POD – are you going to pay me my royalties or not?

I hear this a lot from authors who are with Print On Demand publishers – among all the other issues I discuss regarding this particular entity. For any newcomers – I’m not talking about the digital printing process, but rather the business plan. Thar be a difference.

POD business plan, in a nutshell, operates on little money, and that means they don’t do large enough print runs to make them distribution worthy, they don’t have sales teams, marketing, promotion, reviews by the large trade magazines, or shelf space in the bookstores. Since they can’t get into the bookstores, they need to make their money somewhere, and that income stream usually comes from their own authors, who need to buy their own books in order to make sales or bring stock to signing events.

Because not every author buys their own books, POD publishers have an usually high acceptance rate – far higher than commercial trade presses. They need those numbers to maintain that income stream.

The long and short of this is that PODs are always one step shy of running out of money, and this can be seen in paying out their royalties. Is your POD paying out their royalties later and later? Is the payment schedule constantly being pushed back? Are they consistently missing deadlines? Have they sent out emails telling you royalties are going to be late because their vendors are late paying them?

This is deep-fried crap on a hot dog stick.

And this heightens my main beef with the POD business plan. PODs cannot run a company on a shoe string budget and expect to maintain any kind of viability in the long term. You are always one step away from disaster because you have zero control over your destiny. Will my authors buy enough books for me to keep the lights on? Will those online outlets pay me for sales over the past quarter? You lack the funds to sit in the driver’s seat, and virtually everything depends on outside influences. Whatever production costs the POD does have, they aren’t going to wait just because some online e-book site or database is late sending out their payments.

PODs don’t have cash reserves to weather the tough times. And when times get tough, it’s not unusual to see the “get out and market!” emails begin floating around. They need capital, and they need it fast. So guess who bites it? The author. It’s always the author. You are the first casualty in the POD plan because you are the most patient and expendable. You are the first to be blamed if your book tanks, and the last to be paid when the well runs dry. If you cause too much of a ruckus or ask too many questions, you’re dumped and branded a troublemaker.

PODs don’t normally stand behind their authors because they can’t afford to. It’s not about the book and the strength of the story, because they don’t have a wide audience to begin with, so it comes down to the author’s ability to bring home the bacon. And it’s not just the author who needs to bring home the bacon. The publisher’s vendors do, too.

For the thousands of you who I know are wondering if your late royalty checks will come in, you have my sympathies. At least you have a better understanding as to why it’s happening and that you will always be the last one considered when things get tough.

3 Responses to POD – are you going to pay me my royalties or not?

  1. Alan says:

    On the other hand, trad publishers are dropping authors with low sales figures.

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    I’m not sure of your point, Alan. You’re comparing apples and oranges. It’s rare that a commercial press will put unattainable sell-through numbers on a new author, so it’s usually pretty hard not to achieve their goals. The idea is to guarantee as much success as possible, and publishers are careful get as accurate a print run as possible.

    Authors who do zero promotion may run into this problem, but if they’re with a POD, they’ll fail even faster, and it’ll cost them because they are also out the money they had to spend to buy their own books.

  3. Alan says:

    I’m not sure of my point either! I guess I’m just pointing out that it’s tough everywhere and even getting a trad publisher is no guarantee of ongoing success. You’re right – personal promotion is essential for trad and indie publishers. Even people like Neil Gaiman make constant promo efforts.

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