What an Author Should Avoid in Print-on-Demand Publishing

At present, it is unclear which business model will prevail, traditional publishing or print-on-demand (POD). Each model has one sub-category. Traditional publishing says that presses will print a certain number of books up front–20,000 for a promising book by a new author to 250,000 copies for an established writer. The POD model does not print any books until they are paid for by the customer. The book is kept in digital form and distributed online. These two business models could not be more different from each other, even though they share the same industry, compete for the same authors, and create the exact same physical books. It is the distribution that has radically changed in recent years. It should be noted that traditional publishing has a deep-seated aversion to POD, which I will explain presently.

The first sub-category, for traditional publishing, is a more conservative version of the original model of printing a lot of books up front, which I call half-hearted publishing. Half-hearted publishing means a larger house will print only 5,000 copies of a book that they might have once printed 50,000 copies. The marketing budget is severely cut.

This quasi-publishing model is neither traditional publishing nor POD publishing, and it is a model that is counter-intuitive to an industry that, if anything, requires boldness and much risk-taking. Half-hearted traditional publishing has formed as a result of various pressures on the traditional publishing industry in recent years, such as: the recession; the rise of the Internet and robust online advertising; the rapid growth of POD publishing; and even things like dying newspapers (that take with them their networks of book reviews and its own distribution).

The sub-category for POD publishing is a much larger industry than the main category; indeed, the very notion of POD publishing is my own invention. If one accepts, then, that POD publishing exists until I can prove why, POD’s sub-category is vanity publishing and self-publishing. The two terms, vanity publishing and self-publishing, are indistinguishable; both involve the author paying money up front to have his or her book published and then obtaining a certain number of copies of that book and selling them. Traditional publishers–the large presses like Random House or Farrar, Straus Giroux (Macmillan)–have come to despise POD publishing because in their minds it is associated with self-publishing, which is and always was loathed by traditional houses.

Self-publishing has been frowned upon by every part of the book industry, in fact, from academia to the customers themselves, despite the fact that many noted American authors (Stephen Crane, Edgar Allen Poe, and Walt Whitman) self-published their work-oftentimes successfully both in terms of sales and their books’ legacies. Recently, with the digitization of society, it has become far easier to self-publish for authors. Thus, a vast self-publishing industry has evolved online that incorporates POD technology. There is an additional stigma from traditional houses at the idea of selling books directly to authors, which is what self-publishers do. It is unclear why that stigma exists.

World Audience is not a self-publisher; but why that is fact is open to debate. Is it because we do not charge our authors to publish their books? It is common practice for new, independent presses to charge their authors in some manner, to help offset the costs of a book’s publication. Once a new press reaches a certain maturity as a business and has acquired enough capital, it is no longer necessary for it to charge its authors. So if this is a criteria defining a press that self-publishes authors, it is a flawed one.

Is it because World Audience has an editorial staff and only publishes books we want to publish, as opposed to any book, as self-publishing companies do? The point is it does not matter so long as the press can sustain and grow its business. POD technology is revolutionary and World Audience has embraced it, along with all things tech–whereas traditional publishers have rejected these things, and are suffering as a result. A little stigma can be a dangerous thing.

With POD technology, a book remains in print indefinitely, housed digitally on databases throughout the Internet. This means that the author and the publisher are linked and must work together to make the author’s book successful, over time. With traditional publishing, once the initial print run was sold, author and publisher parted ways; perhaps, even immediately after the book’s publication. The marketing was over in a matter of months. POD publishing is altogether different: the marketing of a book can continue for years. The POD publisher cannot be expected to do all the marketing in this kind of arrangement. It is up to the author to market his or her book. World Audience’s authors, such as Gene Ayres (Hour of the Manatee ISBN: 978-1-935444-08-4), Dr. Jay Granat (Zone Tennis ISBN: 978-0-9820540-9-3), and Dr. Frank Romano (Storm Over Morocco, 3rd Ed. ISBN: 978-1935444251) are but three of World Audience’s authors who have always understood that they must work hard to market their book.

These authors have devoted their energies to building Web sites and marketing their books online in myriad ways. However, one of World Audience’s authors, Chyna–along with her photographer Emillio O–refused to accept that an author must market her book. Perhaps her refusal arises from her lengthy publication record with books and magazines that incorporate the traditional publishing methods I have explained. Regardless, I canceled Chyna’s and Emillio O’s book, Paper Doll ISBN: 978-1-935444-22-0. It would have been easy for a celebrity of Chyna’s status to do signings, which she agreed to do but then reneged on her offer. In fact, as her publisher I was able to arrange signings for Chyna very easily. There are costs involved in keeping a book in print with POD. By canceling Paper Doll, I have set an example for other authors that in the current climate there is little room for error, and publishers cannot afford to tolerate lackadaisical authors who are uninterested in their own books. During a revolution, which is what this is, such actions are the equivalent of sabotage.

And given the new paradigm of POD publishing, canceling Chyna’s book is a new precedent that I have set. It is almost unheard of that an author would not care about the success of her book; but Chyna has shown me that it is indeed possible. Additionally, given the networked nature of the Web, POD publishing is a linked business and each author must rely on the success of the other writers published by World Audience. Each book that World Audience publishes is a vital part of that network, and is a major risk and investment. By not doing her part to market her own book, Chyna has diminished the opportunities of the other authors in World Audience, and even the press itself. Clearly, it was a major mistake to publish Chyna’s book and World Audience nearly did not survive as a result. Without her help in marketing her book, Paper Doll is selling very slowly. Although I have canceled Paper Doll, the procedure takes time, and it is possible to reinstate it, should the author change her mind and decide to contribute to her book’s success, which is easily obtainable.

The business model of POD publishing demands that the author and publisher work together. The profit per copy sold is much higher than with traditional publishing and there are less people involved in the operation because it is so efficient and has little overhead. Fewer copies have to be sold to make a profit. However, because there are a lot of books in print today, selling even a few thousand copies of a title can be a daunting task. But selling those few thousand copies means that that particular book has reached a wide readership, relatively-speaking. And there are very few returns with POD publishing, which is not the case with traditional publishing. The reality is, at present, there are no more mega-selling books. None. And the concept of a typical book that is published by a major press that becomes a large hit and sells hundreds of thousands of copies–in the summer of 2009–is a fantasy.

In conclusion, it is vital for authors to recognize and understand the ways publishing is changing if they want their books to succeed. Why else would an author go to the trouble to create a book in the first place? World Audience is competently navigating a course through the chaos of the publishing industry, and even growing very rapidly as a result of our stewardship, determination, and resourcefulness. World Audience is able to win in this game by relying on its authors to market their books. If writers do not do their part, their books will not be successful on their own. And if a writer neglects her book, the damage caused by that action is much greater than perhaps perceived. It is as if a ship is navigating extremely rough waters and one of its seaman has fallen into the water and is being dragged by the ship, still clinging to a rope connected to the ship. The crew is unable to pull the seaman in because of the heavy waves of obstinacy, so this unproductive member of the team has become a drag, literally, on the ship and she must be cut from the team. That dead weight endangers the entire crew. And so the captain must take a big axe and cut the rope and the seaman will float out to sea, alone and gone.

BOLA TANGKAS