is almost certainly the stout paperbacks of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Another place people are likely to encounter mass-market paperbacks is in schools, where they are popular due to their low cost.
The email contains a discount code for the mass-market paperback effective Tuesday, March 1, one day after Lee’s will was sealed—Hachette has to liquidate its stock, since it will only be able to sell its edition for a limited amount of time, so it’s offering an additional discount for booksellers. A spokesperson for Hachette confirmed that they were ceasing publication of the mass-market paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird.  
While Hachette only published the mass-market paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins publishes the trade paperback, hardcover, and special editions of To Kill a Mockingbird, and also published Go Set a Watchman last year. Asked for comment, a spokesperson for HarperCollins, which publishes the trade paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird said that the company “will continue to publish the editions that we have.” HarperCollins’s editions of To Kill a Mockingbird ranges in price between $14.99 and $35. 
Why does this matter? Mass-market books are significantly cheaper than their trade paperback counterparts. Hachette’s mass-market paperback of TKAM retails for $8.99, while the trade paperbacks published by Hachette’s rival HarperCollins go for $14.99 and $16.99. 
Unsurprisingly, the more accessible mass-market paperback sells significantly more copies than the trade paperback: According to Nielsen BookScan, the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 55,376 copies since January 1, 2016, while HarperCollins’s trade paperback editions have sold 22,554 copies over the same period. (BookScan tracks most, but not all, physical book sales in the U.S. and often lags by a week or more, which means that the actual numbers are almost certainly greater.) 
For Hachette, this could mean a significant loss of revenue and for HarperCollins, which published Go Set a Watchman and is now the only publisher that can claim Harper Lee as an author, it almost certainly means an increase in Lee-related revenue. 
That said, mass-market paperbacks have been on a precipitous decline lately, though TKAM’s success, particularly in the education market, makes it a notable exception. But many publishers are moving away from the format. Pressed for further comment, a HarperCollins spokesperson informed me that “Like many American classics, To Kill A Mockingbird’s primary paperback format will be the trade paperback edition.” That’s an important distinction: The general trend in publishing has been against the mass-market and toward more expensive (and durable) editions—many American classics, including The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath no longer have mass-market editions.
Of course, the book will still be available in any public library in the country, and used copies are available on Amazon for prices as low as 40 cents (plus shipping and handling). But the disappearance of the mass-market edition could have a significant impact on schools. The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is both so accessible to young readers and so widely taught in America is crucial to its cultural importance. In 1988, the National Council of Teachers of English reported that To Kill a Mockingbird was taught in a whopping 74 percent of schools and that “Only Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Huckleberry Finn were assigned more often.” Today, To Kill a Mockingbird has almost certainly surpassed the controversial Finn as the most assigned novel in America’s middle- and high schools, and those often cash-strapped schools are far more likely to buy the cheaper mass-market edition than the more expensive trade paperback. According to the email sent by Hachette to booksellers, “more than two-thirds of the 30 million copies sold worldwide since publication have been Hachette’s low-priced edition.” 
Without a mass-market option, schools will likely be forced to pay higher prices for bulk orders of the trade paperback edition—and given the perilous state of many school budgets, that could very easily lead to it being assigned in fewer schools. (Schools typically receive a bulk sale rate that gives them more than 50 percent off of the list price of a book—they most likely pay less than $4.50 per copy of the mass-market paperback of TKAM, whereas a copy of the trade paperback would cost no more than $7.50.) Hachette is upfront about this possibility: a bullet point in the email reads, “The disappearance of the iconic mass-market edition is very disappointing to us, especially as we understand this could force a difficult situation for schools and teachers with tight budgets who cannot afford the larger, higher priced paperback edition that will remain in the market.” 
Without a mass-market option, schools will likely be forced to pay higher prices for bulk orders of the trade paperback edition.

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