Why Doesn’t Black Library Love Paperbacks?

“All releases in all formats” is a catchphrase that’s bandied about a lot in regards to the Horus Heresy series, referring to Black Library’s commitment to a) release all of the audio stories in prose format, and b) make all of the main-range books available in the three different physical formats – hardback, large format paperback, and small (mass market, or legacy) paperback. What’s most interesting about that phrase is the very fact that it exists at all, given that multiple formats is a pretty new concept for Black Library. You only have to go back a few years, to 2012’s release of Angel Exterminatus, to find the first of the main-range Horus Heresy books to be released in hardback; before that it was only the occasional book such as the Sabbat Worlds anthology that came out in hardback.

sabbat-worlds

An early hardback

Before that point, it was paperback all the way for Black Library. Now, I don’t want to go into any real detail on the pros and cons of books being released in hardback – on the one hand it’s a bit of a pain for those of us who started series in paperback, and it also means that we have to choose whether to pay a premium or wait for a cheaper release, but it also (in my opinion) signals a shift in the perception of Black Library in the bookselling world. After all, it boils down to supply and demand – if enough people want to read a book badly enough, they’ll buy it as soon as it’s released regardless of the format.

The question I’m most interested in is…what’s happening with the subsequent paperback releases? It seems to have become de rigeur for the initial hardback release to arrive with all the usual pomp and ceremony only for the subsequent paperback release(s) to barely make a stir, which seems odd given that a large number of fans prefer not to fork out £18 or £20 and so wait until the paperback comes out. Now I’m making an assumption by saying that, but I think it’s a pretty fair assumption to make – I know I’m always torn between the demands of my wallet and my desire to know what happens!

Let’s take a quick look at a few recent releases, just to illustrate what I’m saying. First off, take a couple of recent Horus Heresy titles – Angels of Caliban by Gav Thorpe, and John French’s Praetorian of Dorn. Both of these novels came out in hardback to the usual fanfare, as befits new books in Black Library’s flagship series. Three months later, each one came out in the large paperback format (for £12.99 instead of £20) which is available in bookshops as well as the Black Library website, and did they get any promotion from Black Library? Nope. No eshots, no mention on Facebook…silence.

How about The Talon of Horus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden? Now that was a big release – one of the best-loved authors writing about Abaddon the Despoiler, in a book that was about as highly anticipated as they come. It had a gorgeous First Edition release initially, and then a later release in ‘standard’ hardback, both (if I remember right) coming in 2014. When do you suppose the paperback came out? Hint: the usual release schedule sees a paperback come out around nine months after the hardback…

Talon of Horus.jpg

…STILL WAITING…!

November 2016. TWO YEARS later. Surely that got some coverage from Black Library though…right? An email, maybe? A Facebook post? Nope. I mean…WHAAAAT? 

It seems to happen all the time. Since October 2016 I reckon I’ve seen at least ten paperbacks pop up online with little or no support from Black Library – Straken by Toby Frost, Shield of Baal from the Space Marine Battles series, Legends of the Dark Millennium: Astra Militarum and Sons of Corax, books 3 and 4 of the Age of Sigmar Realmgate Wars series…the list goes on. 

Why, Black Library? Why don’t you want to tell us about these paperbacks? I mean, don’t you want people to buy them?!

I can only really think of a few reasons, and none of them are particularly compelling. Here are a few possibilities…

  • Maybe it’s to do with the ebooks coming out at the same time as the hardbacks…perhaps the sales of ebooks are worth more than the benefits to be made publicising paperbacks nine months later…
  • Paperbacks naturally garner extra visibility from the book trade that the hardbacks (which are often only available direct from Black Library) don’t; after all, they’re available in bookshops, Amazon and so on. I’m not sure that’s even relevant though, as quite a lot of the hardbacks are now available in the book trade almost as soon as they’re released online…
  • Perhaps it’s assumed that the hardcore fans will go out of their way to find out about these books themselves, so there’s no need to spend money on additional marketing…

Now I’ll be the first to admit that they all seem like pretty shaky justifications. I just can’t think of a genuinely good reason not to advertise the fact that these paperbacks are being released. Emails are being sent anyway, and it doesn’t cost anything to stick another post on Facebook (does it?) now and then…so why isn’t it happening?

I don’t have the answers, but I’d love to find out a bit more about this. More than that though, I’d love to see these awesome paperbacks get supported better, for the sake of the authors who slaved away to write them! After all, these are great books that deserve to be read by as many people as possible. Black Library sales and marketing team, if you’re reading this…how about you show a bit more love to the paperbacks? Surely it’s worth it…?

EDIT: after seeing the response this article prompted, I followed up with a second post that you can find here.

5 comments

  1. Thank you for your post. I don’t buy hardbacks. The only hardbacks I bought were the the end of times. The rest I buy only paperbacks – which sometimes I wait as you said 9 months or even more. That’s okay, I don’t mind that. What I mind is the titles unavailable in paperback format. Then there is the mult types of books…

    Premium;
    Collector;
    Hardback (the bigs ones) 25£
    Hardback (smaller ones – the beast arises comes to mind); 15£
    Tradepaperbacks
    MassPaperbacks (only HH nowadays)
    Ebooks

    I think Black Library wants to save up money and it gains a lot more with the hardbacks. We don’t know numbers of copies of each one but I still think the paperbacks sell ok or else Black Library would discontinue it…

    As I said I don’t mind waiting ( I waited for the Talon of Horus tradepaperback; and still wait for the HH masspaperback). What’s a shame is that with all the types of books it’s really hard to grasp all that has been release..

    talking about Age of Sigmar I have been buying the new tradepaperback via bookdepository (its cheaper than from them; I don’t buy anything from BL website because their prices are higher than online stores); But The Gates of Azyr it’s the first “novella” (They don’t do novels from age of sigmar anymore with barely 200 pages they are really novellas”) – Now I have the first 3 (the fourth is on the way) – but what about Fyreslyars; Skaven Pestilents and Black Rift – are they going to be avaiable on tradepaperback? I have the full release i bookdepository to 2018 and no mention of these stories… So must I buy harbacks? (ebooks are out of the question)…

    Then let us talk about image… It’s quite nice to see my BL range of 400 novels in tradepaperbacks and probably 300 in masspaperbacks and then in some a mix (Gotrek and Felix comes to mind) then some big hardbacks and then some smaller hardbacks… it’s really a shame…

    I talk to much… thank you for talking about these questions…One other question I would like to hear or read from you would be – why the short stories and novellas input and no big novel in Age of Sigmar? It seems they are not interested in a 416 page book but they prefer a mix of short stories with novellas… I really hope they don’t do it in HH and 40K (althought 3 books are going to be release these year in tradeback of HH that are a compilation of short stories or audiobooks.. Garro (42); Silent War (37) ; Eyes of Terra (35) & War withouht End (33); A bit strange…

    1. Thanks for commenting. The proliferation of different formats is definitely an interesting question, and one that I’m hopefully going to discuss at some point fairly soon in a different post, as well as the GW-only hardback releases. I think you must be a lot more patient than me to wait for the paperback each time!

      In terms of AoS books, I *suspect* the short novels/novellas came about purely as a result of time constraints – i.e. the authors didn’t have enough time to write longer books. I think we’ll see more AoS books coming out this year than people maybe expect…so it’ll be interesting to see if any of them are longer.

      That being said, maybe we’ve been programmed to expect longer (400+ pages) books over the last few years that have been more about page count than overall quality. I know I’d prefer an amazing 50k word novel than an average 100k word one…!

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