To kill a golden goose

One thing about the estate of the late Harper Lee: they move quickly, if occasionally incomprehensibly:

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.

One immediately assumes this decision is dollar-driven, and perhaps it is:

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.

John Scalzi speculates that this action will “make sure this book is no longer taught,” what with the additional cost of six dollars per student. Truth be told, I wasn’t aware that mass-market paperbacks were being used in classrooms; back in the last century when I was actually reading things for class, we always got the trade paperbacks. (Hardcover, of course, was out of the question.)

I am sorely tempted to order one of Hachette’s last remaining books from Amazon, which is offering it to Prime members for $5.89. (It’s $10.99 on the Kindle.)

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3 comments »

  1. fillyjonk »

    11 March 2016 · 8:40 pm

    We used ’em, at my high school (and in junior high, which was when I actually first read Mockingbird)., But that was thirty-odd years ago so what do I know?

    Also, they had some library-bound versions – like the mass paperbacks but with harder covers – for books the teachers didn’t want us to have to buy.

    I actually own the Folio Society version of this, which cost me about ten times the Amazon price of the mass-market, but it has illustrations and better paper.

  2. Roger Green »

    12 March 2016 · 4:40 am

    This is most unfortunate.

  3. McGehee »

    12 March 2016 · 8:58 am

    So, do the royalties flow for the trade paperback amount to more money than mass-market, even at lower sales volume? Or is it possible Lee had an ownership stake in Harper-Collins but not in Hachette?

    This really seems like an odd decision.

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