It’s a sad irony of the small press that many of their books are too expensive for the very people who most want to read them: diehard horror fans who aren’t content with what the major publishers have to offer.
I’m talking about actual books here, words printed on physical paper. Up until a few days ago I wasn’t a fan of the electronic kind.
I was raised on print. Nothing will ever replace the pleasure of turning pages. But the average price of a new book from the small press is around $40, and for those of us who live outside North America where the majority of the independent publishing houses are located, the added cost of international shipping can be almost as much as the book itself.
The small press is often where you find the best horror writers, but until about six years ago I didn’t know this. Like most people, I’d previously assumed that the only horror fiction in existence was that which was available in book stores. Usually this meant big names like King, Koontz, Barker, Straub and Rice, with the occasional smattering of the less familiar. These days most book stores don’t even have a horror section anymore and the few titles they do stock are usually scattered among the shelves of Science Fiction & Fantasy.
What’s worse is that these horror titles are mainly entry level stuff, novelizations of popular television shows and books targeted towards teenagers. Last time I was in a bookstore that did have a horror section, it was a space about a metre squared with three shelves that contained a handful of titles by three or four of the big names.
Enter the internet, where I stumbled upon another world called the small press and discovered a stack of amazing new writers. There were a couple of problems though. Their books were not only a lot more expensive but there was a whole back list of titles that were long out of print and either unavailable or going for truly ridiculous prices online if there were still a few copies floating about. For a newcomer like me this was devastating. I bought the few books I could afford and despaired of ever reading the rest.
But the other day I discovered that two out of print titles I’d wanted for a long time had been rereleased as ebooks: The Convulsion Factory by Brian Hodge and Ravenous Ghosts by Kealan Patrick Burke, two of the most sought after and critically acclaimed debut short story collections in horror, as any hardcore fan will tell you.
The few print copies of The Convulsion Factory still out there are selling for upwards of $150. A print version of Ravenous Ghosts is even rarer. In fact last time I checked it’s no longer available at all. The only print copy I’ve seen in the last few years was going for $250 and it was gone within a day.
But even that’s small change compared to the asking price for some books, like Charlee Jacob’s brilliant collection Up Out Of Cities That Blow Hot And Cold, of which only a single copy was available online for years at an asking price of $650. Or Quietly Now, an anthology tribute to Charles L. Grant, that can go for over $1000.
For obvious reasons the independents generally have to charge more than the majors. I can only imagine how hard it must be to run these small operations with only a tiny handful of staff, or in some cases one person literally doing everything. I want to continue supporting the small press wherever I can, but the price of print often makes it very difficult.
Thankfully however, things seem to be changing. Quality small press outfits like Necro and Delirium are now releasing ebook versions of not just new books but many out of print titles that were either impossible to find or outrageously expensive if you did manage to track down a copy.
The ebook versions of The Convulsion Factory and Ravenous Ghosts cost me just $3 each, and with a plethora of other rarities like Edward Lee’s The Stickmen and Operator B now available for under $10, horror fans everywhere are finally able to read many books they’ve been denied for so long.
I only hope that as more people choose to buy ebooks over print, the small press doesn’t increase the price of hardbacks and trade paper in order to compensate for reduced sales. If so, they might be forced to limit their print runs to a hundred or less, and the price of real books may soon exceed the average mortgage payment.
I sincerely hope not. But if it does happen, hopefully there’ll always be ebook versions available from now on so diehard fans and newcomers alike will no longer be left out in the cold.