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Night Shade Books
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 03:49 am:   

I have several thoughts regarding POD.

As a publisher, I'm not a big fan. Qualities issues aside, and there certainly are quality issues, the unit cost is WAY too damn high. It's hard enough to make a buck in this business without doubling my unit costs. From another standpoint, when I check Ingram, I occasionally browse through other publishers' titles. And most of the time when you see an LSI-printed title, it's listed at a 10-25% discount. As far as I'm concerned, that's a deal-breaker. Standard trade discount is 40%. It's hard enough getting into bookstores without crippling yourself by short-discounting. Bookstores REALLY hate that, and a good number of them will simply not stock any short-discounted title.

My biggest issue with POD, and please don't anyone take this as a personal attack, is that it removes the barrier to entry. What Deborah is talking about goes both ways. POD has allowed her to create Polyphony, something we're all very glad she did. However, it allows anyone with $500 in their pocket to be a publisher. And a lot of folks shouldn't be publishers.

When you're doing things offset, you have to be careful. I have to be damn convinced that what I'm publishing is pretty cool, otherwise I won't spend the $15,000 to publish it. Because if I publish a bunch of books that cost me that much, and they don't sell, then I'm out of business. POD removes that barrier. If you've got $500 (gross generalization here folks) then you can publish a book. And if it doesn't sell, then you can just publish another. And another. And another. And as long as we're pumping books out left and right, we don't really need marketing or promotion, do we?

When I started Night Shade, there were about a dozen or so other publishers starting up as well. Most of 'em are dead now. They spent the money, and published what they thought was top-notch, and the market didn't agree with them. When you're doing offset, you can only publish so many books that don't sell until eventually you collapse. If the market likes you, and people are buying your books, then you must be doing something right.

I'm not saying that every press who uses POD is publishing crap. What I'm saying is that a lot of the presses who are using POD are publishing crap. Take a look at the current crop of small press horror publishers, for example. There's roughly nine gajillion of them, and the bulk (not all, mind you, but the bulk) of them are publishing crap that isn't fit to see the light of day. And these presses are churning it out, book after book. POD removes the repercussions of publishing a tank.

POD is also having some other effects on the business, in ways that you don't think of if you're not doing it. ISBN prices are through the damn roof now. Used to be you could get 100 for $75. Try it now. It'll cost you $800. Wholesalers are a whole 'nother problem. It's 100 times harder to get a B&T or Ingram account now, unless you're with LSI.

POD is not inherently bad, but neither is it inherently noble. Publishers who use POD are not inherently bad, although I question how you can make any damn money doing it. POD has ramifications, and some of those ramifications *are* bad. POD is good because it brings us Polyphony and City of Saints and Madmen. POD is bad because it brings us Cock Roach Suckers and No Rest for Your Checkbook. Some people are doing some really great things with POD, but unfortunately a lot more people are doing some pretty atrocious things with it.

I'm reasonably sure I just came off as an elitist shithead, so I'll stop while I'm behind.

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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 04:56 am:   

I'm not a big fan of POD because, as a reader, generally it takes longer to get a POD book, and as a human, I'm impatient: when I want a book, I want it now.

I've never worked in a bookstore, but I know my school bookstore isn't a fan of POD because if a student fails to purchase a POD book he or she has ordered, it can't be returned and has to sit in the store until someone buys it, which often takes a long time because most POD titles are not exactly the bestsellers that your average college student wants to read, and they're also not often cheap mass-market editions but trade or hardcover, which many college students don't want or can't afford to buy. I know when I asked my bookstore to order the hardcover COS&M for me, they accidentally ordered two copies, and the second one is still sitting on the shelf. It's a beautiful book, and I've been singing its praises to anyone who'll listen, but it's hardcover and it's expensive.
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Deborah Layne
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 06:47 am:   

Again, a lot of these issues are not inherent problems with POD.

As the publisher, I specify with Lightning Source whether my books are returnable, what the wholesale discount price is, and so on.

Jason -- this is a small point, and one I already made on the other board, but let me make it anyway -- How I wish that $500 was all it took to get Polyphony out the door! I said this on the other board, too. I paid the authors a hell of a lot more than that. If you don't pay the authors, then, yes, indeed, POD allows somebody to publish a book without much up front investment and that may not always be a good thing.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 07:59 am:   


The printing (and distribution) technology known as print-on-demand may have its flaws, as would any emerging new technology, but I think your points are generally weak. Quality issues associated with pod printing have gradually vanished, with few exceptions. Those few exceptions can be corrected quickly enough, another advantage of such a system. In regards to the unit costs, that's the price of the pod printing and distributing. You'll have to talk to the printers, not the publishers, as we have little control over such issues. This applies equally to the issue brought up: I'm sure that we would all love to have lower unit costs, but we have little or no influence. The same goes for trade discounts. Ingram decides this, not the publisher. The effects in regards to isbn prices and wholesalers is done. It can't be undone.

As for the barrier to entry, well, who cares? Those that learn from their mistakes will survive. Those that don't . . . won't. That's the nature of business and publishing. It's really none of our business to cast stones on publishers who shouldn't _be_ publishers. The market will handle such issues.

There really isn't a lot of horror publishers utilising print-on-demand. Perhaps less than a dozen and most of those are projected to collapse within the year. I wouldn't be particularly concerned.

You can't cork the genie's lamp, now. It's happened. You can't change that.

Sean Wallace
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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 09:48 am:   

To me it seems that POD is a good thing rather than bad. There has always been lots of trash published to be sure – but the large publishing houses are just as culpable as the little guys with their 500 dollars. It is true that one might be ‘professional’ trash and the other unprofessional – but their is still a lot of trash on either end.

That someone can publish a book with less money seems to me to be absolutely a good thing. After all, in ancient times to make a book you had to hire a scribe, and it was very very costly. Almost no private citizens owned books. For more than the first thousand years of Christianity most Christians (even many monks!) had never even read the Bible . . . But who would say that the invention of the printing press was bad?

Another advantage of POD is the possibility of keeping old titles that are not in high demand in print.

As for quality, I have seen some not very nice products and some that are better than many regular type books. After all, there are many books published which are not POD that are of an awful quality.

As far as Nightshade goes, I was very pleased with the copies of Album Zutique. A really nice product . . . But I also liked the Leviathan 4 which was a POD. I doubt that many people looking at a copy of Lev. 4 would be able to tell that it was produced in some different way than any other book you might pick up at Barnes and Noble or where-ever.

As Sean said though, markets have a way of sorting themselves out.

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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

As said several times on the HWA BB, POD is a technology and that is all. The quality of that product is dependant on the publisher--if the publisher has the taste to publish quality, will spend money on design and production values, (including copy editing and proofreading) there is no reason that a POD title shouldn't look as good and read as well as any other book out there.

My issue with some POD publishers are that they don't believe in promotion or marketing, which is like throwing your books into the toilet.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 11:12 am:   

No need to cork the genie... the market is self-correcting... people who publish things that there are no market for will go out of business...

But one needs to recognize that there is good and bad with any technology... and more than just “bad publishers” will suffer because of these technological changes.

You inadvertently point out a couple of bad things in your post, Sean... You claim that you as a publisher can't do anything about unit cost... well you can! Print it offset... that lowers unit cost... shop around to different POD printers... that lowers unit cost... etc. By signing up with LSI, you loose control of a portion of your business that is traditionally controlled by the publisher.

Additionally, you claim that you can't do anything about trade discounts?! You the publisher determine what your discounts are... If a distributor is not discounting your books properly, get another distributor -- but wait... You CAN'T get another distributor because distributors have been inundated with so much POD VANITY crap that they have made it very-hard-to-impossible to get into their system. -- Remember what I said about a self-correcting system? And the difficulties of getting distribution affect not POD publishers, but EVERYBODY, POD or offset. So even if you do change to offset, and try and get a new distributor, you now have an additional barrier to entry.

So what, you say... You've got lighting source, so Ingram always carries you... yeah, except most POD titles go in and out of stock like clockwork... and they often stay that way for months at a time. Even though it is POD, Ingram doesn't print ‘em as they get orders. The bookstore I work at has been trying for months to get POD titles from Ingram... We finally got two copies each in... sold them, and now they are backordered again... probably won't get them for another month.... Those are sales that YOU ARE GOING TO LOOSE… because when customer walks in with book-money in hand, they either buy your book, or they buy someone else’s…. Most book buys are impulse buys, and if your product isn’t on the shelf, you are loosing a LOT of your possible sales.

Please don't kid yourself that Lightning source is a panacea... If you make it hard for bookstores to carry your books, bookstores won't carry them... Add a short discount on top of a perpetually out of stock status, and you may as well not even HAVE national distribution, because the only people(bookstores & readers alike) who will buy it are the ones who really WANT it, and would have bought from you directly in the first place...

Now... aside from making it harder for everyone to get reasonable distribution... what are some of the other down sides.

I know of some bookstores that simply will not carry anything that is POD. There is so much POD crap that many good babies are being thrown out with the bad POD bathwater. And really… bookstore employees are overworked and underpaid. This is actually a prudent business decision on their part. Time spent trying to figure out what is vanity, and what is worth stocking is time spent not doing other things that need doing. Most unsolicited ARC’s from unknown publishers now get thrown away, because there are so damn many of them, and most of the suck. This affects all publishers, and makes it harder to get bookstores to take a chance on us, POD or not. This is another example of the industry correcting for the flood of POD books that are being made.

This same dynamic affects reviewers… its harder to get a reviewer who has never heard of your press to give you a chance, because there is SOO MUCH CRAP out there.

Another problem: I see MANY books that are simply bad... they are first novels that should have NEVER been published. They are story collections that are embarrassing. These embarrassingly bad books would not have gotten published, pre-pod. POD technology encourages authors to make bad career decisions... POD technology encourages writers to become publishers, and marketers and promoters and shipping clerks and graphic designers -- INSTEAD of writers. All that time and energy spent trying to sell pod copies of their BAD trunk novel would have been better spent writing another novel. Sure... writers are responsible for their own decisions, but when an entire community jumps up and down and says that something is a good idea... well lets face it.... most writers are writers, not businessman.

Another problem -- BAD POD publishers take longer to die than BAD offset printers. How many writers have really good books get sucked up into the black whole of bad publishers. How many really good writers have projects that end up sitting in limbo, or worse, because they ended up taking a chance with someone who turned out to be a bad publisher? The simple fact that there are many MORE publishers out there mean there are many more bad publishers… and the long-drawn-out death throws of a POD publisher will pull down many more writers than a dying offset publisher will.

POD technology weeds out potentially good writers with bad business sense. This is a downside that directly affects writers.

POD technology has changed the publishing dynamic tremendously... It is far easier to get 50 people to read a given book, but it is far harder to get 500 people to read the same book. For books, or authors, or publishers that only ever had an audience of 50 people, POD is great. For works that could have a larger audience, POD technology is definitely a mixed blessing. No amount of tweaks and improvements in the technology will change this equation... because like I said when I first started blathering on... the publishing industry is self-correcting... if the barrier to entry is not printing costs, other barriers spring up.

Having said all that, I love many of the titles that are coming out from many publishers who use POD technology. I am just trying to suggest that authors and publishers should be aware of the downsides.... Sean's suggestion that he had no control over unit cost and trade discounts made me realize that he (and maybe others) might have a warped view of some of the forces unleashed by the POD technology. These barriers and changes in the industry affect us all, weather we use POD or Offset. Not being cognizant of how and why things were, and how and why things are changing can lead to nasty surprises.

I hope we ALL avoid nasty surprises.

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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 12:04 pm:   


You should tell us what you really think, instead of circling the issues like this.

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Sean Wallace
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   


For the point of this topic, I'm mostly limiting my responses only to print-on-demand technology, which includes printing and/or distribution. Yes, one could always reduce the unit costs associated with print-on-demand by going to offset (which I've utilised in the past), but that's not what we're discussing here. Or we could go with cheaper
digital printers with lower unit cost structures, but the drawback is that most don't have strong distribution channels--or weak distribution channels, so they are of no direct interest. If one works with print-on-demand, then there are some current flaws and issues associated with the technology. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to any type of printing, whether it be digital or offset printing. Them's the breaks.By no means is LSI a panacea. It is simply an option. Perhaps it's flawed, but it is somewhat of a viable option, nonetheless. In regards to reviews, I've rarely had a problem with this issue.

Moaning and groaning about the issues won't accomplish much. Those publishers who survive, utilising print-on-demand technology, probably will simply graduate to utilising offset printing presses, as a smart business decision. Or they will work on strengthening their distribution channels. The dictates of continued survival would influence the decisions of a publishing company, as much as it would for any other business.

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jonathan briggs
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 03:43 pm:   

Just a reader's viewpoint: Due to a closet full of horribly written, horribly edited POD titles that I couldn't bring myself to finish, I'm far less likely now to take a chance on a writer I'm not familiar with. I love the thrill of discovering something new, but there's just too much crap out there. If it weren't for the strong buzz on this board, I would have missed out on KJ Bishop's "The Etched City" ( a superb novel, by the way, everyone go out and get a copy!). But that's the rare exception. I've been burned way too many times, and after while, the wallet just snaps shut.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 04:13 pm:   

Sean... Your last paragraph really sums it up.

I'm trying to let people know what the drawbacks to POD technology are, and how certain assumptions aren't always valid... and how certain invalid assumptions can have disastrous consequences for an independent publisher.

You suggest that LSI has built in distribution... I'm not arguing that they don’t... but I am suggesting that constantly being Out of stock, and having short discounts is, functionally, the same as NOT having national distribution. Have you considered what kind of impact these factors have on weather bookstores carry you? If so, good. If not, it may or may not influence your decision to use LSI. But if you haven’t even considered it, you are flying blind.

If all you want to do is be available on Amazon... There are alternatives to LSI.. its called the "Amazon advantage program". Pay for play, and you are there.

I'm not moaning or bitching about anything... I'm simply saying... from my experience working in independent bookstores for 10 years, and working as an independent publisher for 5 years, this is how it appears to me.

I say these things, because I want independent publishers to succeed. I want to be able to sell your books at my store... I want all independent publishers to maximize their ability to get as many books as possible into as many readers hands as possible. Its our job to eat the cake of major New York publishers, who are increasingly only concerned with bottom line blockbuster profitability. I can’t take down Random House myself, but me and a hundred publishers like me probably could. :-)

Producing the book... that’s less than 1/3 of the battle. POD technology, and the barriers of entry that spring up as a result of that technology directly impact the other 2/3's of the business of publishing.

I was trying to direct the conversation way from myopic didacticism of "POD good vs POD Bad" and examine issues that are universal, and have been for hundreds of years. How do you get a completed manuscript into the hands of as many readers as possible, and get paid enough money to keep doing that indefinitely?

If I seem overly enthusiastic, or too cocky and aggressive, it’s because I’m passionate about this business. If you think I'm full of shit... or that my observations are not entirely objective... that’s fine... probably both of those are a little bit true. But I will keep shouting at the top of my lungs about it, because I believe what I am saying, and I believe that what I am saying is useful information that might be beneficial to somebody who reads it.

If just ONE person gets a useful bit of information from these conversations, then all this "moaning and groaning about these issues" (as you characterize it) was incredibly worthwhile. If just one publisher makes a better business decision because of what they read here (weather they agree or not with me... I doesn't matter), then the conversation and debate has been a good thing.

Peace out,
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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 04:35 pm:   

Um I meant:
"My issue with some POD publishers is that ..."
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Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 11:13 pm:   

As a new writer and one of the admins of a writing site (www.milkofmedusa.com) I can tell you POD is viewed by a lot of newbies as just another vanity outlet. I belonged to the iPublish thing, a couple of years ago, and it was filled with lots of writers desperate for their big break. Some of them understood it was a matter of perseverance and hard work, and many have kept at it. I have friends who are just now, a year and a half after TW pulled the plug, making their professional debuts. And they have something to be damn proud of.
Then there are the shortcutters, the writers who think being in print is the same as being published. Vanity presses -- not to name names -- swooped down on us like West Nile infected mosquitoes at a springtime picnic in Minnesota. They promised impressive incomes and fame and critical acclaim and all we had to do was sign on the dotted line. Some of my friends bought into it; some of them really didn't have to be sold all that hard (what's that line about some writers want to have been writers?). And they were put into print, and they got just what they deserved for trying to short circuit their talent and ability with cheap and ultimately unimpressive second best "publishing" houses. They've put out half-assed, unedited and unread books. They write posts on writing site message boards that always manage to include the phrase, "My published novel, XXXX." And I think every one of them, somewhere beyond the big pool of bile that surrounds their heart, knows they've cheated themselves of something grand when they eschewed the chance of seeing their first real (read: legitimate) publishing contract and instead decided to publish with their wallets rather than take their lumps the old fashioned way.
But hey, now they're published authors, right?
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Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 01:11 am:   

Just a comment on 'self-published' POD books. It is true there are lots of such books - the majority of them probably not very wonderful. But before POD there were many many vanity publishers that did so with off-set printing and many people who published their work that way . . . And there were (and are) also many great books self-published . . . If it were not for self-publishing we would have never had such cool things as "Some Women of the University" and a huge amount of the earlier English tracts.

I am not sure there are set rules for any of these things and it seems to me that there is also nothing wrong with someone publishing a lousy book if it makes them feel better. As readers, we can read and buy what we like - and as writers and publishers we can make our own choices, but I dont think it is a good idea to generalise about what others do, because the world is too complex to set up those kind of rules.

All these problems in the end stem from overpopulation and the fact that in this century there are a great many who know how to read and write but very few who are literate.

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Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 08:31 am:   

"If it were not for self-publishing..."

This is one of the arguments that vanity presses always use to try to establish some degree of legitimacy. But please note the self-publishing of the old English gentry is not a good dataset to compare with the contemporary vanity press. In contemporary self-publishing the successes are wild statistical anomalies.

It's not just about the benediction of some professional editor, it's all of the things (probably don't need to detail them here) that a publisher does to make a book better.

These days, Self-publishing with PoD should be compared with slapping your novel on the internet with an Amazon tip box next to it. Voila: for practically no outlay, your book is there for billions of readers. There's no end to the possibilities for success. And it aint gonna happen.

I do think it's better than the old scams that would not only disappoint the authors, but bankrupt them as well. And for some, maybe having that bound copy on your own shelf really is good enough.

But let's not perpetuate the myth that it's a legitimate path to financial success and professional recognition.

As technologies continue to evolve, perhaps there will be viable, professional alternatives to the traditional publishing model. But I don't think we've seen 'em yet.
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Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 08:45 am:   

I guess what irritates me about this whole discussion is the inability of certain people to distinguish between a printing method and self-publishing. Any arguments about whether it is a viable business model or not aside.

(1) Vanity publishers, self-publishers, and legitimate publishing companies use POD to publish books.

(2) Vanity publishers, self-publishers, and legitimate publishing companies use offset printing to publish books.

Is anyone unclear on that?

As someone who has had a few books come out as POD from legitimate publishing companies--none of whom engage in vanity publishing and all of whom pay royalties, sometimes with an advance--it's irksome to see the continued misunderstanding of a very simple idea.

POD *does not* equal vanity or self-publishing. It can, like any printing process, be used for vanity or self-publishing.


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Deborah Layne
Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 10:08 am:   

Yes, JeffV, and that's why I made my original post to the FSF Board, because, despite what Gordon thinks, people just can't seem to grasp this very simple concept. Sheesh.

At least now I can point to your two simple sentences above every time this issue comes up -- and it will come up again.

As for Ellen's point about promotion and marketing - yup, yup and double yup. It's very hard to get the word out about your books -- although it may be marginally easier in genre. All the usual outlets are far less accessible to small press books no matter how they are printed.

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Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 11:12 am:   

Jeff and Deborah,

As someone who fought a losing battle against the misuse of the term 'hackers' to reference certain types of computer criminals, and hacking to reference efforts to breach computer security, I can advice you that -- while the battle may not be lost yet -- it is possible that the term PoD will end up being synonymous with vanity publishing.

I'm with you: there is a term for vanity publishing, and that is 'vanity publishing.' We don't need to muddy the language by misusing the name of the printing method. However, you might want to hedge your linguistic bets, and start thinking up another term for the printing mechanism. Here are a few stabs:

* Micro-run printing
* Short-run printing
* Just-in-time printing
* Direct digital printing
* Rapid individual printing

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steve redwood
Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 11:52 am:   

I'd guess that the people on this board - pro- or anti-POD - are aware of what JeffV summarized so succinctly - that crap will fill any toilet bowl unless you pull the chain now and then. They will also know, more or less, which POD publishers to trust and which to approach with pegs on their noses. But as an amateur who's about to get his first novel Podded, I can see from the new writer's viewpoint two very obvious things.
First, without POD that first novel almost certainly would NOT be about to make the world a far less safe place to live in! Yet it's the same novel about which Orion and Penguin, amongst others, said nice things, but '... we just can't take a chance on a newcomer', and '... frankly, just not commercial enough', et. etc. etc. (Well, OK, Bloomsbury weren't quite so nice, but surely you don't expect me to print their shockingly gratuitous abuse here, do you!!??) Now, if the novel's crap, it will sink like a Minotaur's turd. If it's good, it's still the same novel that big publishers didn't dare (and I don't blame them) to publish, for the very reason that Jason said at the beginning of all this: too big an investment. In other words, though Jason himself may base his publishing strategy on quality (Jason: ONLY quality? Have you ever published a COMPLETE unknown?), most traditional publishers HAVE TO think only in terms of potential sales; and that VERY frequently does not equate with top quality. And, somehow, I don't think ANYBODY would fork out $15,000 on a COMPLETE newcomer (I wouldn’t). A POD-meister is still investing his own money (as Jeff said, let’s not allow POD to be equated with vanity publishing) and if he/she is only investing $500 (or more, as Deborah suggests) this is still taking a risk (not only with money, but with reputation). But he’s more likely to risk 500 than 15,000! So, in one case my hypothetically good novel will be published, in the other case, it will not be. For reasons which have nothing to do with its quality. And if it’s crap? As someone above said, if that happens, you’re pretty careful with that Podderer in the future.
Downside (still keeping to newby’s pathetically provincial pov). All been said above. The distribution. I’m sure all of you at some time have had to say ‘They’re publishing my book’ and then face the disbelief in your interlocutor’s face when you are forced to admit ‘well, it isn’t actually in the shops’. But this is equally true of small trad. presses. Though jeremy has suggested above (I knw nothing about the subject) that Podderers don't always produce the book when needed, thus exacerbating the problem.
So, in short, thank Jehovah for POD, but curses on the bad ones!!
I wonder if Bluejack is right? It's like the word 'horror', which I think is an unwise term, because in the hoi polloical mind it means rape and slash. What does POD mean in this hive mind? I was pretty pissed to see that beside Rhys Hughes' wonderful 'Nowhere Near Milkwood' (Prime Books), Amazon had specified it was a print-on-demand book. Why the f... did they need to specify that? And just how many people will think, despite screaming to the contrary, that this somehow lessens its value?
As you will see, I know sod-all about this subject - and THEREFORE I speak with authority, since to be really successful you have to reach out to those who know sod-all about the process of publishing, and only worry about a good read.

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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 03:43 pm:   

To answer Steve's question :

(Jason: ONLY quality? Have you ever published a COMPLETE unknown?)

No, because if someone is a complete unknown, then I'm not likely to know who they are :-) But I have and will continue to publish lesser known authors. When we picked up Tim Lebbon, he wasn't exactly a household name. We're publishing a Conrad Williams collection next year, along with some other folks.

I don't publish a lot of complete unknowns because I don't have time to find them. I get manuscripts all the damn time, and I don't have time to read them. If I get a recommendation, or if I've met the author, I'll take the time to read them, but I'm so backed up with good stuff that I don't really have the resources to handle the slush, which is where the "complete unknown" is sitting.

And to make sure everyone understood what I was getting at:

I DO NOT equate POD with vanity publishing, nor do I think I said anything to that extent. I have issues with POD, because I don't feel that it's at a stage where it can be used profitably.


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Posted on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 09:12 am:   

Hello, I was just delurking to offer another readers perspective. My first contact with POD was City Of Saints And Madmen, which at the time I didn't even know what POD was. I read constantly and voraciously, but don't pay attention to how the book was printed, I'll pay attention to the publishing company that actually brings the book out. I can tell you that when I got the book, I was amazed at how good it felt as an object, and remember thinking it was a beautiful book, with the added bonus that the stories themselves were everything reviewers had promised. So I checked out Prime's website, and ordered I-O and The Urban Bizarre, both of which have been amazing to read, and are the books that get passed around to friends with the phrase, "Check this one out, you'll love it." Prime is taking the same position that record labels such as 4AD used to hold in my mind, where if you see it's from that publisher, you know it's probably going to be something you want to read.

I didn't even know about the POD issues until reading an interview in CD, and then read Vandermeer's essay on his site about the difficulties with bringing out his book. Obviously the hard work that went into it paid off, because I didn't have a qualifying thought in my head upon first holding it, no "Oh, this is beautiful for a POD book", I just thought "this is beautiful" in regards to any book, offset published or not, and I still feel that way, even though I now know it's a POD book, and will still follow Prime regularly, because they publish material I love, and the price is reasonable.

Which brings me to the point that does bother me, and that's the micro-limited print runs of authors where the cheapest version of the book available is $50+. That I find a hell of a lot more disturbing than any issue of the technology used to print a book, because when I was in my teens, it was mass market horror and sci-fi that opened up huge doors in my life. Sure a lot of it was trash, but even some of the trashiest novels would make references to older, better written books, that because they existed in mass market collections I could track down and afford to buy. Without the excesses of the splatterpunk era, would I have discovered Machen, Blackwood, Shiel, and Hoffman? I'd like to think so, but the truth might be much different. I don't think there's any way to describe the importance that the mass market paperback racks in grocery stores held in the mid 80's, especially for people that grew up in rural areas. That's what scares me with the collectors market in spec literature now, I can't imagine a world where Delaney's Tales Of Neveryon or Dhalgren were so expensive that they couldn't be found and then passed around like teenage samizdat. Yet, when I read CD, and the reviews are for novellas that sound great, but cost $75, I'm sorry, but for $75 I'm going to splurge on that book of Schiele reproductions I've been drooling over for years. ;-)

So, to close this long and rambling mess, I'm siding with POD. There's authors and publishers out there that I've grown to love, that are either so weird that no one could expect a publishing company to recoup their costs on - Kenji Siratori is the first one that pops to mind - that do deserve to be out there for the small audience that looks for work such as they produce. Recently I read Tarkovsky's Sculptures In Time, and he made the brillant statement that all works of art find their audience, it may not be as big of an audience as we wished for, but they do find their audience. If POD is the method that those works can find their audience with, then more power to it.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:02 am:   

you bring up very good points. $75 collectors editions don't get new people into the genre...

However, the same can be said of $20, 120 page trade paperbacks. the cost per unit of POD books is still high, compared to trade paperbacks printed by traditional means.

Ultimately, I agree with you. At the end of the day, the tech doesn't matter. Publishers need to work hard to get their books promoted and on the shelves of bookstores, where people can find them. And they need to work hard to get their prices down to the "impulse buy" level, if they have any hope of reaching that next generation of readers.
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Posted on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:32 am:   

I agree that $20 is hitting the higher end, but at the same time, I sadly compare it to $18.99 price tags on cds, and given the demographic for record sales, I feel pretty secure that it places these books within the price range of people who will seek it out.

As a musician, who must sadly admit he can remember the explosion of independent record labels ;-), a lot of the comments I see regarding POD are almost direct reiterations that people had against people self releasing albums or starting their own record labels. Zappa pointed this out 20 years ago, and Steve Albini's The Problem With Music slammed the point home; the 'value' that signing with a major label offered, via distribution and exposure, did not mean an increase in the artist's financial return. In the beginning, there were the same arguements that without the editorial position of the majors, too much product flooding the market, etc etc that it would never work, customers would grow weary of inferior product, not be willing to search out new artists, the whole industry would collapse. Try going into a record store today and not seeing an independent release. Even today, with the major record lables having financial problems, independent labels are showing an increase in sales, and more importantly, artists are able to make a living off of their work.

Nowadays, with the decrease in cd duplication costs, better recording equipment for cheaper prices, independent distributors springing up to take over the market that the larger distributors wouldn't handle, we can afford to sell cds for $10 at shows and through distribution deals with labels like Dirtnap and still see a larger return than we ever did releasing through a label. It's taken a while to get to this spot, but I don't doubt that eventually, the same forces will go to work in the publishing world.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 08:51 am:   

It's not just the POD technology that makes the explosition of independent publishers possible. Mature, cost-effective and easy to use desk top publishing technology, combined with increased cost saving technology in the offset printing world all have a similar effect... They make it easier to enter the marketplace.

The music industry IS the perfect example. The majors long ago gave up on "creating a following" and building a career for younger talant over the course of several albums. To them, You are only as good as the sales of your last album. This means the majors are ignoring huge portions of the marketplace, while they chase those top ten sales.

The same is true in fiction publishing. New York publishers are ceding most of the sales pie to independents, in order to go after that 20% of the pie that represents the best seller market. Not only are the New York publishers marginalizing tomorrow’s writers, but they are marginalizing their own in-house editorial talent, who increasingly play 2nd and 3rd fiddle to the marketing department. How many great/breakout/outstanding books are turned down, not because the editor didn’t like it, but because the editor didn’t want to get into a fight, or couldn’t convince with the marketing department? Too many. How many good books fail, not because they were bad books and not because there was no market for them, but because a marketing department shoved a round peg into a square hole? Too many.

THIS is what is driving the explosion of indie publishers. POD is not really a major factor... It may lower the up front costs of doing business, but it also lowers the total profitability of a project, and therefore lowers long term growth. Some projects are right for POD, but if there is a legitimate audience of 1000 or more people, offset printing currently wins out over POD tech on a cost/benefit basis. As tech grows and changes, this ratio constantly needs to be re-examined. The issue of Poor quality is no longer an issue, where-as it used to be a major factor.

These indeed are exciting times. My company has gone from 2 books a year to 24 books a year, and we routinely sell 1000 copies or more of each book we do. And given the lower and lower advances that midlist and new writers are receiving , I can compete on an even playing field for the authors. At the end of the day, New York publishers can still kick my ass when they decide to go after a book (as demonstrated by several authors on this board), but, I plan on eating their lunch on the books they turned down, or didn't even know about.
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Neal Asher
Posted on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 12:52 pm:   

My only gripe concerning POD would be a contractual one for the writer. If the rights revert to you after X time of your book not being published, how does that apply to POD when your book is always being published, on demand. Bit of a wrangle there if you wanted to get the rights back...
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 02:32 pm:   

The best way to handle that, barring of course simply only giving POD publishers backlist and other reprint material with limited value, is a Guaranteed Minimum Income clause.

GMI basically states that the author will receive royalties of some amount, say $500, per year. If the book sells in sufficient quantity to pay out that much, the publisher retains the rights for another year. If not, the publisher can either make up the difference out-of-pocket to keep the rights or the rights revert.
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Posted on Wednesday, May 03, 2006 - 12:54 pm:   

Nobody's Investment is a good book to read on this subject. Go to amazon.com to locate it. Well worth the 13 dollars new and they have some used for a lot less.

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