Monday, April 06, 2009

CNN Discovers POD

So, I see that CNN has discovered Print-On-Demand. Of course, CNN has not really discovered anything new - some of us have known about self-publishing for years.

As far as the CNN article goes, it's pretty standard stuff: they have one writer who sold 300 books (above-average for the self-pubbed), one who got a major book deal, and several quotes from gleeful self-pub outfits. I do note that they stuck with reputable POD houses like Lulu and Author Solutions / iUniverse.

What they left out was critical. 80% of books are sold in brick-and-mortar book stores, and POD books can't get into book stores. Why? They are not returnable. Every book in a book store can be returned to the publisher for full credit, no questions asked.

At any rate, the CNN article was an interesting take from the mainstream media on the self-published / POD world.


PatricParamedic said...

Chris G:

No POD books in bookstores? PODs aren't returnable? Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I'm guessing you're too bright a guy to believe that. You may want to do some homework because when it comes across as fact, it tends to confuse the newbies. Not nice. The quality POD folks do indeed have the coveted "returns" programs. And I'm pretty sure you know it.

Careful what you say.


veinglory said...

Well if POD is taken to refer to POD services like iU an Lulu then they don't meet these requirements. Of course nothing stops a small or indy press from doing otherwise if it is within their capacity I know of only a handful that actually managed it.

Chris Gerrib said...

Patric - as Emily says, Lulu and iUniverse do not offer returns. I am a Lulu author.

Some of the programs that do offer returns (Booksurge) charge IIRC around $600/year for the program.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Returns isn't the only criteria for getting into bookstores. Most also require a 40% discount along with the returnability. Those two combined are sometimes a difficult proposition for an indie author. But even then, bookstores have limited shelf space and generally reserve that space for well known authors and books reviewed by the major critics like PW and NYT. They have buyers like all retailers, and when the catalogues come out, they have to be frugal with their choices. Unknowns are a gamble whether they are self-pub or not. And many buyers are intimately familiar with all the vanity press outfits: those books have an immediate "hard to sell" red flag. Pulping inventory is not a costless option.

I know some authors who managed to get their books into local Border's stores and such, but they had to do a lot of PR work and a lot of legwork, and in most cases it ended up being more of a consigment deal. It is possible, but the odds are slim, even with returnability. Competition in those new release catalogues is high. Coveted returns programs don’t guarantee store placement, and pod outfits that charge extra for such a thing should make that clear in their disclaimers. Of course, the newbie has to read the disclaimer.

In most cases, for most self-published authors, the price-tag associated with returnability and discount options will not produce much, if any, rate of return.

I like to err on the side of caution and frugality when advising authors on whether or not to purchase those "extras." No guarantee means just that.

Patric said...

Hi, Chris:

I do apologize, as I've reread your notes & see that you were indeed referring to 2 specific POD-type Pubs.

What I really meant to say is, #1 until you're a pretty well-known author, you'll have to bear the marketing load anyway. And #2, things are rapidly moving in the whole POD scenario. Yes, 80% of books are sold in stores. But 5 years ago it was 90%. Any bets what it'll be in the next 2 years? There are indeed some well-respected players in the game now (Infinity, Mill City) who have blended the traditional & non-traditional DNA, to the author's advantage. I've interviewed 17 bookstores in the S.F. Bay area, none of whom particularly care who the publisher is, as long as the books meet their requirements.

And, Cheryl, if you're reading this, "Consignment" is really what we're doing anyway. There are 3 copies of "Legend of the Plastic Chairs" at our local Target. They were published by Dog Ear Press. Go figure.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

In my friend's case, it was a consigment deal for him personally. They gave him a book signing, he provided the books and had to buy back what didn't sell after so many weeks.

Traditional publishing is also more or less "consigment." Although the publisher takes on the burden of the returns, not the author. Some vanity/subsidiary publishers do this as well, but they incorporate some buffer charge into what the author pays. Traditional publishers have already advanced the money to the author, so they pray for as few books to be returned as possible.

I am glad you got into target. Much success to you.

Dusk Peterson said...

I'm tempted to say that I've never seen competent media coverage of self-publishing. For example, I don't think I've seen a single media report on self-publishing that mentioned Lightning Source, a POD printer which is routinely used by self-publishers.

However, in reply to your post, I agree with the folks above that it's important to make distinctions between different POD services. Lightning Source permits returns (or not; it's up to the publisher to set this option), and you can decide on what discount you want. The problem of the unknown author remains, of course, but that's true of many small-press books as well. I think the key is to target independent bookstores who might be specially interested in one's subject matter. I've seen self-published books being sold by my local GLBT bookstore, for example.

As for myself, I prefer the approach of a short discount and online sales only.