The headline is hyperbole, but I’m still scratching my head over why, beyond sheer greed, the heirs of Harper Lee have asked Hachette to discontinue the $8.99 mass-market paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird. This is one of the most taught novels in the world. Now cash-strapped schools and kids will have to buy the trade paperback from HarperCollins, listing for $14.99-$16.99.
“Unsurprisingly,” reports The New Republic, “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.” According to the magazine, “BookScan tracks most, but not all, physical book sales in the U.S. and often lags by a week or more, which means that the actual numbers are almost certainly greater.”
Oh, and in case you want to buy the Kindle edition from HarperCollins, it’s $10.99, or more than the current paperback. Don’t you love agency pricing?
Let’s hope that a new mass-market paperback and lower Kindle prices for TKAM will come in time.
In a related vein, Harper Lee’s will is now sealed. The New Republic concludes: “Given the hubbub surrounding Go Set a Watchman, it’s likely that even opening Lee’s will to public scrutiny wouldn’t placate doubters. It’s an unfortunate twist in the legacy of one of America’s most beloved writers. For an author whose reputation in life was rather similar to her character Atticus Finch’s—noble, high-minded, resistant to trouble and chaos—Harper Lee has, in recent years and now, after her death, become one of America’s most controversial writers. It is a striking change in reputation, but one likely to be permanent if the estate continues to operate in secrecy. “
Detail: TNR does note: “Schools typically receive a bulk sale rate that gives them more than 50 percent off of the list price of a book—they most likely pay less than $4.50 per copy of the mass-market paperback of TKAM, whereas a copy of the trade paperback would cost no more than $7.50.”
The copyright angle: The more situations like this one, the greater the pressure will grow for shorter copyright terms.