My Publishing Model?

I was gratified to get an e-mail this week from an author who's read a good chunk of my website and thought that an "expert" who was pitching him services may have gotten his publishing model out of my book. First, a special disclaimer if this post contains more than my usual half-dozen typos, I'm working by candlelight in a Jerusalem cafe because I don't have Internet access at home yet. Next, a general disclaimer. I didn't invent short discount print-on-demand, I'm not the first trade author to give up the trades for self publishing, and I may be the world's worst cover designer. If I can take credit for being one of the pioneers of the new publishing landscape, it would be for my early adoption of publishing books on the Internet and for figuring out that getting a lot of books printed can be death for an author.

Back in 1996, I turned down a couple trade contracts and put the full draft of my first nonfiction book online. I didn't turn down those contracts because I was confident in what I was doing, I turned them down because they were offering peanuts that wouldn't have made a difference in my financial situation, which was bad. The website traffic took off, I tried another round of trade publishers, and took an offer that was equal to about half my yearly income at the time. As I've written before, it was the worst mistake I've made in publishing, but I had failed in my attempts at self publishing in 1995 because the infrastructure that's in place now for money processing and order generation didn't exist then.

When I finally got on board with Lightning Source in 2002, I was a "successful" trade author, but I was convinced that my technique of posting draft copies of books online was superior to the marketing any trade could do for me, and I wanted to try my publishing wings again. What I found was that with short-discount POD, I could price a book at $14.95 and earn half of the cover price, hands-off. No inventory, no capital investment for a print run, just monthly transfers to my bank account. As a trade author, my 10% to 15% of the net amounted to about 5% to 7.5% of the cover price, and Amazon was the second biggest seller of my books. When I started earning 50% of the cover price as a publisher, I realized that I didn't need to sell a fraction as many books as I did as a trade author to earn the same living. In fact, somewhere between an eight and a tenth as many does the trick.

An added benefit is that I get to manage the lifecycle of my books. No remainders, no mountains of used copies selling cheaply on Amazon with no benefit to the author, this was really a good deal. And what drove it all was simply posting large excerpts or draft copies of my books on my website and letting organic growth bring me new visitors. Sure, there's a learning curve involved in presenting books in an Internet friendly manner, but it has almost nothing to do with artistic ability or programming skills, as you can easily see from my site.

Just like that guy who "bought the company", I was so happy with the publishing model that I published a book about it. I might have been the first publisher to advocate the short discount model in a book, but it's become pretty popular and has been refined by other publishers, as in Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon, to focus on specific strategies. I remain an advocate of my original model, of building a web presence and using it to find those customers who will really benefit from my books, rather than a hard marketing approach where they buy a pig in a poke.
It also gives me more flexibility in terms of my business partnerships, because in the end, as long as I see a day-in, day-out demand for my books, I can always maintain some level of sales through different retail and printing options.

I'd have like to come up with a funny ending for this post, but the battery is running down, so I gotta go:-)

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