Monday, 10 March 2008

Swimming with the Sharks – Fighting the myths about POD

Being a start-up company in the world of publishing is certainly an exciting time at the moment. Print-on-Demand (POD) is a filthy word akin to being disrespectful to a religion or God; or so it would seem. But POD is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of publishing in the trade today. We are not responsible for printing thousands of unwanted titles that get recalled and expensively scrapped or pulped. We only produce when there is a demand or when an order is generated. What POD can bring the trade is a form of intelligent ordering and smaller quantity ordering from large and independent bookstores willing to try something new.

There is also a myth generated that POD means a no returns policy. Our policy is to make firm sales as this allows us to work with larger discounts and places more onus on bookstores to actually sell the books and offer them equal placement with the big boys of this publishing world. But if a store wants to return unsold stock then we are willing to do that but not at a price where there is no incentive to the store to actually promote and sell titles. We will support books stores with book signings, posters, pre-signing publicity, PR and POS. I think that is more than fair to gain a little shelf space in a store. Especially when the store will probably earn more money per copy than the author who slavishly spent part of his or her life writing the darned thing, or even the publisher who had the brass ones to publish it. And then, you know what, if the store doesn’t shift the book they get the right to return it and get their money back…no questions asked.

The way the book trade operates, everyone gets a slice of the cake. Printers, distributors, bookstores, designers, photographers, agents, authors and yes, even publishers. That slice gets to be incredibly thin for small publishers once everyone has taken their cut. The author unless he/she sells phenomenal amounts will take home an average wage that is bordering on, and in some cases less than, minimum wage. The publisher will only get a small percentage of what’s left to keep searching for new talent and investment.

Some bookstores want at least 50% off the cover price and force small publishers to commit to quantities that they must know are not viable in terms of sales. Online giants are no better, and while some like to promote themselves as the saviour of the small presses, they have no problem asking for 60% plus. These figures are mad and clearly unsustainable to companies operating on miniscule budgets. There is an option to return to running off thousands of books to reduce the overall cost per copy and wait a year for the books to return to be pulped, but surely POD is a far more sensible approach. It also offers readers greater choice.

The book industry has to start adjusting to life in the new age. It is clear to see why the big publishing houses have such a strangle hold on the retail market, and why there is restrictive practices stopping little minnows from swimming with the sharks. It is also clear that times are changing and unless the media adopts a less snooty attitude to POD and bookstores learn to embrace what should be an exciting opportunity for them then the sharks may become dinosaurs while the minnows evolve and exploit new markets and technologies such as the Espresso Book Machine. Now may just be the time for small and independent publishers to band together to gain market share in the coffee shops with our product and digital catalogues because you can be sure that this will be the one area the major publishers will cream their coffee beans to suddenly back this technology, which we are currently berated for championing.

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