Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Looking at POD

I've always believed that POD technology is the future of publishing, but that POD vanity press as a way for authors to succeed on their own has limited value.

For the uninitiated, POD is a way to manufacture books one at a time, using a high-tech copy machine. Traditionally, books have been printed on presses. Presses are expensive, large, and only cost-effective when they're printing many copies of a book.

POD as a technology is a good thing.

But then things become tricky.

Many companies have sprung up over the last decade that use POD technology to create books.
But most of these companies thrive by selling dreams to authors, rather than technology.

Publishing is a difficult business to break into, and this is important, because it means the quality of the work that traditionally sees print meets certain standards and criteria.

POD allows authors to bypass this vetting process. As a result, much of POD's bad reputation is justified. I've read hundreds of POD books (don't ask) and the 99% of them aren't very good.

POD also goes against one of the basic rules of writing: the goal is to get paid, not to pay someone else.

The problems with POD as a business model are twofold:

1. Higher prices for a mostly inferior product. The books aren't professionally edited, vetted, or typeset, the covers are often amateurish, and the books usually cost 20% to 60% more than traditionally published books.

2. Lack of distribution. In order to find readers beyond the author's own scope of influence, the book must be widely available. That means brick and mortar bookstores, drugstores, supermarkets, airports, and so on. POD doesn't get into these venues.

That said, I think that POD has some advantages, and I'm impressed by the rapidly evolving technology.

Traditional publishing, as a business model, is outdated and inefficient. Any company that destroys half of what they produce (based on an average 50% sell through) is wasting a lot of money.

Looking ahead, POD technology will probably be fully embraced by publishers. It's already being used for galleys and ARCs. The lack of warehouse fees and shipping costs, and the elimination of returns, could conceivably make books more affordable, as their costs are already built into the cover price.

Plus, the long tail that many authors fear (their rights never reverting back to them because their book stays in print forever with POD) will result in more book sales over the course of their careers. I've got 5000 books in my personal library. About 90% of them are no longer in print. In order to acquire titles I've been looking for, I buy them used. In most cases, I'd love to get a fresh, new copy, which would in turn make sure the author got paid. POD would allow this to happen.

Authors fearing that they'll never get their rights back need to take a reality pill and realize reselling lapsed rights is a rare exception, not a rule. And if an author suddenly becomes hot, and their out of print backlist is worth money, POD production of backlist titles would undoubtedly increase to meet that demand, ensuring royalties. Plus, backlists can be bought and sold.

That said, I'm speaking of POD as a technology used by large publishers, who will be able to keep the costs down, have a vetting process, and make sure the book is professionally produced.

When the author attempts to do these things for himself, the results don't measure up to traditionally published books. Paying POD presses for extra services such as "editing" or "cover design" sucks more money from the author's pockets, but still often fails to produce error-free, attractive books.

But I'm going to try an experiment, because that's the type of guy I am.

For the past few years, I've had a virtual store on my website, for people who want to buy signed copies of the Jack Daniels books. I also sold back issues of magazines and old anthologies I've been in. (Believe it or not, since 2003 I've sold over fifty stories and articles.) I created the store because I got a lot of emails from fans asking me to offer these things. Over the years I've sold a few hundred items.

Unfortunately, many of those magazines and anthologies I've been in are out of print, so the stories are difficult to find.

I collected my old stories, with the intention of getting them published as an omnibus, but I decided not to try to sell it. My reason is simple. Story collections don't sell as well as novels. If I published a collection, those lower numbers will follow me, resulting in lower bookstore orders for my next novel. I don't want that to happen.

I also get a lot of email about my previously unpublished novels---so much so that I made them available on my website as free ebooks downloads. My unpublished technothrillers ORIGIN and THE LIST have been downloaded over three thousand times. Reader response has been surprising, and many folks have told me how much they enjoyed these books, and asked when they'd be published so they could buy hard copies.

ORIGIN and THE LIST already had their shot with big publishers years ago, and big publishers passed. I'm pretty sure I could approach a smaller press and get them published, but like the aforementioned short story collection, those numbers would follow me. A smaller press means a smaller print run and smaller sales which could result in smaller advance orders for my next Jack Daniels book. So I didn't pursue it.

But then I got to thinking.

There are a few POD companies that function simply as printers. You do your own editing, typesetting, and cover art, then upload it to their site, and a week later they send you a printed book. The books are still overpriced, and they still don't look as good as professionally published books, but this still suits my purpose.

So I've just made three titles available on my website. ORIGIN and THE LIST can now be purchased, along with another unpublished novel I wrote called DISTURB. I've also collected fifty-five of my previously published short stories into an omnibus called 55 PROOF, which will be available this Halloween.

You can buy these books for $16 to $19.

You can also download these books for free. I've made them available as pdf downloads. So if you don't want a bound and signed copy, go ahead print them up yourself. The layout is the same.

Because these books are only distributed through me, and because they have no ISBNs, they are off the publishing grid. I can cater to the requests of my fans, without harming my overall numbers.

Since I don't think that the average fan is savvy about POD, or knows the difference between POD and traditional publishing, I've stated on my website what the difference is.

It will be interesting to see how many people download these books for free compared to how many purchase them. It will also be interesting to see if a midlist mystery author, operating solely from his website, can sell his older, out-of-print (or never in print) work in enough numbers for it to matter.

Your predictions?

28 comments:

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Joe,

I think it's a great idea. Too bad you have to worry about the possibility of lower sales numbers impacting future publishing contract offers though.

I have some thoughts to add about authors self-publishing. It is true that a lot of self-published fiction is not very good. But I think the percentage of good self-published fiction would increase dramatically if authors would do the following BEFORE going to print:
- Set up an author website
- Publish at least one of their books on their site:
- Provide a free, downloadable pdf of the book
- Provide an HTML version that visitors can read online
- Get the URL to the author's site added to as many free novel directories as possible
- Optimize the site for the search engines

If, over a six-month to one-year period, many people read the book, and some even rave about it (people who are not your friends or relatives), then consider going to print. If not, it may well be a waste of time and money to print the book. Because how can you expect to get people to buy your book if you can't even get anybody to read it for free?

The above is exactly what I did with my first two novels. My first novel has been downloaded over 3,000 times, and the second one has been downloaded nearly 2,000 times. And the books have been read online, chapter by chapter, by thousands of people.

How do I know they are reading and not just clicking around on my site? When I see someone from a particular ip address browsing Chapter 1, then five minutes later, browsing Chapter2, etc., I figure they are reading the book. With the downloadable pdf, there is no way to know whether they read the book after they have downloaded it. But still - a lot of downloads is better than a few.

So, how are my print books doing? My first three novels are just coming up on Amazon - so, we'll see.

Robert Burton Robinson

Wendelin said...

Of course, you're experiment is very skewed. The only people who know about it are reading this blog, which means they're on the internet, which will make it far more likely that they will download for free rather than pay $18-24.

I think a more balanced experiment would be one where you charged a certain amount of money for downloading itself. From my limited research (Lulu.com), printing and shipping a paperback ends up costing around $12. So I'm assuming the $6-12 you're adding on top of it are supposed to be your royalties? Why not charge that very sum for downloads?

spyscribbler said...

No predictions. I'm watching, fascinated.

I do have a friend who was published in the same tiny niche as my pseudonym. She hasn't written in about three years but she makes a nice, solid chunk of money every month from ten or so novellas whose rights have reverted back to her. She uses Lulu, which I think is a very fair POD publisher.

BUT, she doesn't offer them for free. I know your stance on this and you've almost convinced me, but ... are people really going to buy it, if they can download it for free?

It's just, your scientific experiment leaves out that little thing, and it could make a huge difference. A three thousand difference, LOL.

Mark Terry said...

Interesting. You might check out the publishing history of John Scalzi, who originally published a novel online, but it was so successful it got picked up.

Keep us posted. It's an interesting idea.

JD Rhoades said...

Joe: Thanks for a very reasonable analysis of POD, including its up- and downsides.

Prediction? I think some people will pay for the convenience of having a bound book (especially those with slow or expensive-to-supply printers). Don't know that they'll pay 18-24 bucks for that convenience.

bran fan said...

I like reading novels. I dislike reading them on my laptop. Therefore, if I "try before I buy," I might read a few chapters of the free book and then decide I like it enough to buy the bound book. Then again, I might not like it enough. That's a chance that Joe is willing to take which I think it commendable.

Maria said...

Excellent column and I hope you let us know the results. Holly Lisle has made a couple of her novels that went out of print available via POD (I think she used LuLu also and when fans asked her to lower the price, she went in and made some changes to fonts and whatnot to get the novel onto few pages so that it cost less.) I don't know how her sales are going.

I would also like to say that "The List" is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm glad you're making it more widely available. I know there are people that will not read online; now they can buy the novel!

I think it's a great experiment.

Maria

Mark Terry said...

Author Lynn Viehl also likes to self-publish e-books etc. and sell them for free as a way of keeping her fans (she writes in many genres) satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Well considered, interesting idea. I'll be watching to see the outcome.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't know, Joe.

I think you might risk tarnishing the brand you've worked so hard to build by putting actual trade paperbacks out in the universe that haven't been professionally edited and are of dubious physical quality.

The people who buy them right now know what they're getting, but like a lot of books (even signed ones) many these things will end up at garage sales and flea markets and the racks at the Salvation Army for fifty cents.

The people who buy those books will associate JA Konrath with cheap, poorly-edited work. The people who buy those books might never discover your beautiful Hyperion titles, because they won't go looking.

I'm not saying you're not a good self-editor, but, let's face it, every writer benefits greatly from the right editing team.

Just yesterday I was reading about the massive changes Max Perkins made to The Great Gatsby. Most of us would agree Scott Fitzgerald is a fine writer, but it would have been a completely different novel without the editor.

Stacey Cochran said...

My prediction: more traditional publishers will embrace POD for first-time authors.

But the big juicy gossip rolling around the internet in the past week is that Rupert Murdoch made an offer to acquire Lulu.com, and Lulu's founder said "No, thanks."

In turn, Murdoch (head of NBC, News Corp., etc.) started his own company...

Hulu.com

You can't make this stuff up.

And so now Lulu's founder is suing.

POD is here to stay. For the nut jobs who think companies like Lulu are scum, they're like the morons who stood around and said, "Those crazy Wright Brothers think people will fly in a plane!"

POD has already spread to DVD production, music distribution, posters, stickers, T-shirts, coffee mugs -- just about everything conceivable.

It's simply a better business model.

Check out my POD DVD at Amazon.com "How to Publish a Book, How to Get a Literary Agent

Jude Hardin said...

If I were interested in self-publishing (which I'm not), I would choose an outfit like Lulu because there are little or no upfront costs.

Still, it's essentially a vanity press. If you can get a million writers to sell a hundred books each, and your company gets three dollars for each book...well, do the math.

Traditional publishers might very well use POD technology eventually. If the end result is similar to offset, it only makes sense to use the cheaper route. But, to offer a quality product, they'll still need editors, cover artists, marketing experts, etc.

No man is an island. Many hands are involved between raw manuscript and hardcover on the display table at B&N. The business model itself might be bitched up, but I still believe the process of separating the wheat from the chaff with agents and editors mostly works.

Dusk Peterson said...

I'm having a hard time figuring out whether, at the beginning of the article, you're talking about the drawbacks of self-publishing, self-publishing through POD, or subsidy publishing through POD. You blend all of these together, and they're really three separate topics.

POD can be used by traditional presses, it can be used by subsidy publishers, or it can be used by self-publishers. Self-publishers can use POD, or they can use offset printing. Self-publishers can use POD by middlemen presses such as Lulu (in which case, the middleman jacks up the book price for his services), or they can use the same POD presses that publishers use (in which case, the books cost no more than they would cost a publisher).

Incidentally, POD books do get sold in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, or traditional presses wouldn't bother to use the technology. Most self-publishers, though, depend on online bookstores for their primary sales.

"they still don't look as good as professionally published books"

Well, they do if they're done by professionals. :) My father, who is a book designer, can tell the difference between a POD book and a book produced by offset printing, but you need a good eye for that sort of thing. There's no significant design difference between the technologies. What you're talking about is the limitations of self-publishing without being a professional designer, and those same limitations would hold if you were doing offset printing.

So let's separate the technology from the self-publishing issue, please. POD is, as you say, a technology that is sometimes used by traditional presses. It has its advantages and disadvantages over offset printing. But one thing it cannot do - any more than offset printing can do this - is design a book by itself. That's up to the designer, and the old "garbage in, garbage out" principle holds here.

That is why, alas, most subsidy press books are poorly done - because most subsidy presses hire poor designers. Some self-publishers, on the other hand, are talented designers. So it's just a matter of what skills one possesses when deciding whether to self-publish.

All the best with your latest venture - I'll look forward to seeing how it goes.

Lee Moan said...

Love the blog, Joe. And I'm enjoying Whiskey Sour at the moment, which I downloaded recently for free. (Your books are not so easy to locate here in England, at least in bookshops, anyway.)

Very interesting experiment. I look forward to seeing how many people buy the POD copies.

This may be a little off-topic but I thought I'd throw it in anyway: I've used Lulu a couple of times in the past but only to print a single copy of my book/novella. However, I have never made any of my projects available to the public. This is so I can have a nice paperback copy for close friends and family to read for feedback purposes, before I approach traditional publishers. I thought this would be nicer than them lugging a chunky manuscript around. In other words, I use Lulu's technology for my own ends. And why not? The technology is there, so I say use it in whichever way suits your needs.

Anonymous said...

"POD is here to stay. For the nut jobs who think companies like Lulu are scum, they're like the morons who stood around and said, "Those crazy Wright Brothers think people will fly in a plane!"

Stacy - come on, man. You're comparing POD to man's quest to fly? And I don’t think Lulu is scum...but it isn’t publishing. It’s printing. It helps people become self-printed. Saying one is self published makes about as much sense as a 15-year-old high schooler pounding away in the bathroom to his Mom’s Redbook Magazine, then coming out and bragging that he just got laid. It takes more than one person to publish a book.

You can stop all the cynicism against companies like Lulu right now. Want to know how? Numbers....show us how many copies a typical Lulu title sells. Show us how many reviews a typical Lulu title receives. How much $$ does a typical Lulu author earn. How many bookstores (without the author having to do an event there) purchase a typical Lulu title.

I've heard you yelling at the top of your lungs about Lulu for a long damn time. It's time to put up.

Jim

Stacey Cochran said...

The last figure I heard from inside Lulu was over 3 million dollars have been paid out in royalties alone.

That's a 3 followed by six 0s, as in

$3,000,000

I made close to $400 personally just last week in three events I did at 1) a library, 2) a Borders bookstore, and 3) speaking to a readers group.

Here's a Photo I just took of the money from the Borders Event alone

Stacey
howtopublishabook.org

Anonymous said...

Again:

How many copies does a typical Lulu title sells?
How many reviews does a typical Lulu title receives?
How much $$ does a typical Lulu author earn?
How many bookstores (without the author having to do an event there) purchase a typical Lulu title?

“The last figure I heard from inside Lulu was over 3 million dollars have been paid out in royalties alone.

That's a 3 followed by six 0s, as in

$3,000,000"

This figure means nothing without knowing how many authors Lulu has printed.

Jim

JA Konrath said...

Some interesting things being said here.

Because how can you expect to get people to buy your book if you can't even get anybody to read it for free?

That's a good point. I'm a fan of writer's groups, which is a form of editing. Putting something online and letting people have at it is a good way to not only catch typos, but to get suggestions on plot, structure, characerization, etc.

I think a more balanced experiment would be one where you charged a certain amount of money for downloading itself.

If publishing is indeed following the trail blazed by the music industry, then people are going to wind up getting books for free. The ereader equivilant of an iPod hasn't arrived yet, but when it does, it will hurt print books.

Until that day, charging for downloads when people don't have a regular ereader doesn't make sense. Too many people have never read a whole ebook, and the majority of those who download mine still print up copies. I don't think charging folks will work.

The people who buy those books will associate JA Konrath with cheap, poorly-edited work.

Don't sugar-coat your feelings, Jude. Be honest. :)

I think editing is an essential part of the publishing process, but you have to be more specific in this case on what you believe an editor does.

Is an editor someone who cuts fat? Improves plot and characterization? Catches typos? Incorporates her ideas so the sum is greater than the parts?

What if I said that on my last two books, my editor gave me suggestions that took less than an hour to follow? Would that make those books poorly edited, even though my last one sold the best and garnered the more favorable reviews than the first three?

And of course, I'd have to ask if you've bought and read the latest versions of Origin, The List, and Disturb, so you can give concrete examples of how they're dubious, cheap, and poorly edited.

I see what you're saying, and understand it. And maybe, indeed, these books are so crummy they never should be published. But should you leap to that conclusion without evidence?

My prediction: more traditional publishers will embrace POD for first-time authors.

I don't think so, Stacey. When POD is embraced by publishers, it will be for a sure seller--someone with a built-in audience--which will guarantee limited returns.

Unless, of course, POD becomes the standard but distribution and return policies don't change, which could happen.

I'm having a hard time figuring out whether, at the beginning of the article, you're talking about the drawbacks of self-publishing, self-publishing through POD, or subsidy publishing through POD.

While those who self-publish using offset presses have many of the same challenges as those who use POD, there are some major differences.

POD allows a person to self publish a book without ever leaving their desk. There's no searching for a printer, getting comparable quotes, talking with professionals on the variations in font, typeset, paper stock, size, covers, etc. There's no researching how to get an ISBN, or get picked up by a distributor.

POD is one step shopping, where so much is done for the author that there is no learning curve.

I've judged contests with self-published books. In almost every case, the one who went with offset printing had a better looking and better reading result than the Xlibrises, Authorhouses, and iUniverses.

Incidentally, POD books do get sold in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, or traditional presses wouldn't bother to use the technology.

I think the article is pretty clear that I'm referring to the big POD vanity presses. Do some iUniverse titles get into stores? Sure, if the author pays, or does it himself.

I don't have to pay or make any extra effort to get my JD books distributed and put on bookstore shelves.

And I don’t think Lulu is scum...but it isn’t publishing. It’s printing. It helps people become self-printed.

I'm going to agree here. With these three old titles,I've basically taken some manuscripts to Kinko's. In fact, in the intro to each of the books, I state that these books haven't technically been published, even though the reader is holding a printed copy.

I've used Lulu a couple of times in the past but only to print a single copy of my book/novella.

And you know what? I think that's a great use for it. If you want something to give to family and friends, or you have something of niche value (Dad's memoir, Grandma's recipes) then it's a great idea.

As a business model for new authors, I remain unconvinced.

The last figure I heard from inside Lulu was over 3 million dollars have been paid out in royalties alone.

Lulu.com's website boasts on its homepage: "Products from a million creators."

So it looks like each one made three bucks.

Allison Brennan said...

There is absolutely a place of POD in the marketplace. But it's not going to replace traditional printing for the majority of books in print.

Even with a 50% return rate, when you're getting into 100,000 print run and selling 50-60K, printing 50-60K with POD technology would be a huge, cost-prohibitive and timely endeavor. It would be far cheaper to print 100K in mass market and pulp half of them.

Frankly, I think when print runs exceed 5,000, POD isn't viable.

JA Konrath said...

Frankly, I think when print runs exceed 5,000, POD isn't viable.

I think the number is even smaller, more like 1000.

But how long do you think that will last?

Since POD is a technology, it follows the same rules that all technology follows, namely: it will get cheaper and faster and better.

It will be interesting to see what happens ten years from now.

Jude Hardin said...

Meant no disrespect, Joe. That's why I used the Gatsby example. Great writer + Great editor = great book.

Anyway, good luck with the POD thing. I do think putting the short story collection out that way is a good idea.

Putting something online and letting people have at it is a good way to not only catch typos, but to get suggestions on plot, structure, characerization, etc.

I didn't know you were still open to suggestions on those books. When I read Origin, I had some extensive changes in mind. I wouldn't mind taking a crack at it, but I want co-authorship. :)

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Best wishes with your collections, JA, because I think if anyone can make self-publishing or POD work for them, you can.

Distribution is the biggest drawback to self-publishing. It's a hurdle next to impossible to clear, even for experts, and distribution is conventional publishers' biggest advantage. There's just no getting around that.

POD costs and pricing still need work. The logical interim step, in my opinion, is ebooks, but that technology currently has drawbacks too.

I used to supervise distribution of non-commercial technical manuals. When we decided to go POD, in order to offset the increased cost of POD printing we encouraged use of digital formats as much as possible. In a perfect world, for technical data that would eliminate paper except where it's necessary for large foldout illustrations and complex wiring diagrams. Convincing customers to go digital was another matter. At one point we had people trying to print out PDF ebooks rather than reading them in digital format or having us POD print them, and that cost even more than POD printing.

My prediction -- I like to cozy up with something light and portable to read fiction. I don't want to spend my pleasure reading time in front of my desktop computer or holding a heavy (and hot, in summer) laptop. POD books tend to be heavier than mass-market paperbacks, which I prefer when flying, carpooling, or reading in bed. I would love to see handheld ebook reader technology priced to appeal to readers on a budget who are used to buying mass market paperbacks. Why should I pay $100 (let alone $300!) for a special reader, and also pay hardcover prices for the ebooks to read on it? Commercial publishers still treat ebook technology as a novelty, rather than pricing ebooks realistically and passing on some of what they save on digital format to the customer.

We need a durable, legible, standardized handheld digital reader, so durable it doesn't fill landfills as quickly as cell phones already do, made of recyclable materials, and priced low enough that anyone on a budget can afford one. I've owned the same bedside lamp for thirty years. I'd love to see an ebook reader that would last half that long, with ebook formats as standard as light bulbs and priced equivalent to mass-market paperbacks or better. A publisher could start the pricing of a new book comparable with the hardcover, with a discount at least reminiscent of what's saved by not printing, and once sales drop off lower the price to be more indicative of mass-market paperback prices, sans printing costs. When that happens, we'll have a technology readers will embrace. Otherwise, readers on a budget will continue to prefer mass-market paperbacks by known authors -- or just watch bad TV or surf the Internet.

As for self-publishing, I'm a self-published fiction writer. It's not my end goal, just a step I've taken along the way. I self-publish in order to get name recognition prior to conventional publication, which I still hope to achieve, and to have the satisfaction of people actually reading what I write rather than having my best work so far languish in a box in my attic. Much of my work still sits in the attic. I only self-published my best unsold work, with one novel for sale in ebook or paper format, and another as a free ebook on my website.

I've seen some snobbery toward self-publishing, but mostly from other writers who've come to fear it because there is some really bad writing out there being vanity published by people who think a first draft is a finished book. It should go without saying, but it doesn't always -- writing is revision and editing too. I haven't encountered any bias from readers. If they can find my work, which is the biggest drawback to self-publishing, they read it without comparing publishing methods, and they judge it on merit alone. Self-publishing is hard work, and it's been a norm among poets and visual artists for a long time. I think the bias I've observed is partly an overlap of prejudice against vanity publishing. Should new writers go through vanity publishers? No, I don't think so, but it's their right, and we've all at some point let our dreams outstretch us. We make mistakes, we learn from them, and we move on.

I don't think low sales of self-published work should be considered in deciding whether to conventionally publish someone, though. It should be obvious to conventional publishers that they have the cornerstone on the step in publishing with the biggest payoff -- distribution. If they can't see that, it's just wrong-minded.

I've learned a lot from self-publishing, but I'm less eager to self-publish again without first making many more submission rounds. Self-publishing isn't writing, and it's a lot of work. I'm a writer. I'd rather spend my time and energy writing, or selling my books through an efficient distribution channel that can reach readers, as provided by a good publisher, than spend any more energy self-publishing.

Jude Hardin said...

What if I said that on my last two books, my editor gave me suggestions that took less than an hour to follow?

A good editor also knows when to leave things alone. After WS and BM, you probably knew JD and crew like the back of your hand. That's where good writing comes from, I think. Knowing the characters inside and out.

You already know how much I liked Dirty Martini. The plot is fine, but what you're really nailing now is Jacqueline Daniels' character. It makes all the difference, IMHO.

I wouldn't change a thing in DM, btw, except maybe that Justin Buchbinder scene. ;)

JA Konrath said...

The perfect ebook reader will:

Be backlit.
Be light-weight.
Have at least a 4"x6" screen.
Have adjustable font size and style.
Have a long lasting rechargable battery.
Be able to download content from the Internet wirelessly.
Be waterproof.
Be scratchproof.
Cost less than $100.
Have room for 50+ books.
Be upgradable.
Make books interactive to some degree.
And, as I envision it, be a pleasure to hold an manipulate, which means it might be flexible, with a very simple user interface.

Allison Brennan said...

Joe, I don't like reading ebooks at this point, but I'll never say never--I got a video iPod and didn't realize how much I LOVE watching television shows on it. I gave up tv for years to make time for writing, and I'm catching up on all these great shows I've missed. So I could see myself--with the right equipment--downloading books.

Right now, though, I'm sure the big sellers are doing okay on ebooks, but they are less than .1% of my total sales and sort of off my radar screen for the time being.

Darryl Sloan said...

Great experiment. I'll be interested to see the results later.

The only thing I would add is that you could have significantly reduced the retail price of your books by dealing directly with the printing firm Lightning Source, instead of dealing with Lulu/AuthorHouse/iUniverse, etc., all of whom use Lightning Source as their printer. I'm able to offer my novel for a startling $7.99.

Regards
Darryl Sloan
http://www.darrylsloan.com

Maya Reynolds said...

Joe: Sorry I'm coming late to the discussion. I've been busy promoting my first release--and using all that generous advice I've collected from this blog over the last two years. Thanks.

I'm pleased to see you talking about POD as a technology, not as a business model or--worse yet--as a synonym for self-publishing.

I agree that you have nailed the two biggest drawbacks to self-publishing (high prices and lack of distribution). I would, however, break your price argument down further to include a third obstacle: lack of a system to vet for quality.

Right now, there is a two-tier system to vet for quality. Agents filter out the dreck for publishers, and publishers serve as the filtering system for the two biggest markets (bookstores and libraries). Until self-publishing comes up with a reliable filtering system, it will not gain widespread acceptance.

I think publishing will continue to evolve with POD technology becoming the province of booksellers like B&N, Borders and Amazon rather than publishing houses like S&S or Random House. It will enable backlist books to be almost instantly available either online or in bookstores.

The true beauty of the POD model is that a book need not be printed until there is a demand for it. Therefore, it eliminates the need for warehousing or returning unsold stock. If B&N or Amazon waits until a reader requests a book, the sell-through percentage would be 100%. With a POD machine on site in your local bookstore, the reader could be guaranteed a book in fifteen minutes (see the Espresso machine on public display at the New York Library if you don't believe me).

Obviously, with well-known authors or guaranteed best-sellers, the traditional offset press model is less expensive on a per copy basis.

What will be interesting is to see if the line between bookseller and publisher blurs with companies like Borders offering to be both the publisher and the distributor for newbie writers and midlist folk. Certainly publishers are already blurring that line by digitizing their stock and making it available for sale on their in-house websites.

You mentioned Chris Anderson's long tail theory in your original post. You might find it interesting that Chris is working on a new book called "Free" in which he presents the argument that books in the future might be printed either with ads or without ads. The "without ads" model would sell the way books do today. The "with ads" model would be available for free.

Thanks as always for a great blog with interesting topics.

Regards,

Maya

Anthony S. Policastro said...

Hi Joe,
You are correct about mainstream publishers finally adopting POD as a viable alternative to the current publishing model. Eventually, it will happen out of necessity. It just takes one to break the ice and the rest will follow.

I have heard about POD and the Long Tail over and over from a lot of blogs particularly Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog. Joe is Vice President and Executive Publisher in the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and he talks about the benefits of bookstores using POD at http://jwikert.typepad.com/the_average_joe/2007/09/the-brick-and-m.html

Take a look, you'll find it interesting.