Sunday, 7 February 2010

Print on Demand... Authors can beat the Catch-22 of Publishing.

We've all been there. You send your query letter to selected Literary Agents. You invariably get the reply, "I don't represent unpublished authors." You then try the publishers. The answers come back: "We don't represent un-agented authors." Welcome to the Catch-22 scenario!

Sadly, Literary agents and editors have little or no interest in un-established writers these days. It is a fact that something like 70% of traditional publishers are now Corporate-owned... and if you are not a Gold-plated cash cow... forget it!
(Joanne (J K) Rowling was a one-off... It's unlikely there will be another phenomenon like Pottermania.)

The Dreaded Corporate Suits.

These Publishers have effectively turned their backs on aspiring first-time novelists by refusing to read unsolicited manuscripts.They argue that a bestseller emerges, on average, only once every three years from the slush pile and they no longer have the time or the resources to wade through the remaining "dross." Mainstream publishers reject the bulk of manuscripts sent to them principally because they predict that they will not be able to sell the books in sufficient quantities to cover production and distribution costs.The bottom line is that a work must either "fit onto the shelves" of mainstream publishers or be penned by an author whose name will guarantee sales.

The mushrooming of E-books, Print on Demand, and Internet exposure inevitably means traditional publishers will probably have to change their business practices. It's only a matter of time before authors go from aspiring to be traditionally published to aspiring to be POD-published. When this happens, traditional publishers that don't adapt to the new realities could be in real trouble.
Traditional publishers were dismayed by the invasion of Print on Demand and other digital production and delivery technologies. Almost overnight, "Motor Cars had replaced horses and carriages." The playing field was effectively levelled. Independent  publishers could stand beside the Big, Bad, New York and London, Corporate-owned Publishing behemoths. CEOs reassured their corporate boards that digital publishing was just a fad that would soon go away. It didn't.
Corporate-owned publishers then arrogantly lumped together all of the online publishers and labelled their products "non-books."
"These non-books are written by amateurs," declared the traditional book industry. "Therefore they don’t deserve to be reviewed by mainstream media or shelved in brick and mortar bookshops." And in the mainstream book industry, their judgment became The Law.

Then the inevitable started to happen. Even established authors started to break their contracts with traditional publishers and form their own independent publishing companies. By now, a large percentage of the digitally published books not only matched traditionally published offset printed books in appearance; they were equal to, and often superior in quality. The writing was firmly on the wall.
As to whether the traditional publishers actually bother to read it... only time will tell. Blair and Bush didn't bother to read the signs... and we all know what happened to them.

Traditional Publisher versus Print on Demand Publisher.

The Traditional Process.
With the traditional printing process, a quantity of books are printed up in advance and then orders are filled from that inventory. This is the way traditional publishers generally manufacture their books because, on a per book basis, the cost is cheaper; but there are big trade-offs to doing it that way.
First, the traditional publisher must predict the quantity needed. In other words, they have to predict the market demand for a book – a potentially difficult task.
Second, traditional publishers have to come up with the up-front cash to pay the printer for all those copies of the book. That cash remains tied up in the form of unsold inventory until they can convert it back to cash by selling all the books.

The Print-On-Demand Process.
Print-on-Demand is the process of manufacturing a book when the customer orders it. Since the books are made to order, you don’t have the problem of predicting the quantity needed. And since you collect the money from the customer before printing the book, there is no need for an upfront investment, nor do you have money tied up in unsold inventory.
The only up-front cost is preparing the electronic file from which the books will be printed. But that is far less than what one would have to pay doing it the traditional way.
The downside of print-on-demand is the per book cost doesn't get cheaper the more copies one prints. It costs the same no matter if it is one copy or 100,000 copies.

What is the difference between a print-on-demand publisher and a traditional publisher?

Traditional Publishers.
Traditional publishers buy all rights to your book in exchange for an advance (many authors don't get advances anymore) and royalties ranging from around 8%-12%. You no longer own the book.
The royalties are usually paid to you annually after the accumulated amount is greater than the amount of the advance. In exchange for you giving them all rights, they take your manuscript and turn it into a professionally edited and designed marketable product. (Caution! This is the point at which they can effectively butcher your masterpiece.)
They pay for a print run to produce copies of the book for distribution. They then negotiate with distributors sell the book to stores, which then sell it to the consumer.
Traditional publishers usually accept returns (buying back unsold copies from bookshops) and offer larger wholesale discounts; thus making the books more tempting for bookshops to stock. But if those books don't sell, the returns will be taken out of the author's future royalties. And though it is rarely enforced, and even more rarely mentioned; most traditional publishing contracts have a clause that allows the publisher to request that the author even pay back the advance if the book doesn't generate enough sales.

Some publishers have actually admitted that return rates have topped 50%, and the numbers have been rising for some time. This means that half of all books printed in the UK are never read... and they’re not redistributed either, but returned to the publishers or otherwise disposed of, usually by pulping; or simply dumping in landfill sites.
The sale-or-return system is outdated and thoroughly wasteful. It is not uncommon for bookshops to return copies of a title to a publisher on the same day that they reorder more copies of the same book.
(Something like 52,000 individual titles were pulped in 2009.)

Print-on-Demand Publishers.Print-on-Demand publishers provide the infrastructure to print and market the book; as an addition to their portfolio, or by yourself... or both; depending on the Publisher.
You own all rights to the book (with the possible exception of print rights... dependant on the context of the contract) and can sell them whenever and however you want.
Royalties are much higher. (My publisher: New Generation Publishing contracts for up to 60% of the cover price.) The book is sold directly to the customer via my publisher's Web site ... and, with the distribution package; is added to the Nielsen Book List for inclusion to online and offline retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones etc, to make it widely and internationally available to customers.

Seeing that copies are printed as ordered; there are no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and certainly no loss on returns. There is also no Literary Agent fee creaming 15-20% off the top.
So there you have it. Print-on-Demand could well prove to be the answer to the unpublished author's nightmare... and the David to the Traditional Publisher's Goliath.

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