Imagine going to the book store in search of a classic literary work, antiques guide or cookbook. To keep costs down, the search is narrowed to paperback titles only. Now, imagine the available selection is limited to poorly-produced detective stories.
In today's bookselling climate, this scenario may seem unbelievable, but 60 years ago it was the norm. Back then, the paperback book market consisted mainly of cheaply made fiction books that sold for approximately a quarter. Not until Hayward Cirker, co-founder of Dover Publications (www.doverpublications.com), decided to remedy this disservice to readers, did the market undergo a transformation.
"Cirker had the idea to produce paperbacks that were more like hardcovers and sell for $1," says Clarence Strowbridge, president of Dover. "This was an astounding price back then. But they were well-manufactured, sewn and printed on high-quality papers."
The idea not only paid off for Cirker but for readers as well. Dover flourished under the leadership of Cirker and his wife, Blanche, who together oversaw the company up until his death at the age of 82 in March 2000. "The company was really an important part of his life. He loved coming to work every day," recalls Strowbridge. "He was really proud of reprinting useful books."
The ideals set forth by Cirker—to produce inexpensive, well-made paperbacks in a variety of subjects—still exist today. Dover employs more than 180 people and has approximately 8,000 titles, 75 percent of which are paperbound. More than two thousand books are reprinted each year, in addition to 500 new titles. Dover keeps production costs down by, "taking advantage of every efficiency in print production," states Leonard Roland, vice president of production. "We print multiple titles of books that have the same paper and trim size. We gang them up and produce them in quantity. As many as 16 covers on a sheet may be ganged-up for activity books."
A modern touch
After Cirker's death in March of 2000, the company was purchased by Courier (www.courier.com) later that year. Prior to the sale, Courier had a long-standing relationship with the publisher, having been its printer for more than 30 years.
The change in ownership brought about several upgrades. "We were somewhat behind the times in terms of equipment and technology. Now, we have a great Web site; our entire list is on it," explains Strowbridge. "And we are in the process of building a business-to-business site for trade customers that will be ready by the end of April. [Also], we're watching the e-book market. We think it will go through a few more shakedowns, so we're waiting to jump in."
From a production standpoint, "efficiency has increased since Dover and Courier have undertaken a joint effort to create an automated estimating system," says Roland. "The system soon will also automate purchase orders, which will help tremendously because Dover has hundreds of different sizes and weights of paper they use and different bindings."
Another boon to efficiency was the move to computer-to-plate (CTP) that began four years ago. Dover operates on a digital workflow, supplying the printer with either Quark or PDF files. "We have some pretty sophisticated scanning equipment. If we're reprinting a scientific book, we'll scan it and do all of the PDF'ing and submit the file to Courier," notes Strowbridge.
The digital workflow is a nice complement to the publisher's need for short runs. Strowbridge surmises that the average run length is 2,000 copies. "But, we can go down to 1,000. And quite a few books have runs of 8,000, 10,000 or 20,000."
Dover is cautious in its print runs because of its no return policy. Strowbridge acknowledges, "Our books don't have that big initial sale—they sell steadily through a long period of time—so, we encourage stores to buy just what they need. If that's one or two books, we'll ship just one or two. We've been able to reflect this in our prices because we don't have to contemplate returns."
As each title is stored digitally, the company is able to respond quickly to spikes in demand for particular books. After the World Trade Center attacks, countless discussions were circulating on the Internet about Nostradamus and his having predicted the events of September 11, leading to an unexpected bestseller for Dover. "We have a complete edition of Nostradamus' predictions. It's a pretty expensive book for us, selling for around $25. We sold about 20,000 copies. We did several reprints in a short period of time. Luckily, the book was originally printed by Courier."
A perennial favorite for the company is their Thrift Edition series. The series includes more than 300 reprints of classic literature, poetry and non-fiction, starting in price at $1. All of the editions are unabridged and among the most inexpensive on the market, making them popular with teachers and students.
Taking things book by book
More than 56 years after Cirker founded Dover Publications, the company continues to marry the concepts of quality, variety and low cost. When asked how he ensures quality, Roland responds, "We buy very high-quality paper [primarily from Milton and Glatfelter].We have excellent pressmen. We simply produce the best quality books we know how to produce. Every book is evaluated by myself or someone else. Clarence [Strowbridge] and I are constantly talking about whether a book should be printed on coated or uncoated stock. Everything is judged on a book by book basis."
For Strowbridge, he believes that Dover Publication's ultimate strength is the myriad subjects the title list spans: "There's nobody that I know of that is like Dover. We publish in so many areas—architecture, classical music scores, children's books, paper dolls, chess, antiques, social sciences, philosophy, psychology, etc. No one else has the scope of our program. We are unique."