From an interview with publisher Bryan Rosner, owner of BioMed Publishing Group, publisher of books on Lyme Disease treatment.
Did you do market research before publishing your first book, or only after
you were in the business?
The answer is yes and no. Yes because, as a result of my personal experience with Lyme disease, I was intimately involved in the Lyme community so I had a good pulse on what the needs were and what type of information would be well received. No because at that time, as a new self publisher, I was very naive and did not even know I was supposed to do market research. Having sold about 7,000 copies of my first book in 2.5 years, I suppose that my intuition about the market was fairly accurate. However, after a few bruises and lessons in my first few years publishing, I did a lot more market research for my second book which has sold 7,000 copies in just 8 months. Funny though, I still think the first book is a more valuable book. Just goes to show how important public perception is as it doesn't matter which book really is better, it only matters which book the market thinks is better. Nevertheless, I think my first book will be more of an evergreen title than my second book.
Did you look into distribution early, or strictly direct sales?
I was so new to the business that I had no idea how to look into distribution. All of my initial sales were direct, because that's all I knew how to do. I had a distant friend tell me about Yahoo Merchant Solutions so I set up an online store and went that route. Not because it was the best choice; instead because it was the only option I knew about. To this day still, the majority of my sales are direct from my website, which I am happy about in that I avoid the lost profit of trade discounts.
Two discoveries took me from what I would call a beginner publisher to a more competent publisher: The first was finding the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA), and the second was finding Morris Rosenthal's blog. God only knows how many headaches I could have avoided, and how much more money I would have made, had I known about these resources in the beginning of my career.
What did you spend on your initial print run, and how's your home warehousing
My first few print runs in 2005 were printed digitally through Fidlar-Doubleday. Little did I know that if I had gone with Lightning Source, I could have secured easy trade distribution. I printed a few hundred copies with Fidlar-Doubleday then quickly realized that demand justified offset printing. The first offset run was 1000 copies for about $3,800. These days I print about 1,500 copies at a time of my first book, and about 4,000 copies at a time of my second book. I use Data Reproductions for offset printing and pay about $2.5 / book.
In 2007 I spent about $8,000 on a 100 square foot outdoor storage shed complete with a $2,500 dehumidifier. I live in a 1,100 square-foot home and just ran out of corner-of-the-bedroom space, if you know what I mean. In hindsight I think it might have been more efficient to go with Lightning Source several years ago, but since I have been doing offset printing for so long, and you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I would say the shed is working out fairly well. When you look at the math, the shed will pay for itself in about 18 months given the $3 or $4 per book I now save in print costs in comparison with printing with Lightning Source. On the other hand, Lightning source has advantages which I am not currently enjoying, such as flexibility in setting a discount and direct access to Ingram. So the waters get a bit muddier when analyzing the situation. Another point to mention is that I do appreciate the higher production quality with offset printing in comparison with digital.
You mentioned using cardboard displays. What did the displays cost, how big are they, and have you considered sending some a few out without checking first, just to see how it goes?
The displays run about $15/unit including all costs, shipped and delivered
to the store. They hold 6 books and have a catchy graphic on the front of the
box which I designed. I have not considered sending them to stores unsolicited, although that is maybe a good idea. I have always tried to cut costs where
possible and that seems like a risky expense. I am quickly finding that you
could easily blow a whole year's profit on experimental marketing efforts.
Hence the importance of expert direction in how marketing dollars are spent,
e.g., Rosenthal's advice on the futility of print-space advertising (which I
have found, after about $5,000 wasted, to be completely true).
Why are you considering POD?
I am considering POD not to replace my offset printing business model as I am currently just too entrenched in offset printing to dig myself out. Plus, my main titles sell well enough, I think, to justify offset printing. I am interested in POD because I am publishing several new titles for several new authors, and there are a number of factors which cause POD to be much more desirable for these new books. Here are a few points I am considering.
1. POD frees up my time and warehouse space and spares me the headaches of handling printing and distribution. This lifted burden will allow me to take on more new authors and publish more new titles.
2. POD gives me automatic access to Ingram, which I have historically been able to gain through BCH Distribution Services but which is a pain in the butt with regard to keeping track of their inventory, shipping them stock, and that type of thing.
3. POD through Lightning Source allows me flexibility in setting the trade discount, and having been listening a lot lately to what Aaron Shepherd and Morris Rosenthal talk about, this seems to be a key point in profitability, although I am presently struggling with what I consider to be an ethics-based question of whether I am acting in my new author's best interests to not offer the full 55% trade discount