The future of The Three Investigators is in question! YOUR help is needed and you can make a difference. Many years ago, in 1963, a middle-aged man set out not to conquer the juvenile series book market but only to grab a good piece of the pie. He set his sights on the formidable empire of the Hardy Boys, whose stories, he noted, had become pretty formulaic and whose heroes were well-to-do and relied on their father's connections or even divine intervention itself to solve their cases. This man felt that there was a market for well-written mystery/adventure stories that featured three typical young boys who relied on their own talents to solve amazing mysteries and cryptic riddles. Over the course of his life, this man had seen other very well-written juvenile series meet a quick demise when pitted against the well-oiled and market-dominating machinery of the powerful Stratemeyer Syndicate and Grosset & Dunlap who created and distributed series such as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, Rick Brant, Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton, Christopher Cool, and the list seems endless . . . How could this man compete? How could he get a foothold in this market? The stories he had in mind were much better than what was currently on the market and would definitely stand on their own merits but who would buy books about three unknown investigators? Aha! He had it! He had worked with Alfred Hitchcock and was currently helping out on some of the Hitchcock anthologies being produced. The Hitchcock name would give his series name-brand recognition and jump-start sales. Robert Arthur was definitely ahead of his time! This tactic worked and helped to power The Three Investigators to immense popularity in the 1960's and 1970's. No, he never quite caught up with the Hardy Boys but he did achieve his goals. Unfortunately, due to his early death in 1969, he never knew just how far beyond his goal the total influence of his series had on certain generations of readers.
Well, what happened? People who haven't read these books in 25 years can recall with vivid clarity Jupiter, Pete, and Bob and the details of the mysteries they solved. How could this demise happen to such a beloved and memorable book series? As evidenced by the Dennis Lynds interview, the series saw a drop-off in sales starting in the early 1980's. I believe there are three main reasons for this: 1) the elimination of internal illustrations; 2) the discontinued use of Alfred Hitchcock's name; and 3) a discernible decrease in the quality of the stories. The internal illustrations add immeasurably to the value of the story adding depth and atmosphere and giving us an indelible impression on our mind's eye of who The Three Investigators are. If you want proof, just read a story with the illustrations and then read the same story without them - a wonderful and telling dimension has been lost. I don't believe the series needed the Hitchcock name to survive but I do think the way in which he was abruptly and unceremoniously eliminated left many confusing questions for fans. Finally, every fan has their own opinion but I think the quality of the stories post-Hitchcock are mostly inferior when compared to those featuring him. Some say the story-line deterioration began before that, others say later, to each his own.
As anyone who works for themselves or a company knows, you can't stay in business if you don't make a profit. With rising industry costs, Random House attempted to maintain or increase the profit-margin produced by The Three Investigators series by first halting production of hardbound books and producing them only in a paperback format. Later, they eliminated the internal illustrations, discontinued the use of Alfred Hitchcock, and finally switched to a cheaper paper stock. Unfortunately, these events appear to have cost them the series as well. Low sales eventually led to the cancellation of the series in 1987. Any good salesman knows one has to work at least twice as hard to regain a customer lost because of poor service or a shoddy product. However, I believe there is hope for this series.
Right now there is tremendous interest in The Three Investigators series as evidenced by sales of these books via on-line auctions and other secondary market outlets. Also, there is a plethora of web-sites devoted to this series both here in America and in other countries. Depending on a variety of factors, vintage hardbound Three Investigators books #1 - #28 sell for anywhere from $5.00 - $75.00 each. It appears that most of this interest is coming from people who bought and read this series in their youth. They are now searching out the books for their own reading pleasure and to pass this excellent series on to their children. Demand is high.
Random House has attempted to revive the Three Investigators twice since 1987. Both times, the series wasn't issued in it's entirety and both times there was nothing changed about the books themselves except for the cover art. Why would the books sell any better the second or third times around when nothing had changed?
In recent years there have been a number of older juvenile series books which have been re-issued in special Collector's Editions. They have been issued in the original format using the original text and internal illustrations - maybe even sporting a dust jacket - and of course, featuring a high-quality binding and paper stock. These books have been successful and profitable. Obviously, the retail price of these books is beyond what most children can afford. But this is not the current market for these books - yet. Let's get the adults attracted to them first. I believe there is a viable market for The Three Investigators books if they are issued in a high-quality hardbound edition with the original internal illustrations and re-incarnating Hitchcock to give them the boost they need. I believe there will also be a market for a high-quality illustrated paperback edition of The Three Investigators series which will do quite well when interest and general awareness has once again filtered from the adults down to their children. Reaching out to new readers is essential for the long-term viability of the series. But, as always, "Time is of the essence".
"Well, Seth, old boy", you say, "I'd sure like to purchase a whole set of hardbound Three Investigators books with illustrations for my kids to read and enjoy like I did when I was a kid. But what can I do to help make a difference?"
"Well", says I, pinching my lower lip between thumb and forefinger, "according to the heirs of Robert Arthur there are a couple of things we can do:"
1. Do NOT contact the current U.S. publisher of this series (Random House). Up to this point, contact has proven useless and would now be counter-productive to the efforts being made.
2. Fans have been asked to compile a list of potential publishers/editors the world over who could commit to doing the series proper justice and who would commit to publishing new stories in the original series.
It may not sound like much but, currently, these are the things that fans can do to help out the most. As things develop, more information will be forthcoming!