There is an alternate reality where in a sane world business revolves around demand being created, supplied and fulfilled. This world does not rely on an artificial or should I say superficial business model which is based solely on waste, heavy on resources and harmful with its impact on the environment. Yet this world, crazily, is ignored by the majority of people owning and operating the industry. In fact the industry works against a business model which is not built on a vanity turnover, excessive and unsustainable waste and greed. I am of course talking about the crazy world of publishing. The more sustainable model of ‘Print on Demand’ (POD) can address many issues of waste, environmental impact and democratise the industry, so why is it not a natural choice. It is clear that many forces in the industry conspire against it becoming the chosen model for the industry moving forward and those factors run deep within the whole industry from distribution through to bookstores.
For instance when our titles are set up we state that we allow returns just like any other publisher, yet part of the distribution chain which allows our books to be ordered just like any other publisher makes a decision which we cannot control not to allow these returns to happen – even though we have given permission for this to happen. Believe me, we would rather books were not returned but we are realists and if a book is returned after sale for whatever reason we would rather have that book come back so it can be redistributed or checked for whatever reason. This is how the system works with mainstream publishers and it means that booksellers reduce their risk when overstocking. Overstocking is a part of the publishing business model which Caffeine Nights Publishing is against as it is not sustainable and carried out solely to enhance publisher and book store turnover.
A pattern starts to emerge where it is clear that some parts of the industry are against POD for a number of reasons. Many of them are spurious and most are designed to protect a system which clearly is coming to an end. Some bookstores won’t order a POD title because a distributor won’t accept the return or will only sell it as a ‘firm’ sale even though the publisher has expressly stressed that it is willing to accept returns. The bookshop will then make a decision not to stock a title which it can’t return. The bookstore may even turn down requests to have author signings because of this in the mistaken belief that it is the publisher’s decision. POD means that book store managers could actually order a very limited number of a single title and have it in stock or respond to demand and order it when requested. Surely an ideal situation if distributors would play ball.
There is also a myth perpetuated by many elements in the industry that POD is inferior quality, in fact that all elements of publishers using POD is inferior, from design right through to content. This is a number one myth perpetuated by an industry which refuses to accept POD and new smaller publishers. Yes, it is true we don’t have the resources the major publishers have, but the fact is and what frightens many of them, is that you don’t actually need the deep pockets to produce a quality product people want to read and enjoy. The music industry has fought long and hard against change but gradually accepted it and seen that it can be healthy ad exceptionally creative. Publishing is still very class driven and pretentious, so I guess the reactions to protect a business model which has been around since the year dot is not wholly unsurprising.
Book shops all over the world can order out titles in whatever quantities they wish to but we would rather that ordering was based on demand and fulfilled this way. We don’t believe in printing a million copies of our titles unless we can actually sell a million titles. Sales are far more important than having our titles sitting on shelves for months on end unsold, but for a large part of the publishing industry they don’t care as long as they hog space in stores and provide turnover for both parties. These publishers don’t care if books are returned in their thousands or tens of thousands;there is always the remainder stores and supermarkets to flog off excess quantities at massively reduced prices and if that doesn’t work there is always the shredder and landfill. Because let’s face it in the quantities in which they are produced each copy probably costs a matter of pence.
Does this mean POD publishers have no ambition? No, we want to have million sellers not million returners, but we also want to be given an even and fair playing field in which to operate. If a publisher says he will accept returns then why cannot the distributor accept that fact and allow the books an even chance.