Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Dorchester Goes Digital (Part II)

STATUS: I think my head might be spinning with all the stuff that cropped up today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE GUYS THAT SAYS GOODBYE TO YOU IS OUT OF HIS MIND by Griffin House

Today there is more on Dorchester’s move to all-digital in the Wall Street Journal.

Is this revolutionary and far-thinking? A move that many a small independent publisher will follow?

Well, it would be nice to think so.

Except I have one rather large problem with it. Via our evaluation of recent Dorchester royalty statements, this publisher has been having difficulty reporting monies owed to the author for electronic book sales—even when a quick search of the major eBook retail sites show that the books are clearly available in eFormat and have been available for several accounting periods.

When pushed regarding this issue, I’ve been given a couple of different responses—none of which have actually resolved the problem.

Yet. (Let’s hope.)

So if Dorchester plans to go all-digital, I’m worried for very practical reasons.

15 Responses

  1. Ricky Bush said:

    I agree with your assessment. There are quite of few e-publishers that have begun to offer print versions of their books to add to their economic canon. Then you have these yo-yos heading the opposite directions

  2. Anonymous said:


    The other reason this worries me is that Dorchester is particularly bad about getting its books into e-copy. I can think of more than one book released by Dorchester in the last year where the e-version lagged… oh, two months behind the print version.

    And half their Kindle books are still in Topaz format–meaning that Dorchester wasn’t ponying up the text copy.

    Dorchester is not what I would have termed a forward-thinking publisher on the electronic frontier. Up until now, I’d have said they were one of the most backwards.

    They have not been good about exploiting their digital titles thus far. I just can’t imagine how spotty releases, hard-to-read file formats, and poor distribution will serve their authors.

  3. Eileen Wiedbrauk said:

    How big of a publisher is Dorchester? Big enough to make a nice splashy Wall Street Journal article, obviously, but I’m curious as to where they rank in the Publishing House Food Chain. Having an idea of that would give me a better notion of how I should react to this news.

  4. Tara Maya said:

    I guess the question is whether Dorchester is the canary in the coal mine. It’s not that I doubt they painted themselves into a financial corner, but that, like newspapers, more and more publishers might find themselves in the same corner in the next ten years. There’s some talk of ebooks being the new paperbacks.

    That said, as an author I’d rather go with a publisher whose expanding from ebooks to print rather than closing down print and going only digital.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I never heard of Dorchester until one of their authors famously melted down on amazon last December over a poor reader review. That sparked a lot more negative reviews, making it sound like their books maybe weren’t very good.

  6. Anonymous said:

    And Dorchester isn’t the only former print publisher that has been having these problems either. I’ve heard stories where agents have pulled mss for breach of contract because small presses have not come up with the advances. And I’m not talking about six figure advances. I’m talking about small advances.

  7. brendan mcnally said:

    I suspect WSJ ran the article because this is a hot topic and its the middle of summer and everybody is jumping to conclusions anyway with fragmentary information anyway. Like most working writers, I’m following this matter closely and I’m always kind of entertained by what a half-assed job the major media is doing on this.

    A couple months ago I talked an avid Kindle user into buying my book one morning at the local starbux. She blanched at what my publisher (S&S) was charging, but did it anyway. She ended up loving the book, but she said the deal was to tell my editor that she didn’t think any ebook should cost more that $9.99. I told my editron and she never acknowledged the email. And from that I came to the conclusion that the Big NY publishers weren’t going to face reality until it was too late.

    Hey you want to read a black comic thriller set during the drop-dead last days of Nazi Germany when Hitler was already dead and his unlucky successor was on the throne for three weeks????

    Check out my novel, GERMANIA

  8. A. Shelton said:

    Brendan–There are books available for less than $9.99 on ereaders.

    I just bought a Del Rey Mass Market Original for my Nook for about $7.00. It’s the second book in the series, and B&N apparently had some sort of special contract because I got the fist book in the series for free on a Free Friday download, which has to be done at the store.

    There are many other books available, at least on the Nook, for less than $9.99, and many are recent publications.

    As for Dorchester–I wouldn’t trust them to be able to market anything of mine, not if they’re devolving to electronic format only. I think it’s a sign of their eventual collapse, especially considering they can’t keep their records straight regarding e sales in the first place.

    Personally, I believe all formats now available for books belong in publishing, and I seriously doubt the ebook will ever completely displace print books–especially not within the next ten years.

    I may be burying my head in the sand, but the more enthusiastic people are about things, the less likely I am to become interested in jumping on the bandwagon.

  9. Anonymous said:

    IMO, the WSJ article was an example of shoddy journalism. Did the reporter talk to any Dorchester authors? Any agents? The article mentioned that some authors might be unhappy. Gee, now why would they be? I mean, everyone should be overjoyed at taking a 92% pay cut without warning, right?

    In the article, Michael Shatzkin states that e-books make up about 8% of sales right now.

    And did anyone else catch this little jab at romance?

    “Romance fans in particular have already embraced e-books, in part because
    customers can read them in public without having to display the covers.”

    Really? What data does he have to back that statement up?

    So now our readers are embarrassed

  10. Anonymous said:

    Hi Kristin! Sorry for posting on an unrelated topic, but I didn’t see any email address for you.

    I have a question I would like to see you tackle on your blog. I notice that a lot of agents these days are looking for manuscripts that are “timely” or “relevant.” Judging by the type of stuff that has been coming out lately, this often means a changing of traditional literary roles in fiction: vampires who are protagonists, bad guys who are actually good guys, pirates are heroes, children come from broken families instead of stable ones, etc.

    While a lot of these themes are interesting and worth exploring, where does it leave authors who just want to write stories in the “traditional” formula? Is there still a place for stories where a prince saves a damsel in distress, child-protagonists come from healthy, supportive families and vampires are still evil creatures to be vanquished? Is the publishing world no longer interested in such stories? And do publishers saying they want “timely” subject matter just another way of saying they are looking for a reversal of traditional literary roles?

    I am very interested in your input. You can contact me privately, if you want, at


  11. MCPlanck said:

    Maybe Dorchester is trying the new, new publishing model called “we make money by not paying the authors.”

    And next they’ll move to the new, new, new publishing model called “we make money by making the authors pay us!”

    Oh… wait… that’s not so new.


  12. MCPlanck said:


    I think the answers to your questions are quite simple. Ignore all the buzz words; indeed, ignore all the words. What publishers want are stories that sell.

    It’s a democracy out there, and the voters vote with their dollars. Publishers and agents are just trying to keep up.

    You can still write traditional stories – check out Naomi Novik’s “Her Majesty’s Dragon.” It is a thoroughly conventional Regency piece, complete with proper English gentlemen and salty-dog sailing stories. Plus dragons. The structure of the story is right out of the good old adventures like The Three Musketeers. Plus dragons.

    To be honest, the dragons aren’t even all that important to the story. They do add a clever twist (and better yet, and easily marketable twist – Horatio Hornblower… plus dragons!) but the story is carried by the old-fashioned workhorses of character, plot, and dialog.

    The trick is convince somebody that somebody else wants to read your stuff. This requires skill, persistence, and luck, not necessarily in that order.

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