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Harper Lee's estate wants readers to pay more for 'Mockingbird'

If you want the least expensive edition of Harper Lee's classic novel, buy it before April 25.

Hachette Books

If you want the least expensive edition of Harper Lee's classic novel, buy it before April 25.



And the chipping away at Harper Lee's legacy continues.

Less than a month after the death in February of the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, attorney Tonja Carter won a bid last week to have Lee's will sealed so the public would not know how much her estate was worth or who her heirs are. Lee never married or had children, but she did have several nieces and nephews. Carter has taken control of Lee's affairs since the author's older sister, Alice, who hired Carter to work in the Lee family law firm, died in 2014. Mockingbird has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1960, and it was made into an Oscar-winning film.

Now comes the news that Lee's estate has notified publisher Hachette that its license to publish the best-known -- and least expensive -- edition of Lee's classic novel will not be renewed. 

The New Republic reported that Hachette notified booksellers in a March 4 email that the mass market paperback edition, priced at $8.99, may not be sold after April 25. Hachette has published the mass market paperback for 40 years; it is the edition most familiar to students as one of the most frequently assigned works of fiction in American schools.

That doesn't mean Mockingbird won't be available, of course. Another major publisher, HarperCollins, prints the hardback ($25.99) and trade paperback ($14.99) versions and sells the digital version ($10.99).

HarperCollins also published the first draft of Mockingbird, titled Go Set a Watchman, in 2015, more than 50 years after Lee deemed it not fit for print. Carter has said that she discovered the rejected manuscript and persuaded Lee to print it. Watchman was not well-received critically but was the bestselling new fiction title of 2015, with more than 1 million copies sold.

Why Lee might have wished to take the least expensive -- and therefore most accessible to students, aside from library copies -- edition of Mockingbird off the market, or whether it was her wish at all, are among the many unanswered questions the events of the last year have raised.

If Mockingbird continues to sell at its current pace, of course, the revenue stream it produces will increase because of higher prices. According to Nielsen Book Scan, in 2015 Mockingbird's sales spiked. The lower-priced mass market paperback sold 567,000 copies; the trade paperback sold 229,000.

The few dollars' difference between the mass market paperback's price and those of the trade paperback and digital versions might not seem like much. But to schools whose budgets are already strained, or to kids whose families have limited resources, it will make a difference. And it's not the kind of difference Lee has been making for half a century.


[Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2016 12:29pm]


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