The POD Book Business in 2006

In a recent discussion in our POD publishers group, somebody suggested that book buyers are still shy about placing online orders. I replied "Can't agree with you there. Consumers are hesitant to walk into stores where sales people hassle them. I guess we just know different consumers." In the same sentence, the publisher suggested that relatively few people go online. I replied "I believe just about everybody who buys books in the U.S. has Internet access." If you get your facts from ten year old data or consultants who are ten years out of date, you’re going to end up with a lot of misconceptions about how the book selling world operates today.

POD doesn’t mean low sales, but due to the huge number of titles turned out by subsidy presses, academic publishers and trades using POD for backlist, statistics would make the average title sales appear very low. I've never seen an apples to apples comparison of sales by, say, self publishers who use POD vs self publishers who use offset. It's very hard to create such numbers, because survey participants tend to be self-selecting and many of the failed businesses drop off the radar with 10,000 books in the barn. I know we've sold far more copies of books printed by POD than printed by offset, but part of that has to do with the title choices and our evolution as a publisher. Book sales numbers overall are simply much lower than most new publishers realize. Books published by academic presses probably average a few hundred copies in their lifetime.The main market for most of these books are academic research libraries who buy everything on a subject, of which there are maybe 200 - 300 in the world.

The only way to raise the industry average for POD sales would be for everybody to publish far fewer books, but that's hardly a solution. There's nothing wrong with tens of thousands of authors who just want to see their book in print and have a few copies to give family and friends turning to subsidy presses every year for an inexpensive dream. The real sin is when they get conned into blowing money on promotional campaigns that won't sell a single book, but it's still cheaper for them than the old offset subsidy press model which could cost over $10,000 up-front.

Successful POD publishers take advantage of online booksellers (mainly Amazon) and ordering from Ingram available to Lightning Source customers, plus any direct sales and drop shipping the publisher wants to do if a larger discount seems required. I limit my drop shipping to schools and specialty stores, who I give a 35% discount for prepaid orders. The best thing you can do is stop thinking about your titles as "POD books" and go about publishing titles that work well with the POD publishing model – mediocre printing quality, minimal overhead, and short discount distribution if you use LSI, Replica or to some extent, Booksurge.

There no reason to lock yourself into the "normal" markup model for books which is based on standard offset printing and traditional distribution if you aren't using them. I don't even consider markup when I'm looking at a potential title for the POD short discount model. I look at the market for the genre to see what a reasonable cover price would be, and that cover price minus the discount and printing cost equals the profit. OK, there's the acquisition and setup cost, but you know what I mean. There's no need to include "experience" factors for inventory carrying, cost of money, shipping, returns, and (gasp) remainders if you don't have them.

Some newcomers to POD publishing figure the easiest thing to do is start their own subsidy press, but I doubt it's that easy or that fun of a business in which to be. I do enough corresponding with unhappy subsidy published authors, some of whom even get angry for not supporting their claims to a secret bestseller. I can't imagine having to answer the phone or check my e-mail every day to endless accusations of "I know I've sold at least 5,000 copies but you've only paid me for two!" Besides, assuming you ran a legit subsidy press, you'd have to do a huge business to make the kind of money you can make publishing books that actually sell. I know that if I took up subsidy publishing and if the fees were pure profit (no work, setup charges, etc) I'd have to publish about 200 titles a year to make the same money I earn self publishing. Somehow I suspect publishing 200 titles a year would be a very full time job

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