Print-On-Demand Does Not Equal Instant Bookstore

I do think the Espresso book machine, the end of the return system, and embracing e-books and interactive derivatives could solve a lot of the bottom-line issues in publishing. I personally can’t think of a single other industry that knowingly pulps nearly half of their product!

But Moriah Jovan’s post on the perfect bookstore makes it sound as if all of publishing’s problems are instantly solved with print-on-demand. There is a lot to consider though in the adoption of POD technology.

My perfect bookstore would have a couple of Espresso machines and access to a large catalog, too. But having one hardcover copy of a bestseller isn’t very practical, and ordering one copy even every week is going to eat up a ton of bookstore profit in shipping. Publishers also have relationships with book buyers that are based on retailers buying bulk quantities at special discounts. If publishers were suddenly shipping books one at a time, you can bet the discount to retailers would be drastically dropped, which means that the discount passed on to the consumer would be lowered, too. Publishers are also not going to release the rights to print a new book on demand if they’re also trying to sell thirty dollar hardcovers, so only having one hardcover in stock and printing the rest as you go isn’t actually a viable option. (You may say, “well then charge them both $30!” but what consumer is going to pay the same price for a book printed in front of them in paperback as they do for a hardcover with a dust jacket?)

It’s also been my experience that print-on-demand titles are still priced higher than a typical trade paperback through online retailers. How to price a print-on-demand book is still a difficult question, and how does an author really benefit by print-on-demand edition is still in question, too. If the publisher retains print-on-demand rights, how many books does an author have to sell in order to make it worthwhile for the author? Depending on the contract language, authors may find that they can’t terminate their current contract and sell physical rights to another publisher because they are still technically selling one book a year via print-on-demand.

Also, there can be a difference in the quality of a print-on-demand book and a regular trade paperback. Children’s picture books would probably be cost prohibitive to print on an Espresso, since colored toner is more expensive. The quality could also suffer if, for example, the magenta was running low and suddenly everything has sort of a greenish tint to it.

Lastly, an Espresso costs around $80,000. Independent bookstores might not have the money to plunk down on an Espresso machine, and that could mean that the small corner bookshop is going to have to fight that much harder to stay in business when the chain stores are putting Espressos in their stores.

All that said, I’m certainly not anti-POD, and was thrilled to see the machine in action during the 2009 Tools of Change conference. But there’s a lot more to it than a simple click and print.

This is also cross-posted on Litdrift

TOC Conference – Day 2

Today was the second day of the O’Reilly conference, and though I have to get my beauty sleep (ha!) before the last and final day, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the individual sessions.

I’ve filled a legal pad with notes, and so will have to organize, brood over, and type up some full sentences later. For now though, let me pass on:

– Reading has become a social experience. “Marginalia,” originally found printed in the margins of a book has now been reborn as the comment function on a blog.

– Blog comments that run to the left hand side of the page, at the same level of the original blog post, change the way that readers interact with the content of the post. (See GAM3R 7H30RY)

– Cory Doctorow challenged all publishers and content creators to demand from their distributors the option of being DRM free.

– Google Book Search has the possibility of bringing new life to your shallow backlist.

– The copyright laws are still fuzzy when it comes to the aggregation of content to create new content bundles/packages.

– Likewise, we still don’t have a concensus about how to price digital products.

Jeff Jarvis reminded us to think like Google.

– Jason Fried of 37 Signals told us how they made $1,000,000 off the sales of byproducts. (They turned their blog into a .pdf, then into a book, and into a conference. They’re software developers that ‘accidentally’ became a book publisher.)

– I saw a print-on-demand book made… on demand! It took about seven minutes, and came out of the machine ready to go (even still a bit warm!) It was amazing to see.