A number of blogs have talked about Picador’s new plans to release literary fiction only in paperback, bypassing the “prestige” of hardcover. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of that Guardian story was the quote, “It is not uncommon for a literary fiction hardback to sell under 100 copies.”

I didn’t think much about Picador’s new publishing plans until I was browsing the bookstores on Avenida Santa Fe this weekend and noticed that Coetzee’s latest novel, Diary of a Bad Year, is already out in the stores here in Buenos Aires and in paperback.

Most literary fiction in Argentina already debuts in soft cover. I assume that’s true for all the Spanish-language market. No one here seems to mind and the price is certainly lower than a hardcover equivalent. Essentially, in the Buenos Aires bookstores you only see literary hardcover for collector editions.

Prices for one reason

Diario de un Mal Año
retails in Buenos Aires for 35 pesos, which is just over $11 US dollars. In the UK the hard cover is £16.99 and in the U.S. the book is a whopping $25.95! (And in the U.S. the novel isn’t even published yet).

Sometimes I complain about the price of books in Buenos Aires but in comparison 35 pesos is a great deal. But, hey, since Coetzee (one of my favorite authors) writes in English I’m going to wait for the English version, which will arrive with UK pricing converted to pesos – sigh.

But if publishers and readers of Spanish can deal with literary fiction coming out only in softcover, then why can’t UK and US publishers and readers?

Uh, about that cover

In another view to this topic: publishers of books in Spanish save a lot of money by ripping off cover designs from the UK. (Note that this Spanish edition of Coetzee is published by Mondadori, the huge Italian publisher.) Here’s the Spanish version:

Coetzee Spanish

Compare that to the UK version:

Coetzee UK

Now, compare that to the U.S. version, which is quite different and we find quite lovely.

Coetzee US

We like the UK version but prefer the U.S. version. The Spanish version is just an embarrassment, though it’s much better than a lot of book covers I see on the shelves of Buenos Aires bookstores. Note even the poor use of type in the Spanish version when compared to the UK version. Of course, it’s likely that Mondadori paid very little for the Spanish cover, probably 1/10 of the design fee charged for either the U.S or UK covers. For Spanish-language publishers, cover design is just not important – unfortunately.