POD – Print On a Dime

“I’m totally confused – what is POD publishing?

“Are they a small press?”

“Is POD a good thing or a bad thing?”

These are the three most common questions I hear from bewildered writers. There are many discussions on various writers’ boards, and all of them continue to perpetuate a state of confusion.

History Lesson: POD publishing – Print On Demand publishing – got its start with the advent of the digital printing process, which allowed smaller print runs to be done for a reasonable price. Web based, or offset, printing is the standard form of printing whereby runs of at least 1,000 units clear on up to the hundreds of thousands are done for a reasonable price.

This digital printing process was dubbed Print On Demand because it allowed the publisher to print only where there was a demand for the book. All publishers – from the big houses down to the small commercial presses – utilize the digital printing process to some degree. Most of us use the digital press for our Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs), uncorrected proofs that are sent to the trade magazines for review, and to authors’ publicists, etc. We also use the digital process for backlist books whose demand is still quasi active but don’t warrant a large offset run.

What Happened Next: The Print On Demand digital printing process gave way to the Print On Demand business plan – and this is where the confusion began. Suddenly anyone with a pulse could now hang out their shingle and call themselves a publisher. Problem is, publishing requires money. Lots of it – something that the Print On Demand business model doesn’t have. After all, why should they? Printing teensy runs requires far less money. And the beauty of this was that these new publishers only printed books where an actual sale had come through – hence my dubbing this business model Print On a Dime.

Since Print On a Dime publishers don’t have the money to hire a crack team, which consists of experienced editors, cover designers, marketing people, and distribution, these digital books were far inferior to the commercial press product. They tended to sign authors whose writing wasn’t ready for prime time, editing was often horrendous, cover designs were amateurish, and storylines weren’t marketable or professionally written. To make things worse, books had no return policy, which is an industry standard. This meant that stores couldn’t return books and were stuck with the stock and zero demand.

Because of the overall lack of quality, the publishing industry quickly turned their noses up at this new breed of publisher. Stores wouldn’t carry their books and the trade magazines wouldn’t review their books. Distribution became a problem because Print On a Dime publishers couldn’t afford to accept returns for their books. After all, whether the books sell or not, the print run still must be paid for.

Over the years things have changed (return policies), but the basic premise remains unchanged, and Print On a Dime books remain the industry’s black sheep of the family. What’s unforgivable, in my opinion, is the wake of sorrow for nearly every Print On a Dime author.

“Are they a small press?”

In a word – no. Print On a Dime business models will tell anyone who will listen that they are, indeed, a small press. But with the advent of this model, the industry must further define “small press” in order to avoid confusion. The way I get around this is to clarify the difference by using “small commercial press” and POD press because the two business models are entirely different.

Print On a Dime business models often tell authors that they are a small press, and this makes them appear as something they aren’t through omission. They invariably don’t tell authors that they don’t do large print runs, that they don’t have proper distribution, their books won’t be reviewed, and they won’t be on store shelves. Instead they’ll say that, yes, they do print runs, which, technically, is correct – if not misleading, that their books are “available” in all the stores (meaning that they’re in the databases but not the shelves), that, oh my yes, we have distribution through Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

“Is POD a good thing or a bad thing?”

Obviously I’m the wrong one to ask. It’s my belief that many/most of the Print On a Dime publishers gain authors through a series of smoke and mirrors, and I have a real problem with that. What are those smoke and mirror tactics? Here are a few:

Tactic 1: “We give new authors a chance.”

Please. New authors are published by the big, mid-sized, and small commercial presses every day. This is used to ad nauseam in order to make the author believe that these are the good guys and all the big bad presses are trying to squeeze out new voices. In truth, publishing has and never will be mistaken for the Great Benevolent Society. We love good books, and we base our businesses solely on the belief that we can get a large number of people to buy them. In order to do this, we have to produce a quality product that will entice chain buyers to order our books and get them on the store shelves. Print On a Dime lacks money, so they can’t produce a quality product.

Tactic 2: “POD means digital printing, and all publishers use this. There’s no difference between us.”

This particular tactic creates so much confusion for authors because it creates the notion that the only differences between us is the use of digital printing and that PODs are being unfairly labeled. Large and small commercial presses do use the digital technology, but for far different reasons. Our business models are entirely different.

Tactic 3: “We’re saving trees, and that’s why we only print books that have actual orders.”

This tactic is routinely cranked out by a particularly nasty POD publisher and it’s quite painful to see this propagate various writers’ boards. There are two good reasons to have short digital runs. The first reason is Advanced Reader Copies. These are uncorrected proofs that go out to the media and trade magazine reviewers. This is often seen as an expensive luxury that Print On a Dime business models can’t afford because no one pays for these books. They come out of the publisher’s pocket.

The other reason is for using the digital press is for backlist titles. These are the titles that have been out for over a year, have gone through their print run, but still have demand – albeit smaller. In our particular case, we discuss what the demand is with our distributor and order a digital run based on those figures.

Tactic 4: “All authors, including those from the large houses, must promote their books.”

Yes, author promotion is extremely important in creating a buzz, and what irritates me so much about this tactic is that it creates this notion that what they’re asking of their authors is in some way industry standard. It isn’t. Many authors have PR plans that include giving seminars, interviews, TV appearances, etc. But all of this is done in conjunction with the commercial publisher. We send out literally hundreds of ARCs and press releases to anyone the author (or their publicist) feels serve as a “big mouth.” Print On a Dime publishers can’t do this because, again, it’s money out of their empty pockets.

The Print On a Dime author is forced into a much larger role than merely PR. They’re forced to go into stores and beg for shelf space or sell their books out of the trunks of their car.

Tactic 5: “Why of course we have distribution!”

Another misleading tactic that causes a ton of heartache because it’s not the truth. They’ll tell authors that they have distribution, which is the single biggest problem of their entire model. Yes, their titles are usually listed through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, but these guys aren’t distributors. They’re warehouse distributors – a centralized warehouse where bookstores can order books. Ingram and B&T do not have a sales force who is out there pitching their titles to the genre buyers. If there is no one pitching their books, then who is going to sell the books since the Print On a Dime business model lacks the funds for a marketing and sales team? Answer: the authors.

Print On a Dime makes their money by employing their authors as an unpaid sales force and distributor. Authors buy their books at often low discounts – 30, 35, 45% off the retail price. Some actually have tiered discount percentages whereby those who buy larger quantities get the larger discount. This is nothing more than an enticement for the author to buy more books and keep the publisher afloat. Some of the more distasteful PODs make very tidy sums of money with this practice and are able to buy helicopters and such.

In Closing:

Because Print On a Dime publishing is constantly in need of money, it’s not unusual that the principal owner(s) has a full time job elsewhere. If they’re spending eight hours at a day job, how much energy and time does anyone think will be left over for the publishing business?

Whether Print On a Dime publishing is a good idea is dependent upon the author. Many writers are anxious to be published immediately, and this is where PODs shine. They excel at creating this notion of entitlement – that every author deserves to be published. Before too long, the undereducated author says, “Hell yes, they’re right! I do deserve to be published.” And rather than perfect their writing and go agent hunting, they play right into the PODs hands and become one of the thousands whose books will invariably slip into the black hole of anonymity. Face it, publishing is a tough industry, so if something looks too good to be true, it invariably is.

I have to ask myself why anyone would dishonor their writing in this way.

20 Responses to POD – Print On a Dime

  1. Anonymous says:

    an excellent description of a somewhat confusing term.

    it’s sad to see how many good authors are being taken in by these “publishers” who just forget to tell the small details.

  2. green_knight says:

    Why, what a timely post.

    I am in the process of investigating the setup of a micropublisher (see? We have a term for that) specifically to bring books back into print that are not viable for big publishers. These are books with a steady but low demand, and if it weren’t for POD I could not do this, because I simply do not have the capital to finance a print run otherwise.

    I am confident that I shall end up with a sound business model – but with the understanding that for the next three years I there will be little chance of a profit, and that it will never replace the dayjob My writing won’t replace the dayjob any time soon, either, though – who says business has to be all-or-nothing?

    For people who want to start up a new press, the technology is almost irrelevant. These days, you can start up an e-publisher and have no initial print run outlay, either, and plenty of people seem to have done that – while only a handful of them has any measure of success; and most of those are niche publishers.

    From where I’m sitting, POD is a good thing – it’s vanity publishing that isn’t.

  3. Lynn Price says:

    These are books with a steady but low demand, and if it weren’t for POD I could not do this, because I simply do not have the capital to finance a print run otherwise.

    Demand from whom? How do you plan on getting these books on the shelves? How do you plan on getting word out there that these books are now available?

    I am confident that I shall end up with a sound business model
    For your sake and the sake of your authors, I hope you’re right. But I must ask how can you be that confident that you have a sound business model when you have zero distribution? Anyone walking into publishing saying they have a sure thing is someone who doesn’t know the business. We are fairly successful and have been knocking around for a while, and even I would never presume that I had everything under control. This is a volatile business where anything can happen – and invariably does. It takes serious money to weather those storms.

    who says business has to be all-or-nothing?

    Your authors, for one. If they sign with you, you owe them a strong foundation that includes distribution and a solid marketing plan that will create demand.

    For people who want to start up a new press, the technology is almost irrelevant.

    Sigh. Yes, I know that. Did you bother reading my post? I have never picked bones with the technology. I pick bones with the business plan. That you even mention this tells me that you’re one of those, “Whee doggies, I’m a publisher!” It’s ignorant and a potential hazard to your authors. The question to ask is what makes your press a better choice than a commercial press who has distribution and financing?

    These days, you can start up an e-publisher and have no initial print run outlay, either, and plenty of people seem to have done that – while only a handful of them has any measure of success; and most of those are niche publishers.

    Good grief, this is just plain ignorant. With this logic, anyone can pick up a scalpel and call themselves a surgeon. In both cases, the patient will die.

    From where I’m sitting, POD is a good thing

    Yes, yes, talk to me in three years.

  4. green_knight says:

    I must ask how can you be that confident that you have a sound business model when you have zero distribution?

    It’s not exactly zero. Close to, maybe, from your point of view, but not zero. The manuscript in the back drawer is zero. It can only go up from there. I’m not looking at books from untried writers and asking people to take a chance; I’m interested in making available books that currently aren’t available.

    And if you want to make the point that for a new manuscript it makes more sense to work on it until it is interesting for an established publisher and take advantage of their expertise, marketing etc, then I will fully agree – but we’re talking books here that otherwise would be prime candidates for self-publishing: they’re not great enough to interest the people who would have to invest a lot of money into keeping them on the shelves, but that doesn’t mean _nobody_ will buy them.

    Writers are already taking control of their backlist, and rather than lamenting that those books will remain unavailable, or pointing readers at used booksellers, are reprinting them using POD technology. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, or even a get-rich scheme, but it seems like a good use for POD technology to me.

    The question to ask is what makes your press a better choice than a commercial press who has distribution and financing?

    Different ecological niches. If someone can sell a book to a big commercial press, then they are more than welcome to, but there are only so-many publishing slots a year, and not all books are kept in print forever. Quite likely that will change in the future, thanks to POD and e-books, and more publishers *will* keep making books available, but right now there are orphan books out there that don’t cut it in the world of big publishing – but which ought not to be consigned to drawers and second-hand bookstores forever.

    At least, that’s my opinion. And maybe I’m wrong, but I’m willing to test that.

    I have never picked bones with the technology. I pick bones with the business plan.

    Vanity publishing isn’t new, and fleecing writers isn’t new, either, so why tie it in with the technology, and why omit e-book publishers who seem to suffer from the much of the same afflictions as what you call ‘Print On a Dime’?

    I think we’ve more or less seen the first wave of POD technology where lots of people jumped onto a bandwagon and found that you do *not* get first class writers when all you offer are kudos and royalties measured in cents; and that without first class writers bookbuyers – corporate or private – simply won’t flock to your startup venture regardless of how much effort you put into marketing. But it would be a shame to leave the field only to the scammers and to those who use it to simplify an established workflow – I happen to believe that there are as yet unexplored opportunities out there, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is to find out.

    This won’t harm any commercial publisher. It won’t harm the writer with a book that’s been out of print for some time and which has little chance of getting back into print. It might harm my wallet, but as I said, I’m willing to risk that.

    I’d feel differently about this if I was trying to break into the publishing business on a grand scale, or if I expected to make a living of it.
    I don’t think there’s room enough in the model to provide one, _and that is fine._ As you point out, the alternative involves the need for _a lot_ of startup capital and is rather riskier – but I have no ambitions in that direction at all.

  5. Lynn Price says:

    we’re talking books here that otherwise would be prime candidates for self-publishing: they’re not great enough to interest the people who would have to invest a lot of money into keeping them on the shelves, but that doesn’t mean _nobody_ will buy them.
    I’m not disputing that people won’t buy these books because I have no idea. What I am wondering is how you plan on letting people know these books are for sale. You still haven’t answered that question. You lack distribution, so you have to have some plan in mind as to how you’re going to create a buzz. Otherwise, you’re little more than a glorified database who is showcasing older titles that have run their course elsewhere. But you have to get people to your website in order to garner these sales. The way I understand it, you won’t producing any books unless there is a physical order. If your authors are good with that, then who am I to argue?

    Vanity publishing isn’t new, and fleecing writers isn’t new, either, so why tie it in with the technology, and why omit e-book publishers who seem to suffer from the much of the same afflictions as what you call ‘Print On a Dime’?
    My sole intent is to concentrate on the Print On a Dime business plan because this is where the most damage is being done to the author. Vanity publishing has never been a part of any of my discussions, so I don’t know why you keep bringing them into this equation. Like so many others, you’ve failed to understand that I am not , nor have I ever tied Print On a Dime publishing with the technology. As for e-publishing, I haven’t received emails from disgruntled e-authors, so I have no basis with which to discuss them.

    This won’t harm any commercial publisher. It won’t harm the writer with a book that’s been out of print for some time and which has little chance of getting back into print. It might harm my wallet, but as I said, I’m willing to risk that.
    Can’t argue with that. As long as the author’s attitudes are such that they don’t really care one way or another whether another copy is sold, they have nothing to lose. If you want to go into the tank, which you will, then that’s what America is all about, right?

    As you point out, the alternative involves the need for _a lot_ of startup capital and is rather riskier – but I have no ambitions in that direction at all.
    You are the first altruistic, benevolent publisher I’ve ever met. You don’t care about making money. Interesting. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that your authors have the same low expectations. That way, no one gets hurt.

  6. green_knight says:

    What I am wondering is how you plan on letting people know these books are for sale. You still haven’t answered that question. You lack distribution, so you have to have some plan in mind as to how you’re going to create a buzz.

    I do have a plan, but forgive if I won’t be trotting it out in detail on your blog – I don’t think this is the right place. I’m a long-time reader and fan, and I am familiar with the places where the demand for these books is, and it is those places I will concentrate on first. I forsee very little demand from the general public, and won’t waste my effort to compete with the big guys for shelfspace in Borders – it would kill me to succeed.

    My sole intent is to concentrate on the Print On a Dime business plan because this is where the most damage is being done to the author. Vanity publishing has never been a part of any of my discussions, so I don’t know why you keep bringing them into this equation.

    I can see very little difference in the way those two operate, and I seem to remember some of the smaller POD publishers sliding from ‘we can’t pay an advance’ into ‘we want a cost contribution from you, the author’; and some of the new groups of vanity houses *will* pay royalties and *won’t* demand that you buy 3000 copies yourself, so the boundary is quite fluent. I also see many e-publishers that appear to operate on the same kind of model and with the same kinds of expectations, and with the same language targetted at authors, so I don’t think you can _only_ look at one segment of this ‘new publishing model’ (as it has been touted) without looking at their close neighbours.

    You are the first altruistic, benevolent publisher I’ve ever met. You don’t care about making money.

    I do – but my expected profits are proportional to the amount of money I am willing to invest. I’m expecting a decent return on the level I’m playing at; but to get to the next level – the ‘small publisher’ level – one would have to have, not just disproportionately more capital, but contacts and resources.

    I guess it helps that I’m a fan, too, and if it all goes terribly wrong, then I’ll have helped to keep a few books available that I feel people should have the chance to read; but that doesn’t mean that I’m treating it as a hobby. I want to get it right, and that means a proper contract, paying an advance, and all of that.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Lynn– A most interesting blog and from the “other side” also. So, I won’t add to it. However, there is another aspect of POD publishing not mentioned– the general public is not aware of any of the differences! Thus, you can say, “My book is published!” and everyone is impressed, especially when there’s no indication by just looking at the book. Just recently there was a huge story and photo in a local widely read newspaper about a published author and her book– and I too was impressed, till I read further and saw the name of the publisher (no didn’t say POD publisher), but right away I knew the book was self published, but did the readers, or the interviewer? Probably not. POD diminishes the term “published” for all writers, but not yet with readers. How does one alert the general public, that just because there’s a name of a publisher on a book, it does not give any indication as to how it was published. Could there be any way for “real” publishers have an addendum following their name? Or some other alert?
    Best wishes – Ludmilla

  8. Lynn Price says:

    I seem to remember some of the smaller POD publishers sliding from ‘we can’t pay an advance’ into ‘we want a cost contribution from you, the author’; and some of the new groups of vanity houses *will* pay royalties and *won’t* demand that you buy 3000 copies yourself, so the boundary is quite fluent.
    I think you mean “fluid,” not “fluent.” And no, I disagree. The minute a publisher asks for a “contribution,” for production costs, they are a vanity press – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Yes, I realize some of the vanity presses offer royalties. Most of the time it’s a crock because they either never get around to paying or they say that they’ll pay after production costs – not on net or cover price. This means that these publishers will add in everything clear down to Xerox expenses so that the author may see some small pittance. Most of the time, however, it’s zippo.

    No, they won’t demand that you buy your book, but it would be pretty much useless not to since the author has already forked over thousands to get it produced, wouldn’t it? Look, these guys are very smart, and they’re adept at playing on the emotional tugs of authors and their writing. It’s a great gig for them – tragic for the author.

    I do (expect to make money) – but my expected profits are proportional to the amount of money I am willing to invest. I’m expecting a decent return on the level I’m playing at; but to get to the next level – the ‘small publisher’ level – one would have to have, not just disproportionately more capital, but contacts and resources.
    As long as your authors have no problem with your limited financial ability to produce their books, then I guess everyone should be happy. What invariably happens, however, is that this particular pesky problem (no money) never quite makes it to the author’s ears, and this is where the trouble begins. As long as you’re up front about exactly what you can and can’t do, then I imagine authors will sign on the dotted line with their eyes wide open.

    I guess it helps that I’m a fan, too, and if it all goes terribly wrong, then I’ll have helped to keep a few books available that I feel people should have the chance to read; but that doesn’t mean that I’m treating it as a hobby. I want to get it right, and that means a proper contract, paying an advance, and all of that.
    Being an expert in the field you’re publishing is very important because you have all the right contacts. However, you said you were a fan, and this is far different from someone who’s a professional in that particular field. O

    ne thing that I would caution; publishing can NEVER be a hobby. Never, never, never. You’re either in this or you fail. I’ve seen this time and time again. Mundania’s principals are part time workers, and they’re suffering some horrendous problems over there.

    The kindest thing you can do is to have complete disclosure about the fact that this is a hobby for you and that you have very little capital, then I’ll applaud you for your honesty and commitment not to take a single for a ride. You do anything less, and your name will quickly be spread around as being the typical Print On a Dime business model who lacks integrity.

  9. Lynn Price says:

    the general public is not aware of any of the differences! Thus, you can say, “My book is published!” and everyone is impressed, especially when there’s no indication by just looking at the book.
    Yes, this is true, Ludmilla. The general public doesn’t know – nor does it matter. However, they’ll invariably figure out something is amiss when they look inside the book and see the lousy editing that normally accompanies the POD book.

    How does one alert the general public, that just because there’s a name of a publisher on a book, it does not give any indication as to how it was published. Could there be any way for “real” publishers have an addendum following their name?
    The addendum that you’re looking for comes in the manner of shelf space. POD books generally don’t get on the store shelves. Other than that, it really doesn’t matter to the consumer how the book was published. What matters is if they enjoyed it.

    If a POD author is able to garner some great publicity, I’m genuinely thrilled for them. I’m not about trashing the POD author – I want nothing but their success. But I’ve seen too many authors get some amazing publicity and schedule terrific events only to be shot down for one of three main reasons:
    1) Their POD publishers didn’t want to supply the books. This happens when an author is able to strike a huge deal with a large store, like a grocery store. Remember, the POD has little money, and should those hundreds of books go to, say, Albertsons or SavOn, he knows that most of them will probably come back to him in the way of returns. He can’t afford that kind of hit because he still has to pay for the print run. Rather than do this, they simply refuse to supply the books. The author loses.

    2) The title isn’t listed in the chain store’s database, or with Ingram. So let’s say that Alice Author got a terrific interview in her local newspaper and the reporter closes it by stating that Alice’s book may be found in Borders or Barnes and Nobel. Meanwhile, Alice Author gets a very apologetic phone call from B&N stating that they can’t order her book after all because her title isn’t listed in their database. Yes, yes, she can find it in Ingram (this isn’t always the case), but corporate policy is such that all titles MUST be in B&N’s database/warehouse.

    This means that the POD failed to submit Alice’s book to the small press dept. in NY. End result, Alice loses, and all her great publicity goes down the tubes.

    3)PODs don’t have distribution. If a publisher doesn’t have a sales team pitching their books that job falls to the author. Independent distributors won’t touch a POD company because their business plan isn’t conducive to selling to the stores. Now Alice Author has to first buy a bunch of her own books and schlep herself into bookstores to beg for shelf space. She invariably must become an independent contractor with the store AND supply the books at her own expense. Three months of basically selling one’s books out of the trunk of their car, and the author is exhausted and disillusioned.

  10. Shelley Lieber says:

    It seems to me you’re comparing apples to oranges. POD publishers don’t take the place of traditional publishers in any aspect of publishing. POD publishing is closer to self-publishing models than traditional publishers. POD enables self-publishing authors to produce small print runs, rather than fill a garage or storage space with 5,000+ copies.

    I agree that many POD publishers have no screening process (or ethics about publishing poorly written, edited, and designed books). But some do have a selective process and don’t just print anything that comes in for a fee. Many also furnish editing, design and marketing services for an additional fee. And, yes, that differs from traditional publishing.

    On the plus side for authors, POD publishers can get the book to the marketplace in a fraction of the time it takes to find an agent, then a publisher and go through the traditional process. And that doesn’t mean skipping hiring professionals to edit, proofread and design a book.

    Whether to self-publish, POD publish or traditional publish is decision that should be made based on the author’s goals. Professionals such as coaches, consultants or therapists who want to publish a how-to or self-help book, for example, don’t even need bookstore sales. They sell their books (and other higher-profit materials such as audios and and videos) at their seminars, workshops and other outlets.

    Authors shouldn’t try to sell POD or self-published books in the same places as traditionally published books; that’s where the disappointment and sense of failure comes in play. But there are hundreds of other (and better) places to sell books than bookstores. An author simply has to realize publishing is a business and publishing success requires a business-like approach. Not all authors can or want to do this, but that isn’t the fault of POD publishing.

    No publishing method is all good or all bad. Aspiring authors need to educate themselves about the publishing process and make informed decisions after weighing the costs, risks and benefits of each method.

  11. green_knight says:

    the boundary [between POD and Vanity publishers] is quite fluent.

    I think you mean “fluid,” not “fluent.”

    My dictionary allows the meaning, but fluid would have been the better term.

    The minute a publisher asks for a “contribution,” for production costs, they are a vanity press

    Of course they are – but that doesn’t mean that they have radically changed their modus operandi. As I said, I recall a couple of publishers that started out with lots of goodwill (and probably not too much business sense) who later resorted to charging a ‘setup fee’ (and there’s one right now asking for donations to stay afloat – if you guilt-trip your authors into ‘voluntary’ contributions, are you a vanity press yet?) Fuzzy boundaries indeed.

    [POD publishers] say that they’ll pay after production costs – not on net or cover price

    And I can see why, because – per unit – POD is _expensive_. To pay the same percentage as a traditional publisher pushes your cover price into realms few people are willing to pay for a first novel by an unknown. So the alternative is a lower profit and lower royalties. While that is a bad deal for the writer, it is not inherently dishonest.

    It’s a great gig for them – tragic for the author.

    One easy way to tell a scammer is to look at the websites: if it’s geared towards people’s ability to buy books with a submission link tucked away somewhere, there’s a chance they’re legit; if it says ‘New Authors, We Can Get You Published’ it won’t be.

    However, you said you were a fan, and this is far different from someone who’s a professional in that particular field.

    I won’t even try to explain the peculiarities of Science Fiction fandom here, and I am far from an authority to speak on it, but many writers, editors and other industry professionals are part of fandom. Not all SF readers are fans, and not all fans are readers, but there are certain responsibilities to the community that I am committed to.

    Thanks for this conversation, it is helping me to evaluate the inevitable pitfalls better.

  12. Lynn Price says:

    It seems to me you’re comparing apples to oranges. POD publishers don’t take the place of traditional publishers in any aspect of publishing.
    You’re right. POD publishing (as I have defined it in my blog) is an orange and commercial presses (what you call “traditional”) are apples. I never said that PODs were taking the place of commercial publishing. If anything, my post points out why that will never be the case.

    POD publishing is closer to self-publishing models than traditional publishers. POD enables self-publishing authors to produce small print runs, rather than fill a garage or storage space with 5,000+ copies.
    It depends upon what you mean by self-publishing. See how confusing it all gets? This is why I take care to make the distinction – something that too many people don’t do.

    I tend to think of self-publishing as those who create their own companies and ARE the publisher. In those cases, the authors tend to really do their homework because this is their business. They have a marketing and PR plan, most hire publicists, and they seek independent distribution so that their books can get on the shelves. Also, their print runs tend to be around 5,000 units. I have the utmost respect for the truly self-pubbed author.

    This is miles different from POD publishing (as I have discussed it in my post) and vanity presses, who charge fees.

    I agree that many POD publishers have no screening process…But some do have a selective process and don’t just print anything that comes in for a fee.
    If they’re charging a fee, they are a vanity press – pay to play. Regardless of whether they have a “screening” process or not is immaterial. If they charge a fee, they’re vanity. Their business plans tend to be far below that of even PODs, which is dismal.

    On the plus side for authors, POD publishers can get the book to the marketplace in a fraction of the time it takes to find an agent, then a publisher and go through the traditional process. And that doesn’t mean skipping hiring professionals to edit, proofread and design a book.
    Yes, this is true. PODs can crank the books out much more quickly. They need to in order to make the books available to their authors to buy. But make no mistake about it; speed doesn’t guarantee quality, and those books race out the door with far inferior editing and cover design. And as I’ve said before, PODs don’t have the money to hire experienced and talented editors.

    Whether to self-publish, POD publish or traditional publish is decision that should be made based on the author’s goals. Professionals such as coaches, consultants or therapists who want to publish a how-to or self-help book, for example, don’t even need bookstore sales. They sell their books (and other higher-profit materials such as audios and and videos) at their seminars, workshops and other outlets.
    I agree that every author must define the goals for their book. I would recommend those who are professional speakers who intend on selling to the back of the room go through a reputable book doctor rather than a POD or vanity press. Reason being is that they’re working with true professionals who are experienced editors and hire only the best cover and interior designers. Nothing will kill a speaker’s reputation more than a poorly edited and designed book. It smells of cheap.

    Authors shouldn’t try to sell POD… in the same places as traditionally published books; that’s where the disappointment and sense of failure comes in play.
    I agree. However, authors sign with PODs not realizing this.

    But there are hundreds of other (and better) places to sell books than bookstores. An author simply has to realize publishing is a business and publishing success requires a business-like approach.
    Again, I agree. But I can guarantee that nearly every author who signs on the dotted line has no clue about any of this. They find out all too late that they’re forced to become their own sales people AND distributor. That isn’t why authors publish books – nor should it be their job. Only if they self publish (as I have defined it) are they put in the position of salesman and distributor.

    but that isn’t the fault of POD publishing.
    It most certainly is. Have you looked at POD websites lately? Nearly every single one entice the undereducated author with, “we’re giving a voice to the unknown author!” “The big houses won’t touch you, so we’re here to give you your dreams.”

    When asked about distribution, what’s the first thing they say? “Oh, why of course we have distribution. Ingram and Baker & Taylor distribute our books! See? We’re just like the big guys.” It’s crap – all of it. Only when the author’s book comes out do they realize they’ve been had. PODs have to operate like this in order to maintain high author numbers who are willing to shell out major bucks for their own books.

    As you say, authors MUST educate themselves about the business. My passions for this particular publishing business plan runs deep because I’ve seen far too much heartache and broken dreams.

  13. Lynn Price says:

    green-knight asked:
    if you guilt-trip your authors into ‘voluntary’ contributions, are you a vanity press yet?)
    Yes. Without a doubt. No fuzzy boundaries here at all. What’s consistent is that vanity presses and Print On a Dime business models cannot get their books stocked or garner an ounce of respect within the industry.

    Lynn: [POD publishers] say that they’ll pay after production costs – not on net or cover price

    green-knight:And I can see why, because – per unit – POD is _expensive_. To pay the same percentage as a traditional publisher pushes your cover price into realms few people are willing to pay for a first novel by an unknown. So the alternative is a lower profit and lower royalties. While that is a bad deal for the writer, it is not inherently dishonest.
    No, you’re not hearing me. Paying on net sales – meaning that the publisher pays royalties on what the book actually sells for (meaning discounting) is very common. I have no problem with this.

    However, what a lot of Print On a Dime publishers do is that they include Xeroxing, prorate the electric bill, anything they can think to put into the “expenses” of producing the book. It’s smarmy and prevents the author from making a single penny. It’s a great gig for them – tragic for the author.

    I won’t even try to explain the peculiarities of Science Fiction fandom here, and I am far from an authority to speak on it, but many writers, editors and other industry professionals are part of fandom. Not all SF readers are fans, and not all fans are readers, but there are certain responsibilities to the community that I am committed to.
    Ah, fanfic…know it quasi-well. To admit that you’re not an authority on it makes me wonder how successful you’ll be. Being committed to a belief is fabulous, but inherently dangerous unless you’re educated and tuned into the industry. It sounds as though you have a long way to go before opening your doors. The pitfalls are many, and it’s the smart business person who does their homework. Best of luck to you…and your authors.

  14. Judy says:

    Lynn, this is a great explanation of some confusing aspects of the publishing industry and an interesting discussion. I agree with you that what’s important is that authors know the difference between the different types of publishers and know exactly what they are getting into when they choose one avenue over another. I have a lot of students who say, “Why not just self-publish?” And I offer them a similar, though not nearly as good, explanation of the pros and cons and why I personally would not choose to self-publish, at least not in fiction. Nonfiction can be different, as some people here have noted. But I think a lot of first-time authors just want to be published so badly–which is totally understandable–that they jump at the first chance rather than go through the usual trial by fire. I just advised some writer friends that it also depends on what your goals are for your writing. If you just want a book, then maybe self-publishing or POD is the way to go for you. But if you want to build a writing career, then in my opinion, self-publishing and POD are not the way to go. At least not for fiction.

    Thank you, Lynn, for sharing your knowledge on this. It saves a lot of us a lot of work–and heartache.

  15. Anonymous says:

    One thing that I would caution; publishing can NEVER be a hobby. Never, never, never. You’re either in this or you fail. I’ve seen this time and time again. Mundania’s principals are part time workers, and they’re suffering some horrendous problems over there.

    Where do you get your information from? The CEO works full time for the company. They have just come off the best sales year ever. Your statement about suffering horrendous problems is probably based on the fact that you obviously hate POD and all POD publishers.

  16. Lynn Price says:

    Where do you get your information from? The CEO works full time for the company. They have just come off the best sales year ever.
    Ah, I was wondering when you folks would find this thread. I receive my information from many Mundania authors who have sent me copies of the principals’ emails complaining about the long hours they spend on Mundania after putting in a full day’s work at their main jobs. I imagine their record sales come from the fact that they were able to get more authors to buy their own books. I have copies of emails where the push is on to buy books because authors “make more in the long run.”

    Your statement about suffering horrendous problems is probably based on the fact that you obviously hate POD and all POD publishers.
    I don’t know any POD publishers well enough to hate them. I dislike the Print On a Dime business plan, and I admit that I question the motives of people who run these types of businesses because the only ones making money are the principals.

    Look, if you’re going to come over here and whine, at least come here prepared to sound intelligent. Otherwise, you sound suspiciously like a sock puppet.

  17. Carol says:

    I am published by Xlibris.
    https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.asp?bookid=18435
    I have NEVER had to buy my book.
    (I have bought a few and given 95% of them away)
    A friend published by Houghton Mifflin had no pr from them. It is essentially a niche book, science, so is not a money maker for the publisher. I also have to make my own PR.
    Without any, absent the name and link in my signature line, the book has sold continually for well over a year – despite beng published in 2003.
    (It sold in all years but ’06 and 07 have been the best.)
    The info you provide “Our titles are distributed by Blu Sky Media Group and are available through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, and directly from the publisher.” reads like much of what you wrote denigratively about POD.
    The fact that the company carries your name is not lost on those of us reading your blog.
    Those going POD are a loss to your bottom line.
    Thank you.

  18. Lynn Price says:

    Carol, congratulations on your sales through Xlibris. I hope you continue to be successful in your sales. It’s obvious that you have an effective PR plan in place that frees you from having to buy your books.

    That said, you are in the extreme minority, as most don’t have the knowledge, funding, or time to do the amount of selling that’s required to garner many sales. I know nothing of you, your circumstances, or your book. But I’ve always been careful to state that the Print On a Dime business plan ON AVERAGE is a dicey proposition. I’m talking to the bell curve here.

    My blog is about education and the realities of the different types of publishing because there is way too much confusion out there, and authors are being burned. I talk to these types every day.

    The info you provide “Our titles are distributed by Blu Sky Media Group and are available through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, and directly from the publisher.” reads like much of what you wrote denigratively about POD.

    Uh, in what way? I’m selling to bookstores, and they need this information in order to issue P.O.s. Some stores prefer to order from Ingram or B&T, and others actually order directly from us because they get a better discount than they do through Ingram. Blu Sky Media Group is our distributor – they’re the ones who get our books shelved across the nation. Perhaps you could educate me as to how this equals my comments regarding Printing On a Dime publishing.

    And just so you know…denigratively isn’t a real word.

    The fact that the company carries your name is not lost on those of us reading your blog.
    I hate to break it to you, but the company’s name isn’t my last name. My last name is Price. I fail to see the problem in running a company blog. Many publishers and agents do this. Where’s the crime?

    Those going POD are a loss to your bottom line.

    Ah, yes, the Print On a Dime is my competition. This is an amusing comment that I hear a lot from those who know little about publishing. POD/vanity presses such as Xlibris, Mundania, Publish America, Zumaya, Rain, etc. have no distribution. Zero.

    They don’t have sales teams meeting with genre buyers from all the store chains, indies, and libraries pitching their books. As I said in my post, their sole form of income is off the backs of their authors – be it through their buying their own books or continued promotion. Your friend from Houghton Mifflin doesn’t receive any PR help from her publisher. Most don’t these days. However, she has one pesky little thing that tilts sales in her favor. HM has fabulous distribution all over the world. I also have a friend pubbed with them, and her sales are very rock solid even though she’s never lifted a finger. Why? Because it’s an academic book – which is the bulk of HM’s lineup.

    Your comments reveal that you know little about the industry, and you don’t really want to have a fruitful conversation. I’m good with this. I believe it’s more a fact that you have an ax to grind with me as witnessed over on Dino’s blog.

    If you want to calm down, gather your thoughts in a more sentient manner, we can have an open dialog. I have nothing to hide – never have. If you would like to know more about how Behler Publications came into being, all you need to do is ask. But to act like a third grader on Dino’s blog and believe you’re blowing the secret lid off the foundations of this company is counterproductive to your credibility. The fact that I was a PA author ages ago, sued for my rights and became a success story is no secret. Grow up.

  19. jesselee says:

    I know people who have gone with POD. They retain their rights. You are rght they dont make much money but they do get their books uot there. Sunds like sour grapes to me.

  20. Lynn Price says:

    Most PODs aren’t stupid enough to try to make a rights grab, though a few do try. As for authors getting their books out there, that’s debatable. Yes, their books are listed in all the online databases, but all of the publicity and marketing is incumbent upon the author with no back up from their publisher. PODs have zero marketing budget and zero distribution to the store shelves. If being a one person sales team with a higher than standard cover price sounds like a good idea, then I say go for it.

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