Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How POD will cure cancer

Let me say this: I am one of those people who get typically gets annoyed when someone suggests publishing is dying. As a person previously commented, it is like people who complain about "today's kids" being worse than the last generation. If you look merely at the numbers, publishing is no worse than static. The profits seem to balance out the losses. I doubt we'll see a boom in editor positions any time soon.

Publishing, like so many other industries--music, television, American auto manufacturing--has been predicted to weaken or die for decades. But perhaps what publishing is doing is worse than dying: it's standing still, still breathing, eyes closed, the world rushing around it like an oak tree in the middle of the Beltway. Everyone wants to keep doing their job and pretend nothing is changing.

Music, for example, has gone through many painful transitions (I'm talking business structure here, not music styles.) The switch from wax to CD and then from CD to portable digital files all within a 25 year period has caused a lot of gray hair to sprout.

Publishing, on the other hand, has brushed off change most callously. It dipped its toe into ebooks and quickly yanked it back out with a "see? I told you so" attitude. And it seems they still want it to die: Offering ebooks in the $12-14.00 range in asinine.

But worst of all, they have never resolved the issue of returns. ("Returns", for those who don't know, allows a books store/chain to send back any unpurchased books for a credit or refund.) So, as an example, let's say a publisher claims they'll do a first print run of 22,000, which means they actually do a print run of 15,000, and let's say they only sell 10,400 copies. That means they eat the remaining 4,600. I can think of no other industry (of comparable size) that would allow such a moronic business model to stay in place. Where is the bookstore's cost of doing business? And for those not paying attention, that 4,600 they trashed could have been an initial print run for another title.

"If we couldn't return unsold books, we'd be stocking only a few hundred titles," said

Uh, that's what you're doing anyway. (And--no offense B&N and Borders--that is why people love Amazon.) My book is (right now) one of the books that is well-stocked at the brick and mortar stores, so this is not coming from angst. The majority at the front end of a book store are the bestsellers anyway. Where's the risk in that?

You know where I am going with this? Take a guess. POD might be just what cures whatever cancer is causing the publishing industry to remain stagnant. How about doing half a print run--and when the print run sells out, the title goes POD. (Don't chime in about the cost of POD titles; it would be significantly cheaper if the major publishers ever got involved first hand.)

Two benefits:
(1) Reduced print run loss, allowing for an overall increase in title releases;
(2) Incentive for buyers to grab the title before it goes POD (for price and availability reasons.)

If a publisher wants to do another print run because a title breaks out, so be it. No harm once it has proven itself. But the model of returns needs to go. And POD is the solution.

Chime in. Tell me why I'm wrong. Or right.