Why Cling to the Past? Exclusive essay by Stephen King's publisher about Joyland

Charles Ardai looks to the past, and past angry internet message boards, to find something worth cherishing in a new novel.

By Charles Ardai at 6:28 am Wed, May 29, 2013

Originally, we were only going to publish Joyland in paperback.

Steve grew up buying paperbacks for fifty cents from the wire spinner racks at his local drugstore in Lisbon Falls, Maine, the sort with sexy cover paintings and lurid cover copy and breathless storytelling that kept you glued to the page well past your bedtime. I did, too, though in my case it was in New York City rather than Lisbon Falls, and by the time I came around the wire spinner racks had vanished and the era that produced them was gone, too. When I found these paperbacks it was at flea markets and library sales, at used book stores and on my father’s bookshelves. (My grandmother’s too – this proper old lady had been a big fan of Mickey Spillane back in the day.) Like Steve, I fell in love with them, discovered they scratched a powerful itch I hadn’t even known I had. And when, years later, I found myself reminiscing about them with a friend over drinks, we decided the world needed more books like that, damn it. That’s how Hard Case Crime was born.

The idea from the start was to replicate a pleasure from the past – not just the type of stories told in those old books but the physical artifact itself. Painted covers, and not digitally painted ones either. (One of our painters offered to digitally clean up some schmutz on his canvas and I told him I’d break both his arms if he did.) Old typefaces that existed in the hot-metal-type days. Graphic design that isn’t arch or ironic or campy but rather duplicates in a proper and workmanlike fashion what books looked like back in the day. Our goal was to give the impression that Hard Case Crime had started publishing sometime around 1945 and just somehow never stopped. We didn’t want to look old-fashioned -- we wanted to look old. And if no one but us gave a damn about books like that, well, fine. We’d publish half a dozen of the things, sell no copies, and hang up our hats proud of a job well done.

But it turned out we weren’t the only ones who gave a damn. And here we are almost a decade later, still at. Part of the reason is that these things of the past, these yesterday-flavored objects, give pleasures that other presentations even of the same material do not. Salt is salt is salt, but spooning grains from a salt cellar feels different from grinding them out of a salt mill, which in turn feels different from upending a shaker. Presentation matters. Another part of the reason is that one of the people who gave a damn, and gave it early enough in our existence for it to make a big difference, was Stephen King. He decided he wanted in on the fun and when he wrote a book called The Colorado Kid – an unsettling little mystery about the nature of mystery – he invited us to be its publisher. It became our top-selling title ever (not surprisingly) and inspired a TV series called Haven that’s going into its fourth season on SyFy this fall. That book’s success enabled us to publish five dozen other books that didn’t sell nearly as many copies, by authors not yet known or long forgotten but in each case ferociously talented and with great stories to tell. And it allowed us to stick to our guns stylistically. We publish the books we want to publish, and we make them look the way we want them to look, and if some people think that’s dopey or quixotic or bad business, so be it. They can think what they want. We make what we make, and we’re proud of it. Buggy whips in the age of cars? Yeah, maybe. But they’re damn fine buggy whips and maybe there’s still some value in remembering a time before the Interstates turned the country into one giant strip mall.

Which brings us to Joyland, and the decision to tell readers they’re going to have to read it the old way, as ink on paper, not pixels on a screen. We did wind up expanding beyond just the paperback, though that will still be the book’s true first edition, more than a million copies strong. A bit later, we’ll also put out a tiny hardcover run for collectors, about two thousand copies, featuring special art and other catnip. But that’s it – you’ve got your paperback and you’ve got your hardcover, the same two choices you had for books when Steve was growing up and when I was. There may be an ebook edition down the road, but for now it’s paper or…paper.

And why? Part of it is the desire to support traditional booksellers, something Steve and I both care a great deal about – it’s frightening to see the decline in the fortunes of bookstores over the last handful of years. (Anecdotal example: New York used to have four or five mystery bookstores, now there’s only one left. And that’s New York.) But as some people have pointed out online, our print edition is available through online booksellers such as Amazon and BN.com, not to mention from bricks-and-mortar retailers that aren’t bookstores. So clearly the desire to support bookstores, though genuine, isn’t the only reason.

For me, at least, the other reason is that some stories just beg to be experienced in a certain way, and Joyland is one such. Joyland is framed as the reminiscence of a 61-year-old man about events he experienced four decades earlier, in the summer before his senior year of college. It’s about memory; it’s about the passage of time and its impact; it’s about ways of life that existed once and are gone now, ones that deserve not to be forgotten. It’s about all the things that led us to create Hard Case Crime in the first place.

There’s a reason that Michel Hazanavicius filmed The Artist, his Academy Award-winning Best Picture about the early days of Hollywood, in black-and-white and (largely) silent, and it’s not because he thought all movies should be filmed that way. That, too, was a story about a moment in the past, and it benefitted from making the audience experience the story the way audiences would have back in the silent-picture days. Hard Case Crime books are many things, and to the extent that you’re just looking for a good read, they can certainly be enjoyed on Kindles and Nooks. But one thing our books are is a shrine to a particular way of consuming stories and the particular object that for decades delivered that experience to millions of people. An object that has dimensions and heft and feels a certain way when you handle it, that looks a certain way when you thumb its pages back, creases a certain way when you jam it in a jacket pocket or a lunch bucket. Shape and form and texture matter. The past matters. Preserving things we love matters. And insofar as we want people to remember something we love, putting an example of it in their hands is a powerful way to do so.

So: Joyland. A book. A paperback book, by and large, and one I cherish and that I hope other readers will cherish as well. Not those who angrily proclaim on Internet message boards, “I’ll never read a paper book again!” – there isn’t any hope for those, their souls are too tattered for repair – but those who see our little bit of yesterday and feel their hearts beat faster, scent a bit of their own younger days on the backward-blowing breeze.

“1973 was the year of the OPEC oil embargo, the year Richard Nixon announced he was not a crook, the year Edward G. Robinson and Noel Coward died,” Steve writes. “It was Devin Jones’s lost year. I was a twenty-one year-old virgin with literary aspirations. I possessed three pairs of bluejeans, four pairs of Jockey shorts, a clunker Ford (with a good radio), occasional suicidal ideations, and a broken heart.” And so it begins. For just one day, unkindle your Kindle and nook your Nook, lie back in the bath or on your sofa or beach chair or with your head on the grass, and read the way we used to.

Tomorrow will still be there when you’re done.

Joyland

Published 6:28 am Wed, May 29, 2013

About the Author

Charles Ardai is an American entrepreneur, writer, editor, and television producer. He is best known as founder and CEO of Juno, an Internet company, and founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, a line of pulp-style paperback crime novels.

51 Responses to “Why Cling to the Past? Exclusive essay by Stephen King's publisher about Joyland”

  1. lishevita says:

    This post is a lovely read, and yes, it makes me want to grab a paperback off the shelf and go sit in a sunny park to read for a bit. 

    • euansmith says:

      If they could supply the sunny park to go with the paper back I’d be sold.

      All the best to Hard Case Crime

  2. scav says:

    Wow.  Now I want to go re-read some of my old SF paperbacks, with tattered covers (illustrated by Chris Foss of course) and yellowing pages full of short stories about the future, written back when nobody had thought of the internet or really took the speed of light seriously.

    I do love being able to carry a few hundred books around wherever I go, which is what a Kindle is for, but there is something glorious about the heft and smell and presentation of a physical book.

    • Courior says:

      I have some old beat up copies of Foundation Trilogy I really want to get out of the parents Attic after reading this. 

      I love my Kindle but its hard to read about people creating an Encyclopedia in the future on a device that’s more futuristic then anything in the plot.

    • G3 says:

      I’ve said it before in here but there’s nothing on the planet as cool as a paperback exchange. Every store no matter what they sell should roll out a shelf every morning.

  3. Christopher says:

    In addition to all the aesthetic pleasures of physical books, I think there’s an important point being made in the statement that “Preserving things we love matters.”

    I freely admit that e-books have their advantages, but for both ease of accessibility and long-term preservation physical books have, at least for now, the upper hand.

    • Chesterfield says:

      How do you figure that paper books are better for long-term preservation? Pulp fiction was printed on the cheapest paper available and the books just disintegrate in a relatively short amount of time.

      • Nick Eden says:

        Not as fast as an ebook disintegrates on a server when the power goes out.

        • marilove says:

          Do most ebooks exist on one server, though?  Most are now scattered far and wide, and have been made into torrents, scattering them even more….  That’s not without it’s own set of problems, of course, but “A server” is not exactly correct.

          (And, of course, lots of ebooks are sold via different stores and therefore are already stored on more than one server…)

          It’s interesting that so far in this discussion we’ve ignored the complexities of “real” book creation, distribution, consumption, and storage, while also simplifying ebook distribution, consumption, and storage, to then make an either/or situation which really doesn’t exist…

      • Christopher says:

        The cheapest paper will still outlast the battery life of an e-book reader, and doesn’t require any additional hardware, other than a brain and at least one functioning eye, to be read.

        I recognize that e-books have tremendous advantages and that physical books have tremendous disadvantages, but I also know that today’s e-book readers are tomorrow’s 8-track players. Physical books need special treatment to be preserved, but they don’t require regular upgrades to still be readable.

        • marilove says:

          “but I also know that today’s e-book readers are tomorrow’s 8-track players.”

          Nah.  It’s just a file.  A rather simple file.  You can even use apps to read nearly all e-books on your computer, any computer.  Most e-books do not require an e-reader  And most e-books come in .pdf form, a file form that probably won’t disappear any time soon.

          The e-reader is just the means to read the book file

          Hell, most books are read on smartphones, not e-readers, anyway, right?  Or a good portion of them.

          It’s the file types that are important, not the reader. 

          • Afr0 says:

            “most e-books come in .pdf form, a file form that probably won’t disappear any time soon”

            Don’t you threaten me like that.

          • marilove says:

            .pdf is a perfect file format for multi-platform books.  I think it’s the best use for .pdf files, in fact.

          • Christopher says:

            Yes, it’s just a file, and I should have added that many e-books are published as pdfs, which can be read with many devices other than e-readers.

            Still what I’m getting at is that we don’t have to live in an either/or world. I don’t have a Kindle or other e-book reader yet, but I’m seriously thinking about getting one for all the books I’ll only read once.

            But, having worked in a library, I’ve seen too many format changes render information inaccessible, and too many publishers either pull content entirely or force libraries to put it into an inaccessible “dark archive” to put my full trust in electronic content. I know it’s simply not feasible to store everything in dead-tree format, but I worry about libraries that think everything can be stored digitally.

          • marilove says:

            Many fair points, but I think ebooks will remain fairly simple, because they have to be.  Most of them tend to get released in more than one format, too.  And I think we should keep .pdf, it is great for multi-platform books.

            I don’t have a Kindle or other e-book reader yet, but I’m seriously thinking about getting one for all the books I’ll only read once.

            You should get one.  The amount of cheap and free books (high-quality, too!) is astounding. And the books you don’t think will be high quality or good and you buy on a whim for free or 99 cents?  Sometimes turn out amazing.  I’ve found some stuff I *NEVER* would have found elsewhere, and I pick up dead-tree books everywhere.

            I have also more than once bought the dead-tree version after I realized I loved the book a lot.

            And, I have a few books in both forms, totally on accident, but it kind of works out … sometimes you want to take a bath with a book you’re reading, and I don’t think I’m bringing my Kindle into the bath. ;)

            I love having options.  I read a lot more now that I have a kindle and I already read a lot.

            I don’t do games or apps or anything, so the Fire is fine for me, and you may even like the just-for-books versions with e-ink. 

          • Gilbert Wham says:

             Libraries very well may be incapable of this. The web as a whole, however, is more adaptable. People like stuff. They’ll continue to adapt & change the format that stuff has to reside on to keep it. And interconnected computing devices aren’t going away in a hurry. If they do, we’ve probably more to worry about than a dearth of Stephen King novels.

          • Gilbert Wham says:

             Books=’portable wallpaper’. Don’t ever go changing…

        • marilove says:

          , and doesn’t require any additional hardware, other than a brain and at least one functioning eye, to be read.

          And, no, it doesn’t require any fancy equipment to read, but it does require special equipment to MAKE, and it also requires far more physical storage space.  And that physical storage space requires its own special equipment and procedures and stuff to be built and to sustain itself….

          Paper books are more complicated than people seem to want to admit. 

          Digital books require fairly small files and no physical space to store.

          E-book readers will come and go, but I imagine the file types will remain fairly consistent…  They don’t need to be very complex.

          • Rich Keller says:

            Someone  needs to come up with an “old musty book smell”  scratch and sniff sticker for Kindles and Nooks.

          • IronEdithKidd says:

            If I scratch my memory hard enough, I think there was such a sticker in the early 80’s.  Of course, Googleimage is failing me, and simultaneously making me wonder if I tossed out those old sticker books.

          • Gilbert Wham says:

             True, true. However, I’d posit that the tech for making paper books is within the grasp of a damn sight more people than is the tech for constructing Kindles et al…

        • Fnordius says:

          I think you are confusing the container with the contents. It doesn’t matter if the milk comes from a wine bottle or a foil pack, it’s still milk. Though some things like wine benefit from the shape of the bottle and people turn their noses up at boxed wine, it is still wine.  

          Today’s devices have an advantage that the medium they use is free of physical format like the 8-track you mention: at their heart they are copies of text, ridiculously simple to make more copies of and ridiculously simple in comparison to convert to a new format. Yes, paper is one of the most reliable methods to store and deliver content, and it does have a longer life than magnetic media, but that requires more equipment to produce. So neither is inherently better than the other, really. Just suited for different needs.

  4. planettom says:

    I recommend the Hard Case Crime that came out in February, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT by Max Allan Collins (ROAD TO PERDITION).   It’s a fictional murder mystery set in a fictionalized version of the 1950s comic book scare, senate hearings brought on by the book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT by Dr. Fredric Wertham.  Which caused the demise of EC Comics horror line (TALES FROM THE CRYPT, etc.) and led to the creation of the Comic Book Code.

    It has interior illustrations done in the style of EC comic book panels.

    http://www.hardcasecrime.com/books_bios.cgi?title=Seduction%20of%20the%20Innocent

  5. Chesterfield says:

    I think the reason for releasing an ebook version is to collect the money that people want to give you. Like it or not, Joyland is available as an ebook, just not from you. 

    • marilove says:

      Stephen King has the creative freedom to do whatever the hell he wants and has for a while.  I don’t think he cares.  He doesn’t have to, not really.

      Also, people seem to think that King has a problem with the digital form.  Not here, at least so far — elsewhere —  but even Anne Rice doesn’t seem to get it, or know his history with digital publishing.  He was one of the first!  He was far ahead of his time, actually.  He has embraced technology and the digital form. There’s no way to deny that.  In fact, he was able to be ahead of his time with digital publishing *because* of his creative freedom. 

      And now he wants to go back and do it old school for one book.

      Eventually it’ll be released in e-book form, but until then, King is doing his thing because he is Stephen Fucking King and he can.

  6. Rich Keller says:

    I’m going to have to  break out my old Ziff Davis sci-fi anthologies later or maybe go on a hunt for some old books that are  new to  me. Does anyone publish similarly for old school scifi or fantasy?

    • marilove says:

      You should go to lots of thrift stores and second-hand book shops and just pick some stuff up at random that looks good.

  7. Sev Prince says:

    There is nothing I would like better than to be able to read Stephen King’s new book the “old fashioned” way. Or any book for that matter. I love books and given a choice, I’d pick the paper over the electrons in a heartbeat.  But being legally blind, guess what? I have to use technology and that means an e-book version. Or audio, because my Braille is about as fluent as an intoxicated ape’s and that’s on a *good* day. No e-book version? And I guess that means no audio book either. Not much Joy in Joyland for Mr. King’s disabled fans, now is there? 

    Ah well, life is too short to be bitter. The world won’t end I can’t read a certain book — now there’s a plot! — and it’s too nice a day to sit around complaining. My library has plenty of books, in formats I can actually read. Too bad this isn’t one of them but, it is what it is, as they say. ;-)

    • Charles Ardai says:

      Actually, there will be an audiobook edition, from S&S Audio.

      • marilove says:

        Oh, wow, I wonder if that was specifically for fans who can’t read text for whatever reason? I wouldn’t be surprised if that were so.  Also, I bet King will narrate it — he loves narrating books.

         That is great, thank you for the information!

        • The Amazon entry says it’s narrated by Michael Kelly. 

          The one downside to going the audiobook route that I can see is that it’s so much more expensive than the text version.

    • marilove says:

      This was actually something I was going to mention when someone above said you only need “one” functioning eye.  I’m glad you brought it up instead, though!

      We should embrace diversity in consumption of media.  It shouldn’t be an either/or situation.

      And I guess that means no audio book either. Not much Joy in Joyland for Mr. King’s disabled fans, now is there?

      Very good point.  In the end, though, this is just a stylistic choice for King.  Eventually, I’m sure, the book will be released in other formats.  If not, he has many other books in all formats you can enjoy, and I think that’s part of his point as well (and mine, and yours!).

  8. marilove says:

    One thing I’ve noticed:  I dislike reading graphic novels digitally, like a lot, and otherwise I’m a big e-reader fan. Anyone else?

    • Gilbert Wham says:

       I don’t mine it TBH. What I’ve found improves the experience massively is a nice, lightweight netbook, which you then rotate the display of 90 degrees & hold it like you would an open book, using your thumb on the spacebar to advance the pages. Try it, it’s a much more pleasant experience, as you get the page laid out like it should be.

  9. gorfulator says:

    My favorite Hard case is A Touch Of Death  by Charles Williams. Funny how I discovered Hard Case Crime; I checked out Colorado Kid from my local library because I liked the cover art! I then  realised it was a Stephen King book! I Didn’t care for the story that much, but I then started discovering other good stories.

  10. Sev Prince says:

    Just getting caught up w/this thread. There will be an audio book after all? Excellent, looking forward to it. But I do miss reading the paper ones, especially comics. They just don’t look the same on a screen and I know it’s not just me and my screwball vision, many of my sighted friends say the same thing. 

  11. knoxblox says:

    On a side note, the scariest thing I remember about Joyland (in Wichita, Kansas) is wondering if the wooden rollercoaster would disintegrate underneath you.

  12. curiousrobot says:

    I think that the next time Some Guy From The Internet tells me that “businesses exist to make money. It’s that simple,” I’m going to point him to this as an example of a company that’s more concerned with making great stuff than making money.

  13. Xero Corp says:

    I’ve been trying the same thing with book design, but trying to evoke a more distant past: the 17th century.

    I’d appreciate any feedback.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/143917779/The-Tao-of-Alchemy

  14. Velantian QX says:

     I think you may have missed the point of the paperback entirely.  I was one to carry a paperback or pulp with me at all times.   Paper backs are sized small, just right to fit into a jacket pocket.   They provide for a little stolen entertainment in an otherwise busy day. They aren’t about the cheesy covers, the dog eared pages, the smell or feel of cheap paper.  They are all about the words.   They are about escaping somewhere else for a short while.  It is a niche that the ebook, no matter the format, fills well.  I would submit that the eText is the paperback and a hardcopy of this type is a boutique item.  
    Too bad really, I would have liked to read it.  Oh well maybe someday, when it comes out in ‘paperback.’

  15. How about a poster to go with the book — love finding these in used book stores — will plan to read this one new!  

  16. Keith Tyler says:

    TIL that those things that my grandmother has a hundred of are called “salt cellars”.

  17. ScottColbert says:

    While I don’t quite need a large print edition yet, I do need something with a bit larger print than what paperbacks have anymore. This is the main thing I use my Nexus 7 for. I have the ability to change the font size.

  18. Allison Kay says:

    I surfed unto this site. Such a joy to read an intelligent, informed discussion about books.

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