On the TPOs of the World

By Kathryn Comment

When I first saw the subject of this article, I rolled my eyes. One more story, no matter how good, on TPOs, and I’ll tape it to my list of infinitely returning (/recurring) book article “ideas,” aka, articles I’ve had enough of. But, until then, the quality of this particular iteration, penned by Agate’s Doug Seibold, has me cradling its paragraphs in loving blockquote tags…

Here, Seibold describes his initial reasons for distrusting “the TPO option” and what eventually changed his mind:

There were a few more rules to [the hardback] game that also cut against the TPO option. The first was that if a hardback did really poorly, the smart thing to do was mercy-kill it, rather than release a paperback edition. The second was that the review media were disinclined to pay as much attention to TPOs as they were to hardbacks. The third was that booksellers didn’t quite know what to do with TPOs; many stores’ high-profile table positions were segregated between “new releases,” i.e., hardbacks, and “new in paperback,” i.e., reprints–leaving no real place for the TPO.

What really changed my mind about TPOs, though, was learning more about just how much the rules of hardback publishing have evolved. …. It’s so much easier for stores to stock paperbacks than hardbacks, despite the fact that they (as well as the publisher, and the author) earn a higher return on every hardback sold. Why? The reward of that higher margin is undercut by the hardback’s higher inventory cost. Even books selling in consistent but small numbers are likely to be returned, simply because of that inventory cost. I used to believe that the sales life of a decently performing hardback could be nine to twelve months if it was selling steadily. Now I understand how these factors all conspire to make that life much, much briefer.