Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Print On Demand and Big Publishing: A Modest Proposal

Here's a revolutionary question: why don't the big publishers do Print On Demand?

H/t to M. Blowhard.


Robert said...

I think there are any number of reasons, to varying degrees of validity.
-- POD books are generally more expensive for the consumer per unit than a printed book for what is, physically, a lesser product (paper stock, binding quality, etc).
-- It doesn't fit with existing publicity and marketing approaches, and the seemingly viable alternatives (online publicity, publisher's websites, etc) are very limited.
-- This might, to my mind, be the most significant: the cost of printing a book, while significant, is not the whole expense of the publication process. If the point of POD is to publish books which aren't going to sell large quantities, how are marketing, publicity, editorial, etc costs recouped? Added directly to the already expensive volume? If the costs can't be recouped, those areas -- IE, editorial -- will be reduced to a point where every publisher offering POD is a version of Lulu. And we've already got Lulu...

There's more, but I can only steal so much time from my bookstore employer...

Whisky Prajer said...

I think all three arguments could be knit together as "Big publishers just aren't built to accomodate POD", which is certainly true. But I'm not so sure "the point of POD is to publish books which aren't going to sell large quantities." Think of all the tpbs and pbs headed for the pulper thanks to The Big Canadian Book Store Which Shall Remain Nameless, to say nothing of the enormous remainder market said TBCBSWSRN has generated all on its own. Big publishing POD could potentially address some of the gargantuan waste the current model generates.

As for the current book marketing models, from where I sit I'm mostly ambivalent. At what point does the publisher's swag-budget get recouped? Love to hear more of the insider's perspective, of course (hint, hint).

Editing, on the other hand, is quite a different matter. That is indeed the difference between Lulu and big publishing. But given how you and I both think the book industry is "teetering", I'd still like to see this idea played with a bit. Is there not some way to press POD to big publishing's advantage?

tpr said...

Hmm, if there was some way to "YouTube" writing... Once such a website achieves critical mass it is its own marketing. You don't need to advertise YouTube. And yet it's busy creating new mini and full blown celebrities.

I can only speak from the outside on this one so I freely acknowledge my ignorance here and also the merit of robert's points, especially regarding cost of production. But regarding models in general it is amazing how much inertia is created as a given industry grows.

In British Columbia it was clear cut logging. There are profitable select cut operations all over the world but of course "it couldn't work" in British Columbia where everything is tooled and trained for clear cutting. Then the natives started getting contracts and some bands wanted to select log. Turned out the big companies were only too happy to comply with their wishes for a lucrative piece of the action. Money is still being made and nobody was bankrupted.

It's interesting that there's a point where most industries, once innovators themselves, resort to hiring spin-doctors to defend the status quo instead of continuing to innovate.