Dorchester Publishing: Leisure Books; Love Spell Books. They call themselves “the oldest independent mass-market publisher in America,” (founded 1971). Great editors. Great distribution. Really strong in paranormal and futuristic romances. One of the last markets for horror and westerns. Advances and royalties a bit on the low side, maybe, but they sold a lot of books. And they had some star talent: Stephen King published The Colorado Kid through their Hard Case Crime imprint.
Nice people. Really professional.
Then: 2008. Rumors start spreading that Dorchester is deferring royalty payments until 2009. Advances are rumored to be not only small, but … late.
2009. Rumors that Dorchester isn’t answering phone calls or emails from its authors. Some haven’t been able to get through to their editors in months. Rumors that Dorchester is planning to start e-publishing.
January, 2010. News. Dorchester has sold some of its backlist—and some of its frontlist—to Avon. Assorted Cassandras notice that the authors who are being sold to Avon coincidentally are the NYT best-sellers and authors with major agents. Small groups of the remaining Dorchester authors begin to gather and mutter among themselves. There’s talk that checks from Dorchester’s magazine-publishing arm (the Trues; True Romance et al.) are bouncing.
February, 2010: Dorchester announces its “Publisher’s Pledge”:
“Publisher’s Pledge is a reaffirmation of the business model Dorchester has always prided itself on,” stated Brooke Borneman, Director of Sales and Marketing. “Our strength has been identifying emerging voices and trends in the industry rather than chasing bestsellers. Our intent is to reestablish ourselves in the market as the publisher authors and agents turn to first to introduce new talent. Dorchester has proven countless times—through our innovative marketing, tireless dedication and willingness to take chances—that we are uniquely qualified for this special and vital niche. This program represents our commitment—our pledge, if you will—to everyone in the book publishing community.”Authors are not reassured.
Launching in April 2010, the Publisher’s Pledge program will be supported by online and national print advertising; bookstore mailings; press release and ARC campaigns to media, reviewers, bloggers, retailers, libraries and consumers; lead features in bookseller, library and consumer e-newsletters; consumer contests and buzz campaigns through social networking sites; and a money-back guarantee for readers.
July, 2010: Rumor is that all editor appointments, workshops, and spotlights on Dorchester at the RWA conference have been canceled: Dorchester Dis-invited from RWA
August, 2010: Authors are stunned to get an email saying that, effective 01 September 2010, Dorchester will cease mass market publication in favor of e-books and digital printing.
Dear Authors & Agents,
Given the many changes in the publishing industry over the last several years, Dorchester has made the decision to more tightly focus its distribution models so that we may fully capitalize on the most profitable emerging technologies.
Starting with September titles, we will be moving from mass-market to trade paperback format. This will delay new releases roughly 6-8 months, but it will also open many new and more efficient sales channels.
And we’re pleased to say all titles will be available in ebook format as originally scheduled. The substantial growth we’ve seen in the digital market in such a short period—combined with the decline of the mass-market business—convinced us that we needed to fully focus our resources in this segment sooner rather than later.
Inventory for backlist titles is currently in the process of transition to a new warehouse from which all reorders will continue to be fulfilled.
Dorchester has always been known as a company ahead of the curve and willing to take risks. As bookstores are allocating the bulk of their capital to the digital business, it only makes sense that we do the same. Everyone keeps hearing that the industry has to change if it’s going to survive. We’re excited to be at the forefront of that change and will continue to keep you posted on further developments.
E-book enthusiasts are jubilant; their predictions of the future of publishing are coming true! Dorchester is leading the revolution! Others are not so sure. Some authors whose books were rejected by Dorchester wipe their brows and talk about “dodging a bullet.”
Publishers Weekly picks up the story: Dorchester Drops Mass Market Publishing for E-Book/POD Model
The big news from the PW article, hidden in a subordinate paragraph: Dorchester has fired its sales force.
Authors, still huddled in corners, begin to wonder aloud whether “leading the revolution” might be a euphemism for “circling the drain.” Smart Bitches, Trashy Books speculates: Dorchester Does Digital, Authors Do What?
The Wall Street Journal is confused, but tries valiantly to figure out publishing.
Some authors, Mr. Prebich conceded, may be unhappy if their titles are available only via e-books and print-on-demand, but he said that so far the response has “been receptive to what we’re doing.”
Hold that thought.
A couple of days later, at PW: Confusion, Backtracking at Dorchester After ‘All Digital’ Headlines
Is Dorchester going all digital? Leah Hultenschmidt, editorial director at the publisher, said headlines from last week that emphasized the company’s move away from mass market paperback to a largely e-book program miscontrued the situation. “It’s true Dorchester is going digital, but only for the next six months,” Hultenschmidt explained. Her comment comes after Dorchester said late last week that it would be dropping its mass market publishing program, releasing all its titles in e-book format and publishing select books via print-on-demand.Confusion, yes, as company spokespersons directly contradict one another.
Still later in August, authors learn that Dorchester hasn’t just fired its sales force. They’ve let all-but-one of the editors go. And there’s More Bad News From Leisure:
Worse, from what I’ve been told, the company is apparently not filling orders to vendors, bookstores or authors. I’ve seen this personally over the last week. In the past, authors could call the warehouse and order a box of their books to take along to conventions, etc. Last week, the warehouse staff was informed that no orders were to be shipped — not to bookstores. Not to distributors. And not to authors or other vendors. Insiders tell me three different reasons were given for this, including that the company “was switching warehouses” and “was taking inventory.”
Authors start to talk about dead-pools, and the words “six months” are frequently heard. Some of the optimists give them a year. Authors Speak on the Dorchester Shakeup.
The next day, authors learn that, the very same week Dorchester announced they were going all-digital, they’d let their digital director go: Don’t Have To Tell You What This Portends
The slapping sound you hear is authors face-palming. Some of the authors who gave Dorchester a year try to change their bets.
September, 2010: The September releases are announced, all of them “out of stock.” But there’s no hint of where or how to get e-versions of those titles. Rumors fly that “All Dorchester-Leisure titles are being returned by Borders, B&N, etc. Horror, romance, western, ALL TITLES. ” Author Brian Keene mentions this; he also says:
The other big news I announced at Horrorfind is that I’ve reached an agreement with Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing for the return of my back-list (The Rising, City of the Dead, The Conqueror Worms, Ghoul, Dead Sea, Dark Hollow, Ghost Walk, Castaways, Urban Gothic, Darkness of the Edge of Town and A Gathering of Crows). Print rights reverted back to me today. Digital rights will revert back to me on December 31st. What this means for you, the reader, is that all of those books will be disappearing from your local bookstore very soon. The publisher can sell off their remaining stock, but can’t print more copies. So if you’ve been waiting to purchase one, you’d better do it soon.Pay attention to the “digital rights.” They’ll be important soon.
Still in September rumor says that, up in Canada, older Dorchester titles are all “unavailable” on Chapters’ website. New Dorchester titles are reportedly not even listed. Some authors report getting reversion letters on their books. Some are stilled owed thousands in back-royalties with no indication when, or if, they’ll be paid.
E-book versions of at least some Dorchester titles are available. Including some titles that have reverted. Authors can’t get ahold of Dorchester to ask what’s up. Others, more experienced in e-books, say that in the e-publishing world reputation is everything, and is Dorchester aware of that fact?
By the end of September, Dorchester is giving away free e-books at B&N — including books to which they allegedly don’t own the digital rights. Some True magazine authors are reportedly being told that their lack of payment is their own fault, for failing to send invoices.
October, 2010: Authors who had submitted manuscripts three or more years before start getting rejection slips. Authors speculate that this means someone is emptying out the filing cabinets at the office. Over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: Tales of the WTF: Dorchester Reverts Rights, But Continues To Sell Digital Books
…I thought the Dorchester drama was, for the most part, over - until I received an email in my inbox from author Jana DeLeon.SFWA sends out an alert to members about Dorchester’s unauthorized ebook sales. The story hits Publisher’s Lunch.
DeLeon received the rights to her work from Dorchester on 15 September 2010. She even sent me a PDF of the rights reversion in case I doubted her story. She hasn’t been paid, nor has she received royalty statements in months, but now she has a bigger problem.
Over a month later, her digital books are still on sale pretty much everywhere. (Please note: links to books on sale ahoy. I’m going to do something horrible and ask you NOT to buy them. Please. Do not buy them. I have no faith that DeLeon or any Dorchester author I link to would ever see a dime.)
Her books, including “Showdown in Mudbug,” are online at Amazon.com, and there’s a paper copy available, too. Barnes & Noble also has her books for sale for the Nook, and independent retailer All Romance also has them listed for sale.
Why? Short answer: Dorchester, despite being contacted by DeLeon and her agent, Kristin Nelson, hasn’t stopped their digital distributor from selling them.
MWA alerts its members as well:
Dear MWA Member:
The National Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on October 6, 2010 to remove Dorchester Publishing from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately, primarily because the company no longer meets two of our key criteria.
First, the initial print run by the publisher for a book-length work of fiction or nonfiction must be at least 500 copies and must be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores (not “special order” titles). In other words, print-on-demand publishers and Internet-only publishers do not qualify.
Second, the publisher must not wrongfully withhold or delay royalty payments to authors. We have been hearing an unusually high number of reports from our members of unpaid advances and withheld royalties on their Dorchester books.
Dorchester titles will no longer be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration nor will its authors be eligible for Active Status membership for any books published after October 6, 2010. The board made it clear to Dorchester that it is welcome to re-apply once these problems have been cleared up.
November, 2010: PW reports Dorchester Hires New CEO; Sets New Plan:
After rumors surfaced over the weekend that Dorchester CEO John Prebich had left the struggling publisher, PW has confirmed that Prebich is indeed out and a new CEO has been named in Robert Anthony. Anthony, who was most recently CFO and CEO at Backe Marketing, is, per a statement from the house this morning, going to “revitalize” Dorchester, which has been under fire for not paying some of its authors and changing its plans, after announcing it was moving to an all-digital list.
No one quoted in last August’s PW articles still works at Dorchester. Anthony seems to have a marketing, rather than publishing, background.
Buried in the PW story: “Also, previously unavailable backlist titles from Dorchester will now be available online at www.dorchesterpub.com.” No one wonders at that moment why the backlist titles were unavailable.
In the middle of the night, Thanksgiving weekend, Dorchester authors get an email. It includes this paragraph:
Things you should know:
. If your rights have reverted, Dorchester is still able to sell these books. A caveat of our reversion notice allows for sales of all pre-existing stock. Be assured that we are not going back to press on any of these books in order to sell them at a discount.
What no one thinks to ask at the time is exactly what a “pre-existing stock” of an ebook might be.
Subscribers to the Trues get this notice from their distributor:
The publisher of True Story and the other True titles has informed us there will be a delay in printing their December 2010 Issue. This will cause the magazine to be delivered up to 4 weeks late; however, you will still receive the full term of your subscription.
The following magazines will be affected:
We apologize for the inconvenience.
True Story, 91 years old, reportedly has 250,000 paid subscribers.
December 2010: SFWA puts Dorchester on probation.
January 2011: Some of Dorchester’s magazines are up for sale.
February, 2011: The Trues are up for sale.
March 23, 2011: Dorchester announces a contest:
Dorchester is building its upcoming pub list, and along with all the great new genre fiction filling the pipeline, we’ll be releasing the best of our backlist in e-book format. But we need your help!Exactly how they’re going to get the electronic rights for books that came out before e-books were even a possibility isn’t specified.
Be part of the process and help us select which backlist titles will be released! Send us between 10 and 20 titles that you want to see in E-book and be entered to win $25 worth of e-books from the Dorchester Web site!
Perhaps your favorite series is missing a few titles. Or your favorite author’s early works were published before e-books were even a possibility. No matter the reason, if you’re looking for a Dorchester title in e-book format and it’s not yet available, let us know. We want to hear from you, the reader, and make our upcoming list of releases the best it can be!
Some Dorchester/Leisure authors are less-than-thrilled: Stand Up And Fight.
I think this is a GREAT idea! But do you know what would be an even BETTER idea? If you gave back the rights to all the authors who have been waiting patiently while you guys screw around! If you do that, I’ll be a happy customer.
And the note from Dorchester got some folks thinking, and looking around at the web. They didn’t like what they saw. Various people comment on Dorchester’s Facebook page; the comments are deleted on an hourly basis.
March 24, 2011: Do you remember Brian Keene, who was going to get his digital rights reverted in December?
Dorchester wrote an email to Brian: “They asked me to ‘make a post’ stating that this wasn’t their fault and that they are ‘trying to rectify the situation’ because ‘people have been trolling the Dorchester Facebook page and posting angry notes.’ That they view their customers’ legitimate concerns as ‘trolling’ is quite telling.”
Dorchester is still selling his works even though they’ve reverted the rights. He writes a post, but it probably wasn’t what Dorchester wanted. He offers a recap (with links), and calls for a boycott of Dorchester.
March 25, 2011: Guess What Dorchester? “It’s On” Author Stacy Dittrich wants the pirated ebooks taken down:
I will fight this to the finish at all costs, and the rest of the books will be available again and out of the hands of this corporate thief. Right now, I am using my contacts to secure an attorney who will happily file a class action suit against Dorchester publishing. I am also checking contacts at several law enforcement agencies to see if criminal charges are possible as well. Interested Dorchester authors contact me at email@example.com so I can start compiling a list for the class action. I truly hope authors from all publishing houses publicly throw their support behind the Dorchester authors and sign Brian Keene’s petition. No writer should ever have to endure this type of treatment from a publisher.
Stacy notes that her one-day sales of a book that she put up in e-format herself, are greater than two years’ reported sales from Dorchester. She suspects shenanigans.
March 26, 2011: Jana DeLeon, the Dorchester author mentioned above who managed to get the e-book versions of her titles taken down last autumn because Dorchester didn’t own the digital rights, notes that her titles are back as mobile-phone apps—from Dorchester.
Today: Publishers Weekly runs Dorchester Promises to Do Right by Authors
Given Dorchester’s financial struggles last year and issues about non-payment to authors, [Dorchester CEO Bob] Anthony and [senior editor Chris] Keeslar said they understood there is skepticism about the company, but insisted that the publisher is committed to solving the problem with Keene and treating all authors fairly. Dorchester will pass along all money to Keene on e-books that were sold after rights reverted. “We’ll get him [Keene] everything that is owed to him” Keeslar said.
HWA has reportedly dis-invited Dorchester from the annual Bram Stoker Awards.
And that is where things apparently stand: Dorchester seems to be selling e-books to which they do not have the rights, and pocketing the cash. Where it will end…remains to be seen.
Here’s Dorchester-Leisure on Twitter, for those who want to see the latest.