TOR delays ebook releases to libraries, claiming hurt sales

This sucks.

I get that publishers are hurting. Since Borders went bankrupt, they’ve lost a good deal of available retail space, so they want to maximize income wherever they can.

And naturally sales are low-- fewer and fewer people have money to spare for books. (Goddess knows, my “entertainment budget” these days would make a cat laugh.) So readers may choose to visit libraries if they can. (I know I do, though I check out ebooks more often than physical copies.) And perhaps that might have some miniscule effect on sales.

But in my opinion, TOR is shooting themselves in the foot.

Once a reader falls in love with an author’s works, it’s likely they will grab as much of that writer’s tales as possible. How better to entice a reader’s appetite than to let them sample at the library?

(This is a very popular gambit with self-published writers on Amazon. Dangle the first in a series for free, and sell the rest. Thanks to that strategy, I’ve got more books on my Kindle than I could read in a year. And while most aren’t polished, I’ve found some gems… and yes, I bought their follow-up books.)

And then, there’s the bad feeling this will cause. Library associations are already upset. If I worked at a library, I’d consider spending less of my precious budget on any publisher who showed my workplace such disrespect.

They’re not factoring in how the readers will react either. I know not every sci-fi/fantasy fan pays attention to publishers, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those that do start grumbling-- or maybe even “embargo” their own purchases. If they don’t revoke this policy, I’ll be thinking long and hard before I buy any TOR books. (I’ve got plenty of hardcopy and ebooks waiting for my attention already.)

What are your thoughts?


I’m with you. This is basically saying, “We don’t like our bottom line, so fuck publicity and our main discovery channel. Let’s just go after the people who are already die-hard fans.”

I wish SF would get it through their collective heads: most SF fans don’t go to WorldCon. Most SF fans are not obsessive collectors. Most SF fans do not lovingly buy every single book.

And, most importantly, most SF fans don’t care who the publisher is. If TOR isn’t there at the library, they will happily move to the next option.


To my mind, the important things for fiction are author, series, and reviews.

I don’t have an accessible library. I can’t really search online bookstores. I’ve tried that.

If there’s an author I like, I may look through their works to see if there’s anything else I might like.

If there’s a shared series I like, such as 1632, I may look through various authors’ works, while checking the reviews.

If there’s a lesbian lit blog I like, I may look through featured s-f and historical works, among others.

And generally, online recommendations.


While I don’t think it is a great thing they are doing, I will cut TOR some slack due to the number of free eBooks they have and their no DRM stance.

Unless they changed that and I didn’t notice.


So many of my book purchases have been directly tied to what I first read at a library, or downloaded from the book club.[1]

I understand Tor Books’ decision. Digital sales are… not that great given the flood of writers uploading today. It sucks, but they do know their target market: people who avidly follow a Tor author and want the newest book as soon as it’s published.

[1] euphemism for “acquired”


Bless those Russian FTPs from the Aughts

edit: Actually I was thinking about this earlier today with the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter upon us. That when the fifth or sixth book was coming out, I found myself in possession of a zip file of .JPGs that was the entirety of the book photographed (photographer’s hand in every shot) a week before the release.

Not a pleasant read by any stretch of the imagination


I can appreciate Tor’s previous free books and DRM stances, but I’m not willing to cut them slack on this one. It robs their authors of every chance they can get to grow an audience. It insults the libraries that have placed their books in the hands of readers. And I can’t help but feel it disrespects the readers themselves; apparently if we can’t pony up cash immediately, we’re of no value to them.

It’s not like I don’t have sympathy for how rough book sales are-- I worked at Borders for over a decade. I get it. But with all the alternatives available, from rival publishing houses and independent authors to used booksellers, their decision to limit their market (and aggravate potential customers) makes no sense to me.


How does this limit their market?

Some established fans will want the latest as soon as it’s available. But someone browsing is as likely to stumble across a new author 36 to 40 months after publication a 0 to 4 months after.

If libraries stop picking these up because they think Tor is limiting its market, then their response would limit its market, but… that doesn’t seem rational to me.


That assumes the books will still be available. Publishers often cease distribution on books that undersell in as little as 3 months. Sometimes they can the ebooks at that point as well.


This is true. But as a general rule, the majority of a book’s sales will happen at or around its release date. That’s when any promotion (by publishers, authors, book review periodicals and websites, new release displays in stores, etc.) tends to happen. After a while, sales figures slow down, and as @gadgetgirl says, publishers will cease printing unprofitable books to focus on newer, hotter releases. Physical stores will also pull and return older books to make room for newer titles. So, as a general rule (barring Acts of Oprah), the first few month’s sales figures can make or break a book’s profitability.

So I get why Tor’s looking at four month sales figures for titles. They want that cash-in-hand right now, if they can get it.

But consider this scenario: I’m a book-loving reader with a limited budget. I hear about this amazing book from the Whatcha Reading? thread, and it’s new. I go to my library’s website for the ebook, but oops, it’s not there because Tor won’t sell it to them yet. If I’d read that book, I might have fallen in love with it. And, when money permitted, I might have bought several books by that author.

But it’s not there, so I grab something else instead. I want to read now. Time goes by, and four months later, the library has the amazing book. So what? I’ve completely forgotten that title exists. Maybe I’ll recall it if I go back in the thread, but most likely I won’t. Maybe I’m chasing down a new release I just heard about, or I’m too busy devouring book 5 from {something else}'s series. It doesn’t matter, Tor’s out of luck. They lost a sale. Possibly more than one, if it’s part of a series.

When you consider that libraries have to pay additional licensing fees to allow people to borrow ebooks, each ebook copy a library purchases brings in more money than a single copy here or there. So forcing libraries to take a cooling-off period and making them focus elsewhere for content might cost them in the long run. As readers forget the title and stop asking for it, why should a librarian spend their precious money on what is now a backlist title when they could put it into a new release instead? (@Jilly, do you have any input on this you’d like to share?)

I could be wrong, of course. I’m a rabid reader and a long-time bookstore worker so I’m not gonna have an average reader’s view on this. But I think that limiting their initial readership/market to only those who can pay now won’t help them as much as they think it will.


My first thought was that book publishers were using record company accounting, i.e. treating each download/loan as a lost sale, which is pretty obviously bunk. But if the window to make money on a book is as short as you say (not that I doubt you, I just didn’t know that about publishing; I would have guessed that books have longer tails in terms of total sales), then the library embargo does make a certain sort of short-term sense.

I agree that it also seems short-sighted, though, and I’m still having a hard time imagining that someone who couldn’t check out a particular book would choose to spend money on that book rather than just read something else (assuming budget is part of their decision making process). OTOH, apparently it does happen (or at has happened at least once), so maybe they will get extra sale or two. :grinning:

Or maybe there just aren’t as many casual readers as I think there are and only super-fans buy new books. In fact, now that I think about it, when I buy new books, they’re typically from authors I already know and like, and part of my motivation is to make sure they get paid for their efforts and my enjoyment.


Gosh you mean a publisher did something not in the interest of their authors or their readers? Imagine that.


Publishers use a “throw it at the ceiling and see what sticks” method for product. For promotion, though, they put all their money on the established authors. It’s one of the reasons first-time authors consider self-publishing.


the average Tor author has only about 50–60 total e-book copies available to borrow “from the thousands of library catalogues” OverDrive supplies worldwide.
“the most typical number of unit holdings for a library for Tor e-books,” Potash said, “is zero.”

the average wait time to borrow an e-book of a current New York Times bestseller is about 10 weeks.

I’m not the type to rush out and get things on release day, and I typically have a backlog of books to read (both on the shelf and ebooks) way more than four months long. But I find it a curious move because a four month delay just doesn’t make any sense in the terms presented. It hints at some other underlying motive.

Perhaps that’s it - a move by some newly-hired MBA to optimize by not even developing e-book versions until they’re past the window where they managers decide whether to drop support? Any hint on whether they’re also delaying e-book sales? Seems counterproductive either way. E-books can be inventoried indefinitely at trivial cost and still sell at about the same prices as print books.


I read a blog post by author Maggie Stiefvater last year that talked about how pre-publication and day-of piracy nearly cost her a book deal, and how she went about proving it to her publisher.

I wonder if TOR is simply experimenting to see if a similar effect is happening to their books.


That might be in the mix. At least here in Canada, lit fic has to sell out its hardback run – around 3,000 copies here – before most publishers will consider a paperback run (apparently they’ve never heard of people reading on public transit). For a while ebooks came out at the same time as the paperback, though that doesn’t seem to be true anymore.

But Tor sells genre lit,and genre books often skip the hardback run (or it comes out later as a collector’s copy). Still, someone might be using this sort of logic to change releases.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve researched the industry, but I gotta say: publishing seems to be an industry totally divorced from its customer base.


Fixed that etc.


Appreciate it!