Monday, June 3, 2013

POD and Printing Costs

The stories in this book will introduce you to a side of police work you’ve never seen,
and a group of heroes you’ve never met.

QUESTION: How many free copies of my book do I get? My friends are all asking for freebies and the book isn't even published yet. What do I tell them?

ANSWER: It may vary from publisher to publisher, but if you are a Write Words Inc. author, you will get one free proof copy.  And I have to pay for printing that. No publisher who chooses POD (Print on Demand), where no book is printed until after it is sold, can afford to give away any copies.

Print on Demand vs. Mass Printing

People do believe (because for mass market publishers, it's true) that authors get some free copies to pass out to their friends. Or they can buy them very cheaply. If you publish with a POD publisher, you might want to begin letting friends know right away that you will have to personally pay for every copy and that if they want an autographed copy, you will get one for them, but it cannot be a gift.

Mass market publishers print 6 to 60 thousand copies, on the cheapest paper they can find,  and sit them in a warehouse.  Because it is cheaper to print in high number they can print copies for as little as 50 cents and sell them for $9.99.  With POD publishers, the books are printed One At a Time and the average cost of printing ONE copy is around $5. On the other hand, every copy is the same as a hardcover book in size and paper quality, except for the soft cover.  They are not printed on pulp paper. These books are known as "trade paperbacks." People in the business expect them to be priced higher, and many mass market publishers are using POD technology to keep popular series books in print. This works well, because there is no inventory to be taxed as no book is created until after it is sold.

With the mass-market system, a bookstore is used to ordering 20 books if they think they might sell 10, getting them all on credit, and not paying anyone a cent, unless the books are actually sold. With mass market books, if they are not sold when inventory time comes around, they are "returned" to avoid paying any inventory tax.  But nobody actually pays freight to send all those returns back to the publishers. They just rip the covers off and send the books to the landfill.

The change that is going on in the book industry right now is akin to the one when Guttenburg came along with movable type.  None of us really knows what's going to happen, but I'll share my best guesses with you.

Technology and Economics both play into this as well, because of the changing marketplace. Deep inroads have been made by the e-book markets, but some people will never settle for less than paper. To them it is holy.  The whole book industry as we have known it, operated by printing many books cheaply and selling them on credit to stores and if the store doesn't sell it it goes in the trash. That is a wasteful system, it's not worth cutting the trees down for, and I believe it is on the way out. It operates on credit, prints tens of thousands of books that go unsold, and fill up landfills every year.  Few titles get selected for publication every year, fewer still sell well.

Ten years ago nobody knew what an e-book was.  Every publisher had an A list -- authors they advertized and promoted and what they referred to as "Mid-list" books that weren't expected to do as well and so were not widely promoted.  Today there ARE no mid-list books unless they are POD.

Today in some larger stores, you can request your book at the "printing station." the store will  buy the file from the publishers, pay us by electronic transfer, print the book on a machine that looks like an over-sized copier, while you have a cappucino, and you can take it home with you when you leave. I know this, because some of my authors are already selling their books that way. Yet today Most People have no idea this technology exists.

Today, most of us don't know the difference between a POD book and a mass market paperback.  But most of us DO at least know what an e-book is, that there are many brands and many of us older folks can't decide whether we'd like reading on a machine. Kids who grew up with Nintendo will not worry about being distanced by the electronics. An e-book is to them a "natural" book.

Over the next 15 to 20 years, everything we know about the book industry will change. Mass market printing will become less and less frequent. In the past 10 years the number of big publishers in this country have gone form more than 30 to 6 and the number of mass-market publishers will continue to shrink. This will affect the people who warehouse the books, the book distributors and salesmen, the freight carriers, and so on. They tell everyone, "POD will never catch on. Ridiculous to print one book at a time!"

Yet more and more small publishers are going this route simply to save on inventory taxes.  The advantage to authors is that your book doesn't drop out of print on day 364. There's no inventory util the book is actually printed.

It's my best guess that over the next few years, large chain bookstores that are widely stocked with Ready to Sell titles will become a thing of the past. Walk in, look at the thousands of books on display, buy maybe one. Barnes & Noble already has their store chain for sale. Others have gone out of business.

Instead there will be a "printing station" in every mall. It just doesn't make sense to print hundreds of thousands of books that will be thrown away if they go unsold for 364 days (the day before a 15% inventory tax kicks in). Fifteen percent is the usual margin for profit in a publishing company. It is cheaper for a big publisher just to throw away what's there and print more.

In that next 20 to 30 years, I believe that Paper Books will almost become a thing of the past, and they will become very expensive to own. People will become choosier about the titles they actually buy. Bus some folks will always want paper. And those who buy paperback books will get a product that will hold up well over the years. Acid-free paper does not deteriorate like pulp.

Collectors, too, should be aware. Hold on to those first editions.

Best, Arline Chase,
Publisher Write Words, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds to me like you're right on track with your thoughts.
    While it would be exciting to see piles of our books on sale at Costco and B&N, the sad fact is that, as you say, most end up at the .99c store or in the trash and are officially out of print.
    At least some of our POD books may catch on some thirty years down the pike and we'll become household names.
    It happens. Think of Jim Thompson, FX Toole, Leonard Gardner, etc. Okay, maybe not household names in every household, but still...