Early in 2005, Pocket Books senior editor Marco Palmieri announced that, as of June, there would only be one Star Trek mass-market paperback book released per month, rather than two as had been the norm previously. “Our feeling is that we can do a better job, both editorially and sales-wise, by putting greater energy and effort into fewer and more carefully chosen projects, making the line leaner, meaner, and stronger,” he said in a post on Psi Phi.
Ultimately, though, it’s the fans who buy the books and who will be affected most – so what were readers’ feelings about the publishing cut?
“My initial reaction was mild shock,” says Geoff Trowbridge, creator of the Chronology of Written Star Trek Fiction. “As best as one could tell, book sales seemed to be strong, and what with no new Trek on television for the first time in 18 years, it seemed logical that the fan-base would gravitate toward the novels, with many fans perhaps discovering the written fiction for the first time.”
And what, in Trowbridge’s opinion, will longer-term fans of Trek literature be missing out on with the cut? “The obvious disadvantage is that there will be fewer new titles per month, thus the ongoing story arcs (which have been so phenomenal over the past few years) will take a bit longer to progress. Additionally, Pocket will probably start releasing more of their projects, such as the S.C.E. reprints, as trade paperbacks – a format that I’m not personally very fond of.”
However, such a decision may make perfect sense in marketing terms. “The publishing industry has its quirks, and what may seem odd to the reader might make perfect business sense,” Trowbridge continues. “There’s a rather tight profit margin on mass-market paperback books, and Pocket’s decision to ‘play it safe’ for the near future will probably reduce risk and minimise the need for further price increases down the road.”
So, will the cut in book production also affect the Trek franchise as a whole? Geoff certainly doesn’t think so. “Star Trek is ingrained in our culture. It’s not going away, and it’s certainly not going to be adversely affected by a small cutback in the tie-in fiction. And let’s not forget, this only affects the mass-market paperbacks. Hardcover releases will be unaffected, and the eBook format will undoubtedly continue to gain acceptance.”
John Patuto, founder of Cygnus-X1, has very strong feelings on the subject of the scheduling change. “This announcement”, he says, “coupled with previous announcements that Pocket Books would likely not publish any more [‘non-fiction’ books] related to Star Trek (technical manuals, episode guides, etc.) really hits home for an avid collector of Star Trek books like myself.
“2005 is a year that will clearly go down in Star Trek history, but not necessarily on a good note,” he comments. “We lost Enterprise and, for the first time in two decades, new episodes of Star Trek will not grace the airwaves in the fall. Further, Pocket Books announces a curtailed publishing schedule, essentially cutting the number of new Star Trek novels in half.
“‘Star Trek needs a break’ many say. I don’t fully agree. I feel that Star Trek needs an infusion of new ideas, new perspectives, a re-working of sorts,” John explains. “This can’t happen overnight, and so we are left with our current state of affairs – a prematurely cancelled series and a slashed publication schedule. If any good is to come of this, then it lies with Pocket Books. I would personally address Pocket Books with the following statement: Cut the schedule of Star Trek books in half? Then make absolutely certain that the books you do publish are worthy of inclusion in the Star Trek universe for they are the only new infusion of life into the Trek franchise. Stop producing technical manuals, episodes guides and other non-novel trade paperbacks? Then you risk alienating the audience that finds these products as valuable, if not more so, than the novels.”
Steve Roby – who runs The Complete Starfleet Library – believes that it’s up to the television production companies to secure the franchise’s future. “Paramount’s ability (or lack thereof) to successfully revive Star Trek in the next few years will have a big effect,” he says, “and that’s out of Pocket’s hands.”
Other science-fiction shows have tie-in book lines, and one in particular has survived a similar cut-back, as Steve points out. “A few years ago, when the Doctor Who novel line was cut from two books a month to one, fans prophesied doom. But the novel line has survived. Perhaps coincidentally, the supply of licensed Doctor Who material from other sources and unlicensed spin-offs has grown considerably in those same few years. Increased Big Finish Doctor Who audio output and new hardcover short story collections.” He lists Bernice Summerfield, Faction Paradox, and Time Hunter as examples of these spin-offs. “And although the BBC hasn’t increased the output in the core novel line in light of the success of the new TV series, it has started a new line of YA-oriented novels based on the new series,” he concludes.
So, if Doctor Who can survive a cut in book output, surely Trek will be okay too? Roby disagrees.
“Things look gloomier on the Star Trek side. Doctor Who is gaining popularity and new fans with its new TV series. Star Trek has had steadily declining TV ratings and box office receipts for several years. Its peak was probably ten years ago,” he points out. “There are no equivalents to the Big Finish audios, nor are there likely to be, and it’s just as unlikely that a second publisher will be allowed to pick up the slack by doing hardcover Star Trek anthologies.
“The Pocket folks seem to be trying to find ways of working with and around the new policy. Longer books. More than one novel in a book. But when you have about as many ongoing series as there are paperback novel slots in a year’s schedule… ” Roby trails off, but has a good point. With so many book-only series as well as those that are directly based on the TV shows, it’s going to take longer for volumes in an ongoing series to appear.
“Personally, I’m peeved that I’ll have to wait so long between instalments of DS9, Vanguard, etc.,” Steve says. “I wonder if we’ve already seen the end of at least one or two books-only series.”
The wait between books also annoys Scott Fry. “I have to wait even longer for a new New Frontier book,” comments Fry, who runs a detailed guide to New Frontier. “I only read the New Frontier series at the moment, so I’m only getting one book a year anyway, and the fact that paperback reprints of the hard-covers may be affected (meaning I might not get a book each year) is damned disappointing. This really feels like we New Frontier fans are getting kicked when we’re already down”.
It’s not all so bad, though.
“The advantages are numerous as well,” muses Geoff Trowbridge, also a “Timeliner” who works on establishing inter-novel continuity for publication by Pocket. “Authors should have more relaxed deadlines, editors should have more time for polishing manuscripts and brainstorming new ideas; and even the printing process may improve, if the snazzy dual-matte finish on Harbinger is any indication. And of course, for the completist collectors like myself, it’ll be much easier on the wallet. I should add… it’s less work for the Timeline research team as well!”
Jennifer Black, who runs web-chats with Star Trek authors on Diversity Fleet, agrees. “We’ll be seeing even longer, more polished work from the authors, and may see a bit more balance amongst the various series,” she says. “Obviously we won’t be having as many adventures coming our way, and some of the more popular series, such as the New Frontier series, will have even larger gaps between books.
“Overall though, I think that this change will be a plus for the franchise.”
Steve Roby is optimistic too. “The Star Trek book line will continue indefinitely. I do not see this as the beginning of the end of Star Trek novels,” he explains. “The fact that the people working at Pocket have given us some of the most inventive and exciting Star Trek storytelling ever in the last few years has to count for something, too. They’ve earned our trust.”
And, despite the drop in numbers, Trek fans are still better off than fans of other science-fiction franchises. Nobody in America is licensed to publish Stargate books, and overseas rights are held by a fan-run company. Doctor Who’s paperback tie-ins from BBC Books are currently in jeopardy, with no more scheduled after December and a long-term decision on their future yet to be announced. Farscape has only ever been treated to three novels. Trek fans are getting a bit less than they’re used to, but they’re still relatively lucky.
Geoff Trowbridge sums up the situation on a positive note. “Bottom line: This is just a business decision, and it’s absolutely nothing to panic about. Star Trek books continue to sell well and the quality has never been higher. Now, go read a book!”
Star Trek novels are released year-round by Pocket Books.