Monday, November 13, 2017

Let's Talk: Old Books, New Covers....Same BS?

Today Jen's got a Let's Talk for you, all about reprints and changing covers and ridiculous pricing. It's a good one, so I hope you enjoy and join the discussion! 😃

Confusing reprints, Switching images, and Dated BS, Oh My!

Want to learn about what you really think about books? Start writing about what you read, and all of a sudden, everything becomes so clear. I didn’t even know I had SUPER STRONG FEELINGS about slapping new covers on old books until I realized that I talk about it a lot on the Twitter. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that economics is at the heart of this. Old books are only rebranded if there is money to be made. But since I’m just a regular person and not a reporter, and even though I would absolutely love to know more, these questions I have about the industry will just have to remain a mystery. I’ve decided the best thing to do is just talk about how I feel about old books/new covers as a reader.

That's Normal

First of all, as a lifelong reader, I’m well aware that older book covers just become dated. Stories might be universal and timeless (more on that later), but book covers are not. The regular updating of book covers to reflect current trends is a perfectly normal and acceptable activity. Let’s look at an example that I think really works, Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series. The first book, A Hunger Like No Other came out in 2006 and has had three updates. The first one looks hopelessly dated, the second one looks like Twilight, and the third one looks like one I’d want to buy. And, in fact, one I did buy. Mission accomplished, Pocket Books.

That's Overpriced

Here’s where things start getting a little more interesting. If you’ve been reading romance long enough, you have those books you read that you just can’t forget. In the age of Amazon, you don’t have to scour used book stores for old romances, you can just search for the title. Someone has that 20 year old category romance you remember reading! Even better, the back lists of popular authors are often digitized and turned into eBooks. You can get that sucker right on your Kindle! Sometimes, I just want to experience that nostalgia and reread those old books I loved.

Here’s a book I remember reading, a category romance called Matilda: The Adventuress. When you look for this book on Amazon, it is clearly marked as a “Loveswept Classic Romance.” And if you look at the screenshot of the Amazon page, you can see the other versions of this book that are available, including paperbacks starting at $1.36. 

I can’t help but wonder: why are the eBook versions of these old romances so expensive? Matilda the Adventuress was published in 1987! $5 is a lot of money to pay for a 30 year old category romance that’s 180 pages. This is where I can’t help but wonder who makes money on this kind of transaction---the author or the publisher?

Nostalgia is a powerful thing! For example, maybe I’d want to look for that Loveswept series by the same authors about an earlier generation of Delaneys, the one where the couple had sex on a horse. I vividly remember the sex on a horse book! Maybe it’s worth it to me to spend my money looking for it. Either way, this an example of when new covers seem fine as long as they are clearly marked as a “classic.” I know what I’m paying for, and I sure hope the author is getting a fair share of that sale.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder about the math for the publisher: is it better to sell a few nostalgia reads for $5, or would they sell more and make more if the book was only a buck or two? Or here’s another way to think about that math as a reader: if the nostalgia factor is that strong, why not buy the paperback from an Amazon seller for about the same price and experience that cheesy 80s goodness in its original form?

That’s Insulting

Here come the examples where I am just salty as hell. Adelaide: The Enchantress is part of that same 1987 Loveswept series. Look at that glossy, gorgeous cover! However, you’ll notice that the Amazon buy page has some notable differences. This book appears to only be available as a digital copy, and  and there’s not a single hint that this is a republished 80s category romance. The publication date is listed as October 10, 2017. It takes some sleuthing to figure out what’s going on here. It is possible, if you’re squinting, to notice that there’s a “see all formats and editions” link above that big old kindle price box. If you do quite a bit of scrolling, there is a statement from the author...kind of. Instead of being in the book description, it’s the first review,  a five star ranking and the following statement:

A note from the author: When my publishers began to reissue my classic romance backlist I made a deliberate, conscious decision to not "update" the books in any way. These books, of which I am very proud, were written for a particular audience at a particular point in time. Out of respect for those readers and that time, I choose to allow my work to stand as it was.

That’s all well and good, but this still raises lots of red flags for me. Why isn’t this clearly marked as a classic romance, like Matilda, which is a book from the same series? Why is this page suppressing or hiding the fact that other versions of this book are available, and for cheaper? How likely would a new romance reader be to buy this book if they knew it was just a new cover slapped on a 1987 book? I’m way too cheap to buy it just to find out how it holds up, but one Amazon reviewer said, 

“The romance genre has changed immensely over the last 30 years so I was hoping this republication would have been updated greatly since it's original 1987 form. If it was, I couldn't tell. It read very old and dated.”

Clearly she didn’t get the memo from the author in time to save herself that $6. It’s hard not to feel like this is just a bait and switch from the publisher. This is a book that people are going to buy because they think it’s new, not because they are looking for nostalgic fucking on a horse. 

That's Racist

I’d sort of calmed down and forgot about how pissed I was about Adelaide the Enchantress, and then I saw Suleikha Snyder calling out Harlequin, which is giving new titles and covers to old romances by Susan Mallery from the early 2000s. It’s not the quality of information for the reader that’s the problem here. When you go to the Amazon buy page, it’s clearly marked as a classic romance and it’s what I would expect price-wise for a nostalgia read--it’s only $1.99.

The problem is that the new name and cover hide the fact that this is one of those racist AF sheikh romances. If you didn’t know that sheikh romances are super-racist, let Suleikha explain. In fact, you can google the phrase “sheikh romance racist” and find quite a few explainers on why these books are a MASSIVE problem. The thing that’s so inexplicable about the rebranding of this particular Susan Mallery title is that Harlequin is still pumping this crap out on a monthly basis, and they think we need more of it? They’re printing them because people are buying them, so if it’s you? Please stop.

It’s likely that the new cover and title are meant to lure Susan Mallery fans into thinking this is just another sweet, small-town romance. I mean, you’ve probably already figured out where I stand on representation in romance. A strong case can easily be made for how books about small towns full of white people reinforce all kinds of white-supremacist thinking. So hiding super-racist tropes as a small town white romance is even worse and totally gross...even for Harlequin.

That’s a Rapist

It’s one thing to publish old-fashioned romances as classics. But considering just how rape-y so many old romances are, I have to wonder why old rape-tastic romances like Sunset Embrace, originally published in 1985, are getting these glossy cover updates. JK. I know it’s about the money.

Notice how the old paperback cover is honest about the fact that it’s a “classic love story” while the new eBook version with a 2015 publication date just says “a historical romance.”

In case you don’t remember this one, just read the one star reviews which describe how the “hero” rapes the heroine. Other Amazon reviewers explain that the book seems dated and problematic to modern eyes. Except, for your own sanity, definitely skip the review where the person tells you books that have “masterfully written” rape scenes. I am not even fucking kidding. Rape apologists in the Amazon reviews section is next fucking level.

TL;DR: There’s a time and a place for a nostalgic romance read. But so much of what I discovered here makes me angry. I’m angry that the rape-romances of the 80s are being revived without warning for the Kindle generation. I’m angry for readers who get turned off of the awesome romance genre by books that aren’t clearly marked for what they are: dated books from decades ago. I’m angry for all the people that spend their hard-earned money on these books without realizing what they are buying. 

Do better publishing! Do better readers! My goal: for every “nostalgia buy” I make, I pledge to buy an equally priced romance from a new-to-me author. One who, I’m sure, is hoping, dreaming, and wishing that one day her romances will become classics.

Jen's spilling all the tea and I'm 100% behind her about it all.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the sneaky reprinting of old books, the covers that cover up the problematic shit, and the overpriced nostalgic reads? Have you come across these problems while one-clicking?


Until Next Time,

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