Finally, someone admits what the Print on Demand business model really is

I know, I know, I’ve talked about the POD business model a thousand times, but there are few times when a Print on Demand publisher will actually admit exactly who he’s in business for. This is a comment made on the RPG.net forum by Dave Rozansky, publisher for Flying Pen Press.

If we purchase rights to a book that does not sell well, we are not out much money at all.

If I were one of his authors, does anyone think I’d care a gnat’s hairy bum whether he wasn’t out “much money”? Heck no. I’d be screaming about why he didn’t spend some money on marketing and promotion so that my book had a snowball’s chance in Hades of selling.  He’s telling anyone who reads this that he spends as little as he can because he can’t afford the risk.

Now, I wouldn’t normally waste much more than an eyeroll on an ignorant statement like this, but Mr. Rozanksy has some seriously inane opinions that can be read here, which Seriously Smart Blog Mistress Jane Smith has decided to tackle. Since Jane is addressing those issues, I won’t rehash. Go read Jane – her analysis is deliciously brilliant.

Instead, I want to concentrate on Mr. Rozansky’s brief sashay with clarity because he is the first to finally come clean about the truth of the POD business model.

I can hear the howls now: “But, Pricey, you’re taking his comment out of context!”

Excuse me, but what context would that be? As I have explained many times before (read my POD series – you’ll find it in the Classic Posts section to the right of my blog), the Print on Demand business model exists because it allows the owners to operate on a shoestring operating budget.

Here’s a tattoo for your forehead: If someone has little money, they can’t afford risk. And this is what Mr. Rozansky readily admits.

My question is this: If one can’t afford risk, then what’s the point? How far can one go if risks lurk around every literary corner?

He makes another statement on the AW thread:

As to HS’s claim that we are avoiding cash outlays, I can’t deny it. This is good business practice, and makes Flying Pen Press more nimble in the marketplace against our very large competitors.

First off, he’s dead wrong because it flies in the face of logic. Books don’t become successful if you eat all your peas at dinner. Face it – being successful takes money. Marketing and promotion take serious money, and publishers commit to that cash outlay in order to create demand, to let readers know their books exist.

I don’t understand how NOT spending money makes one more nimble than their “large competitors.” I’ve always believed that being a small publisher makes one more nimble because there aren’t the multi-layers  of administration to wade through before a decision can be rendered. But to suggest that not spending money = nimble? Not on this planet.

He goes on with the same tired rhetoric that all POD and vanity publishers invoke at some point – authors can call them anytime, day or night – even at home (shudder), authors get a say in their cover design, they treat their authors more intimately than those nasty conglomerates.

Personally, I’d rather know that my book would actually have distribution, marketing, and promotion rather than making sure I felt good about myself. Will the fact that I can call my publisher at home get me readers? Will it get my books on the shelves? I think not. Mr. Rozansky is trying to advocate a disconnect with smoke and mirrors. And this makes me cranky because I know of too many authors who fell for this gibberish.

I know I’m picking on Mr. Rozansky, but he’s made his case for me. Print on Demand publishing model = assuming as little risk as possible and spending as little money as possible.

So here’s a little message from me to you, Mr. Rozansky. When you become a commercial publisher and actually understand how the commercial publishing industry works, then you can attack our fatal horribleness to your heart’s content. Otherwise, you’re just another loud voice parroting the same weary lines and deluding a lot of good people. And sadly, there will be many who follow you because you spew the perfect illogical justification for taking implausible short cuts. I’m all for short cuts, but in publishing there aren’t any.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. Read it from the horse’s mouth.

The truth of it is this: You simply have to write a book that a lot of people want to buy AND be with a publisher who can create and meet that demand.

40 Responses to Finally, someone admits what the Print on Demand business model really is

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I think a lot of the people who go this way are failed writers unwilling (not saying this is necessarily the case with Mr. Rozansky) to admit that the reason nobody wanted to publish their book was because it wasn’t good enough or ready.

    I CAN understand going the self-publishing route under certain circumstances. People outside the industry…I almost got into a fight with a friend because she said how great it was that her friend had her book ‘published through Amazon’.

    ‘Umm, that’s self publishing. It doesn’t really count’.

    ‘It worked for Eragon’.

    I want to beat people over the head, because Eragon A. was a one in a million phenomenon and B. Was NOT truly self-published…it was published by the author’s parents *publishing company*. It’s closer to the suddenly successful micro press book than a true ‘self publishing success story’.

    Of course, I also got into another fight with somebody who insulted another person for saying she’d been writing for a magazine for a year.

    ‘But the first column came out eight months ago. What do you mean, you were working for them for four months before they printed you?’

    (I ended up diatribing about lead times and how people outside the industry don’t understand that it can take as long as a YEAR to publish a book).

  2. Mick Rooney says:

    @Ninja

    “I think a lot of the people who go this way are failed writers unwilling (not saying this is necessarily the case with Mr. Rozansky) to admit that the reason nobody wanted to publish their book was because it wasn’t good enough or ready.”

    I think we need to be careful not to be so general. I assume by referring to ‘people going this way’, you are talking about self-publishers, but specifically, those authors who use publishing services using the POD publishing model.

    I’m also not sure how you define a ‘failed writer’; to fail, you have to have tried, but you are right in suggesting that many writers who use POD publishing services have not done their research and are trying to publishing without having tried the established publishing channels. That’s the biggest training ground any writer will ever experience.

    Business is about risk. It’s about analyzing a marketing and choosing the best models to reach that market. Print on demand, of itself, is not the villain here, it’s used by large publishing houses, particularly art and academic publishing houses – long before digital print self-publishing took off. The key to remember is that those publishing houses who use it are looking at long tail, expensive and niche titles.

    It’s important to remember that most POD publishers are service providers, not publishers, selling services directly to authors – they are not in the ‘risk business’ of selling books to readers. They believe, or don’t disclose that will be the author’s responsibility, or worse, will cloud the author into believing the are paying for the same ‘publication deal’ their favorite is also getting – that is, real bookshelf space and promotion.

    While publishing is not necessarily a complicated and myth-based business – publishers have done themselves no justice – by employing gatekeepers who not only keep them at arms length from submitting authors; their philosophy has also kept them at arms length from the real people who matter to the success of their business models – the readers!

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    My definition of ‘failed writer’ in this context is somebody who has written a book which is either not very good or not very commercial, done the rounds, and instead of working on the next book, simply become discouraged and are looking for another route to success.

    I am talking about people who use self-publishing ‘services’ in general (both POD and more traditional vanity) and also about a portion of the people who create such services, who also come over as ‘I got rejected once too often, but *I* know my book is fantastic, so I’m going to self publish and prove them all wrong’.

    And no, print on demand as a printing method is not the bugbear, hence Lynn’s careful specification of the print on demand ‘business model’, which is a different thing. A lot of very small presses also use digital printing, again, mostly for niche books, unusual specialty anthology and the like.

  4. danholloway says:

    Sadly nearly bedtime but I have so much to say. I agree entirely with your comment about his misuse of nimble.

    What I do take issue with is the hoodwinking allegation. I have just started a small publisher, eight cuts gallery press. We use POD tech. But we most certainly make no promises to authors that we’re in the business of selling tens of thousands of books. We ‘re in the business of championing amazing authors who feel that they and their book belong in the underground and not the mainstream, and the press is just one part of what we do to create a platform with zero cash to raise authors’ profile. I’ll be back tomorrow but I’d love to be subjected to your most rigorous Q&A, Lynn, if you’d be willing to use me as cannon-fodder. Meanwhile there’s an interview I did with Jane Friedman at
    http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/08/26/WritersPublishersNeedToActMoreLikeTheArtWorld.aspx

    POD, as you say, is a tool – what matters is how presses use it. And what matters most when some allegations are being levelled are the claims presses make to authors.

  5. publishers have done themselves no justice – by employing gatekeepers who not only keep them at arms length from submitting authors; their philosophy has also kept them at arms length from the real people who matter to the success of their business models – the readers!

    Mick, thank you for joining the discussion. I’m afraid I don’t see the logic in your assertion that publishers are the gatekeepers of the industry and keep submitting authors at arm’s length. Why would we do that? Without authors, where would we be?

    Publishers are in business to make money, so they need to have a viable, quality product that will entice buyers to pull out their wallets. That means there will be authors who don’t measure up to the publishers’ high standards.

    This isn’t gatekeeping – its business.

    With the advent of digital printing, we now have the Print on Demand business model that allows anyone with a heartbeat to hang their shingle out and call themselves a publisher. They don’t have to have any practical experience or money. Publishing on a shoestring.

    When you lower the standards of a product, the natural move is to discontinue doing business with that entity. And this is exactly what the industry has done with respect to POD and vanity. When reviewers and bookstores saw the dismal quality of these books, they closed the door on them. Again, it wasn’t because of some massive conspiracy by publishers, but simply a business decision. These books didn’t meet readers’ standards, and no bookstore can afford to have product sitting on their shelves. They need to move product in and out the door.

    You claim that publishers don’t listen to readers. Readers are what keep publishers in business. If we didn’t listen to what they want and look at the trends, we’d all be selling Big Macs for minimum wage. What kind of backup do you have to make that claim?

    So while the POD and vanity publishers have labeled the industry a bunch of snobs as a way of defending their business model, it is they who have done themselves a great disservice. It’s not an “us against them,” but rather, it’s business. You’re either good enough to make the grade or you’re not.

  6. Hiya, Dan. Ok, you wanted my best shot…here it is, though keep in mind that I’m coming off from the flu and haven’t had the beagle’s margaritas in a couple days.

    You said:

    What I do take issue with is the hoodwinking allegation. I have just started a small publisher, eight cuts gallery press. We use POD tech. But we most certainly make no promises to authors that we’re in the business of selling tens of thousands of books.

    My suspicions of Mr. Rozansky being a hoodwinker are based on his AW posts, tweets, and his misinformed opinion piece. My suspicions may be egregious to some, but I call ‘em as I see ‘em.

    First off, let’s put this danged POD definition to rest ONCE AND FOR ALL:

    ** POD is not a technology. It’s a business model. Period. PODs utilize the digital technology because it allows them to print just a few books at a time, therefore, lowering their risk and cash outlay.

    ** Digital printing is the technology by which publishers can print lower numbers of books for a decent price. Everyone uses digital printing – we use them for printing our ARCs, which range from 100 – 300.

    Secondly – hold on to your margarita – I do believe there are places for the POD option. Niche works are a perfect fit, and there are a number of very good ones that cater to a specific readership. I applaud this.

    Another great place for POD is for backlist titles or titles where the author’s rights reverted and they want the book to still be available.

    What I reject outright are those PODs who claim the old and moldy “publishing is broken” axiom and insist that commercial presses are the closest thing to navel lint.

    What I reject are PODs who make great claims that they are “just like a commercial press.” Come on…either you ARE a commercial press, or you aren’t. It’s like trying to say someone is a little pregnant.

    What I reject are PODs who feast on authors hopes by telling them their books have distribution, when they know full well the only “distribution” they have are being in Ingram and Baker & Taylor’s databases.

    What I reject are PODs who say, “Oh yes, we have full on marketing and promotion” and that consists of sending out a couple lame postcards and spamming.

    What I reject are PODs who make grand promises that authors’ books will be on bookstore shelves. For the most part, bookstores try to avoid ordering POD books unless there is a specific demand, or the publisher has established personal relationships with a few bookstore managers. THAT IS NOT SHELF SPACE.

    We ‘re in the business of championing amazing authors who feel that they and their book belong in the underground and not the mainstream,

    Heck, Dan, we champion our authors, too, so why the big huzza about “championing” as if it’s a foreign notion? We spend a ton of money to champion our authors. What does “championing” mean to you? And while I have you, what does “underground” mean? I have this vision of dark cellars and musty walls where everyone whispers and speaks in code.

    the press is just one part of what we do to create a platform with zero cash to raise authors’ profile.

    Publishing a book doesn’t create a platform. Ask any vanity published author. The author comes to you with a platform as a means by which you can promote their books and market them in a way that will create demand. I would be interested to know how you create a platform for an author and raise their profile with zero cash cos I must be doing something wrong. I work with our authors all the time about exploiting their platforms, but we spend a lotta cash.

  7. Jane Smith says:

    Lynn, thanks for this article–it’s a very useful companion-piece to mine, and I’m going to link to it now.

    As you’ve suggested, this does seem like we’re picking on Mr Rozansky, but that wasn’t my intention at all: I’ve just had enough of reading articles from the Other Side of publishing which insult and disparage the habits of commercial publishing, but which don’t have their facts right and often tell outright lies. Mr Rozansky was kind enough to allow me to use his article to illustrate how it goes, which is why he’s now in our firing line: but he’s not the only person who has ever written articles like this.

    Very few commercial presses are even aware of articles like these; they’re too busy selling their books. And so they rarely get addressed. I just wanted to do what I could to change that, in however small a way.

  8. Jane, you’re absolutely correct that Mr. Rozansky isn’t the only one who has written these articles that end up confusing and misinforming new writers. And yes, I chose to put him in the hot zone, not out of any personal outrage at him, but because he offered himself to scrutiny.

    While I’m also very busy selling books, like other commercial presses, I was a victim of this type of misguided information many years ago that resulted in my being taken by a horrible “publisher.”

    I was lucky and sued to get my rights back. Many aren’t so lucky, and that’s why I take the extra time to blog about issues that will educate authors so they can make informed decisions that will favorably impact their careers.

  9. angie says:

    Brilliant ~~> “If someone has little money, they can’t afford risk.”

  10. danholloway says:

    Lynn, thank you so much – I agree with all your objections (if that isn’t oxymoronic which I’m not sure after a long train journey.

    As for when POD does work – yes, I pretty much agree there too. I don’t know if things are different in the States, but in the UK I’d add academic presses who use POD partly because print runs are so low, but partly also because it enables them to update data and references at lower cost than offset runs.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I DO mean by underground. I have no desre in misleadng authors who think we’re going to do something we’re not – we won’t put you on the shelves of B&N; we won’t even make your book avaialable on Amazon. And we certainly won’t make you rich. We will try to increase an author’s profile within the niche where we’re specialising, which is crossover with the arts and music worlds, alternative lifestyle, fans of urban/experimental culture. Of course we would LOVE to have more money so that we could take out major adverts on sites like Suicide Girls and other such hubs. But the there is a lot we can do without major cash investment. A big live show with 3 good bands in a major venue, where the venue publicised the event recently cost us precisely nothing, for example. we stage events at galleries that have mailing lists of several thousands, which cost us nothing and – because we’re doing something different – gain us good will, as well as names for our own mailing list. We produce a monthly e-zine with original fiction as well as info that gets circulated to our mailing list for free, keeping us engaged and growing a readership on its own. We get invited to literary nights like The Literature Lounge (UK, sorry) and Literary Death Match (not exclusively UK so you may know it), and festivals like Stoke Newington, all of which give us live exposure to people who have specifically come to discover material like ours, and none of which authors could really do on their own. I also write and write articles and op-ed for the kind of places our readers hang out (not writers’ sites, though I do that from time to time also), always insisting on suitable links in the bio, so our authors don’t have to. And because there are three distinct prongs to the eight cuts gallery project each feeds the other’s support base.
    It’s not massive, but it’s focused and, I hope, somethikng that writers can’t do themselves AND have time to write.

  11. Thanks for writing back, Dan. From your description, you appear to be one of the good guys. The beagle is pleased and is offering up a pitcher of margaritas to you. You specialize and know how to find readers. This is a good example of how a POD can do something a commercial press won’t and, therefore, give an author the ability to get something into print.

    I commend you, Dan. Sadly, you are in the minority of the POD world.

    I just wanted to add that here in the US, uni presses don’t normally do digital printing because it’s more expensive. They usually do a smallish run of about 1,000 – 2500.

  12. K. Campbell says:

    I’m afraid I don’t see POD print houses as publishers per se, and don’t expect anything out of them but the printing of my books. I have my own editor and proofreader and the marketing is up to me. I’ve gone the POD route for my suspense series (and have had a good time selling them on my own) but will be submitting my newest wip, which is a different genre, to agents and publishers because I still believe in mainstream publishing as well as POD.

  13. Bob Mayer says:

    POD is a technology. How it’s used is the problem. 99.5% of self-published books using that technology will fail. A publisher that relies on it because it’s not expensive is backwards. At Who Dares Wins Publishing we use POD, but it’s an investment, that is part of our other costs. There seems to be a concept that one can cheaply upload books to various platforms and make money. It doesn’t work like that. Like any other business there are start-up costs and then constant recycling of money made back into the business.
    Distribution, promotion, marketing, quality work count for more than being cheap.

  14. Bob, as I’ve said before, POD is a business plan that uses the digital technology to print their books. Anyone in this business has the responsibility to use the correct the terminology in order to avoid confusing many, many new authors.

    All publishers use the digital technology – whether it’s a POD publisher or a commercial press to print up their backlist or ARCs.

    No one cares what printing option a publisher uses – they care HOW those books get to market, and this is where the POD business model can run woefully short of many expectations, depending upon an author’s intent.

    The publisher who relies on digital printing probably isn’t selling enough books to get ahead of their red line because digital printing does cost more. The breakpoint is about 500 units.

    If a POD is selling 500 units to their authors, then the POD is making some good money. That’s how Publish America can afford to buy helicopters and pretend to be ambassadors of goodwill. If they’re selling to the stores, the discounts bite into their bottom line. That’s why so few PODs are financially viable.

    There seems to be a concept that one can cheaply upload books to various platforms and make money.

    As authors discover most PODs don’t have distribution, marketing, promotion, and somewhat questionable editing, so the perception is that the POD doesn’t have enough money to do the job correctly. Authors become the POD’s unpaid sales force and PODs make their money from authors ordering their own books.

    This isn’t just my opinion, but the personal stories I hear from all over the country of those who have taken the POD route. I’m talking generalities here. As I’ve already stated upstream, there are good uses for the POD option.

  15. NinjaFingers says:

    Lynn, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if BRITISH universities used digital printing:

    My alma mater: University of York, approximate current student population: 10,000

    My husbands: University of Michigan, approximate current student population: 58,000

    I’d say in terms of relative size for the two countries, the two schools are about equal.

    For UMich university press to do a 1500 book print run is reasonable… Plain and simple, everything in England is small.

  16. Yes, Ninjie, that’s why I made the distinction of US universities. Totally lurve U of Michigan…so pretty! Hubby and I had a fabulous greasy spoon lunch right off campus when we were there on business.

  17. Marie Raven says:

    “Personally, I’d rather know that my book would actually have distribution, marketing, and promotion rather than making sure I felt good about myself.”

    Here’s a knot in the matter, right here. I think (and I’m certainly not the first to suggest this by any means) that a lot of POD/vanity publishers continue being able to make money because there are enough people out there who – whether they admit it or not – would rather be made to feel good about themselves than have a book functionally marketed, etc. Now, of course, the ultimate ‘feel good’ would be to see your own name on a best seller list somewhere and be raking in the royalty checks from the deck of your private yacht. But that expectation is a little unreasonable for most, and certainly doesn’t occur off the cuff of a debut novel. Down in the heart, though, the ego boost of ‘being published’ is worth more than the perspiration required (unglamorous, certainly ungratifying if this is the attitude from which you’ve viewed your writerly intentions) to make things happen like a professional.

    People fall in love with ideas. The IDEA of being a writer takes on a life of its own, takes on its own definition and is much more attractive than the business of doing so. When the process doesn’t even have lustre (I know people who suffer from this a lot), the business of it is going to be even less appetizing.

    Writers certainly aren’t alone in the affliction. I’m pretty sure the last job I held in LA was for a business that existed primarily for the ego of the founder – they were struggling, and from what I saw when I did my term as a clerical temp there, most of why it worked was due to the other staff caring and working 200% harder than they probably should have been. Certainly harder than they were paid to.

  18. Marie, you bring up good points. The largest group of writers who get caught up in the POD web are:

    * vastly undereducated with the industry
    * More in love with the idea of being a “published author” than they are with doing things the right way.

    When you mix that with their large collection of rejection letters, these writers are ripe for making decisions that are counterproductive to their intent of being properly published. The main problem I see is that those books aren’t marketable, and many POD and vanity publishers feed into that flagging ego by saying, “ignore those rat bastid publishers…we’ll give you the chance you deserve.”

    In truth, no one deserves a chance. It’s all about writing a good book that a large populace want to read. Rejection letters are nature’s way of telling you that your literary grapes are still green.

  19. Marie Raven says:

    I got into a long conversation with a friend of mine a year or two ago (not related to writing) about our generation having growing up in an age of moral cowardice, caught up in ‘everyone is special in their own way’ and ‘you can do anything you want, and it’s perfect’. Fewer people are told that they need to improve something for fear of sending a child into a lifetime of repression and therapy. I am sometimes disturbed, in perusing writing articles, by how many are suggestions on how to both give and receive concrit. It’s one thing to offer editing advice on what to look for, how to verbalize inconsistencies in a peer’s voice or style, or even a trick or two of landing on a positive note when you suggest changes; however, many are loaded with ways to couch criticism, or reminders (to both the person editing, and requesting feedback) that critique and revision are part of the process… That things don’t come off the cuff perfect.

    I think all I’m trying to say is, I wish I were closer to 100% joking when I wailed things like “You just don’t understand my WORK!*”

    (*/art/genius)

  20. Marie, I love you. Without going off the reservation here, I have a real problem with the whole “we have to make people feel good about themselves” and “mediocre is ok.” I see how that mindset has produced a large body of people who want something without having to work for it. And then they blast us for demanding excellence. Meh.

  21. As an author, I have no problem working with publishers who use the POD technology. I agree with Joe Konrath that it’s more environmentally friendly and would end up with cheaper prices in the long run,

    What I have a problem with is working with “publishers” (I use this term lightly) who are vanity publishers.

    Regarding Lynn’s comment: No one cares what printing option a publisher uses. This isn’t true at all. Potential authors have come to the small presses (I have slush read for a couple), found out they were using Lightening Source and left because “real” publishers for using Print-on-Demand small scale printing.

    Many new writers are unable to tell the difference between business models and technologies – all they see is the name, have read a couple of articles online, and end up more confused than ever.

    @Marie Raven: My personal favourite comment as been “you can’t understand my work because you are just a woman. That’s why I’m going to Publish America.”

    Someone hold me.

  22. ARRGGHH!! For the LAST TIME…POD is NOT a technology. It’s a business model. Digital printing IS A TECHNOLOGY – and we all use it for our backlist titles and ARCs. Digital printing is a bit more expensive, but it’s benign because it’s simply another printing option.

    I agree with Joe Konrath that it’s more environmentally friendly and would end up with cheaper prices in the long run,

    It’s interesting that Konrath makes this distinction considering he owes his fame to those evil large publishers and their large print runs. Now that he’s a big enough name so that he can call his own shots, he slings arrows at the “big publishing evils.” I find that rather disengenuous.

    Others make the environment friendly comment because they have no idea how books are sold. The POD model isn’t geared to deal with successful books because they don’t have enough money or distribution.

    Example – this past June, we had a title that blew through 5k units in 48 hours. We blew through another 9k in a month. Booksellers were screaming for the book. Because we have an excellent printer and plenty of operating capital, we got those books out in a week.

    And yes, we we were prepared not to see that money until October.

    There isn’t a POD alive that can provide that kind of stock in that kind of time because they don’t have enough capital to pay for the print run.

    Telling everyone that it’s environmentally sensitive to go the POD route is a diversionary tactic for the fact that they can’t get books into the readers’ hands in a timely manner or in large numbers.

    Potential authors have come to the small presses (I have slush read for a couple), found out they were using Lightening Source and left

    The reason they leave is because LSI is known for being a POD press, and most of their print jobs end up being classified as POD. Booksellers can see that, and will refuse to order the book.

    Many new writers are unable to tell the difference between business models and technologies

    That’s because people keep insisting on using the wrong terminology.

    * POD = business model that operates with little cash, no distribution, so-so editing.

    * Digital Printing = printing option for smaller print runs.

  23. I disagree 🙂

    Many small presses even say that use POD (“print on demand”) technology to deliver their books. So, those small presses that say they use “print on demand” have so-so editing? I’ll have to let my publishers know to fire their editors. 😉

    It’s just interesting that you use the terms differently than I’ve seen anyone else use them. I have heard publishers and authors refer to using the print on demand technology option, not the business model.

    Konrath and I rarely agree on anything – but I do agree with him on POD (or, digital printing, if you want).

    Vanity publishers (i.e. PA) are not even worth my time to talk about. Self-publishing publishers, as someone else said, offer a service and a necessary one. I just wish they offered it less…

  24. I do think we can agree that the self-publishing businesses who aren’t honest about what they offer are parasites. I don’t have a problem with people self-publishing, especially if they write time-sensitive or niche works. I do have a problem – a huge problem – with making promises that are either not true or are misleading.

  25. Many small presses even say that use POD (“print on demand”) technology to deliver their books

    Krista, just because they use it doesn’t make it right. It got its start from PODs looking to confuse authors, thus the term stuck. Many of us are trying very hard to unbreak that habit because it’s plain wrong.

    As for the editing, it’s all over the place with PODs because they lack the capital to hire the best editors. It’s not just my opinion, but fact that we’ve seen over and over again. Please remember I’m talking generalities here, not absolutes.

  26. Marie Raven says:

    Krista: Well, -naturally-. Don’t you know women don’t belong in the business of writing? I thought we established this a long time ago.

    Clearly, this is how I should respond to my next rejection…

    Lynn: It’s really unfortunate. A(nother) friend of mine falls into that very heavily from time to time; it’s caused some conflict between he and I. The worst of it is, he’s quite good, especially when he can get over the bravado of his own pride. But that ‘recognize my genius’ attitude gets in the way of his own revisions, of knowing the process to approach publication, and in fact of finishing work at all. We’ve gotten into more than one fight because he’s come to me asking for ‘critique’ when he actually just wanted a pat on the back (which is fine! I have been known to take pieces I’m struggling with to people and request ‘please tell me you don’t hate this, and that it is worth continuing to prod’. It helps get over frustrations sometimes to a point where I can look at it from a more distant perspective and make the good changes).

  27. nanorlando says:

    The small press vs commercial press issue came up when I was the Romantic Times conference. The author panel had often been published by both. Their assessment was that small presses–who use both POD and ebooks– are more able to handle books that reach smaller audiences or niche audiences. The reason being, yep, because they spend less money in just getting the book out there.

    Spending less money means that the book can be successful with a smaller distribution. If they wrote a book that would meet the needs for a mass market publisher, they submitted there. If they wanted to right something a little less mainstream, they went with a small press and POD.

  28. @Marie Raven: I know, I know. But I’m a woman. I’m not smart enough to know that I don’t belong in business :p

    @nanorlando: I whole-heartedly support small presses. I’m Canadian and so I’m used to small presses. I often prefer what comes out of them vs the big names.

    The problem I see is that this new wave to be self-published is totally focused on it’s either the Big 6 (insert demonic drums) or Self-Publishing (insert butterflies and birds). There are so many different steps and options in between. Polarizing each side doesn’t do anyone any good.

    …except for PA. I pray for nasty, nasty things.

  29. I think we need to be careful of the small press moniker. We are a small press but we sell commercially. We do large print runs, we have distribution, and we have store placement

    Again, using wrong terminology creates misconception. Small press does not equal POD.

  30. Nanorlando says:

    No, but POD is the printing technology used successfully by many small publishers who treat their authors very well. Of course it is also used by commercial press for smaller print runs, some Universities to print thesis and business is to print manuals, books etc. So, it is a widely used form of technology. It may be used for a business model, as Publish America does. But POD does NOT imply a specific business model. And I find if very misleading to imply that it is in itself a business process taking advantage of authors. POD is technology.

  31. danholloway says:

    The difference in scale between US and UK academic presses is quite staggering – Oxford and Cambridge University Presses both use POD – a run of 1500 would be pretty inconceivable for all but textbooks for major subjects – I work in Oxford, and even some of our more populist (the people who write books non-academics will also read) academics have had their books switched from offset to POD in recent years.

    “In truth, no one deserves a chance.” Oh YES. I love that you said this. Admittedly I use it mainly about mid-list authors who think they have a right to be published whatever they churn out, but it’s so true, of everyone. SOME people have a fanbase and one can make a business case for them having anything published (though it’s very short-termist – fans won’t stay fans if they think they’re being played). But most people don’t. They need to be judged on each book. every book they write should be better than everything their press doesn’t publish.

    POD & the environment? What? I get it with ebooks. But POD? The wonderful wonderful Blackheath Books produce tiny runs of exquisite artisan-made books made on site exclusively from only recycled reclaimed materials. That’s enviro-friendly for small presses. It also takes time, and up-front money.

  32. I would like to respond to this article, which maligns my good name.

    The forum discussion (a discussion on a forum in 2006, mind you) elicited strong comments from one individual, known to be a flamer to that community. I was discussing one of many ideas for what I was thinking the Flying Pen Press business plan should be, and so it should be noted that at the time of the discussion, Flying Pen Press was not in operation as yet.

    We elected to shy away from the business model being discussed in the quoted forum, and so while we still use POD, we have shifted away from being a role-playing-game publishing house, to a more traditional fiction and nonfiction publishing house, with a different payment schedule of royalties.

    Having said that, let me address the points you make:

    I have never tried to hide the fact that if an author’s work does not sell well, neither Flying Pen Press nor the author will make any money, and I have always been clear that as a very small company with bootstrap ambitions, there is no money for an advertising campaign. We focus entirely on guerrilla and internet marketing, with good results. We have found that no amount of advertising will help a first-time author, but internet marketing and buzz will do wonders, so we spend our time and money there. For some authors, this is not the right route, and I try to point this out to those authors. I don’t want to work with an author if they are better off with a bigger publisher.

    Other authors like the effort we put into publicizing their work, as we work harder than large publishers who simply put the midlist authors on a line in a catalog and let it sink. After all, no one here gets paid if the book does not sell.

    I make no bones about asking authors to share the risk with Flying Pen Press. In return, we offer greater royalties, up to 46% of the profits garnered from the sale of each book. If the book prints for $5.50 a copy and sells directly to a reader for $16.95, that’s $11.45 profit that we share with the author and the cover artist and any freelance editors required. That’s about $5.25 for the author. Granted, this number shrinks when we sell the book through bookstores (40% discount + qty discount) or through distributors or Amazon (55% discount), but nonetheless, for some authors who are willing to put in some time of their own in marketing, it’s a generous contract.

    As to the point you make that success takes money, that is not so. The quote is, “To be successful, you need a lot of money or a lot of sweat.” We don’t have the money, so we go with the sweat. Buzz marketing can’t be bought, so sweat really works best.

    Microsoft was built with sweat equity, not start-up capital.

    George Lucas became the richest man in Hollywood with hard work and not one thin dime of start-up capital.

    And I would be amiss if I did not mention Jay Conrad Levinson built his multi-million dollar brand, Guerrilla Marketing, by practicing what he preached.

    A thimble of hard work and a drop of knowledge is worth a barrel of investment. That you would say that writers can’t learn enough or work hard enough to do what publishers do with money (and more often than not, don’t do with money) is an insult to writers everywhere. Remember that the publishers who built those large publishing companies were, for the most part, writers first and publishers later.

    Yes, printing on demand means little risk. Which is why so many good authors are beginning to wake up and realize that they can reach the same bookstores, the same distributors, the same readers, for about four times more income, through self-publication via the POD model. By reducing the risk, publishers are less attractive to writers.

    As to taking calls from writers at home, well, I work out of a home office, so home is the office. And yes, call any time day or night: 303-375-0499. Go ahead, feel free, hear my horse’s mouth personally. Just realize I might ask you to buy some of our books when you call, or to pre-order Space Horrors: Full-Throttle Space Tales #4 from our site (see, that’s guerrilla marketing at work). And yes, I am the one who answers the phone, because there is no expensive staff here to do it for me.

    David Rozansky,
    Publisher, Flying Pen Press
    http://FlyingPenPress.com
    Publisher@FlyingPenPress.com

    NinjaFingers: As people pointed out, don’t confuse the technology of POD (used by every major publishing company in the world, including university presses and literary presses) and self-publishing. Lightning Source is our POD printer, a subsidiary of Ingram Books Company, and through them, we get global distribution into bookstores, Amazon, libraries, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, as well as all the major European distributors and wholesalers, without spending any money for warehousing. Through LSI, we accept returns, offer competitive wholesale discounts, and have the ability to fill large (2,000 to 1,000,000 units) orders fast and at the cost savings that volume printing always gives. (You can find Lightning Source at their website, http://www.LightningSource.com, of course).

    Lightning Source managed the distribution of the Sarah Palin book that went bestseller overnight in the 2008 election when she was first announced as a candidate. Chances are, you have a Lightning Source-printed title in your house right now.

    Mick Rooney: Thanks for helping clarify the difference between self-publishing and print-on-demand technology. Since you bring it up, let me be clear: Flying Pen Press does not sell publishing services or vanity publishing to authors. We contract for rights, and we pay royalties on what we sell. We use POD as our manufacturing process, and yes, we reject a LOT of submissions as being unworthy or just not right for what we have budgeted at the time. And there are a lot of small publishers who do the same as we do. I would go as far as to say that most POD books are published not by self-published or vanity-published authors, but by conventional publishing companies.

    Dan Halloway: Keep the faith, my brother.

    Lynn (again): A publisher who does not take the costs of printing and warehousing and distribution into account, because “POD is just not right,” is headed down the path to bankruptcy. Manufacturing using a web press, a sheet-fed press, or a roll-fed digital press is a simple decision.

    The digital press uses computer files and a laser rather than a plate and a large inkwell. Which means it prints one copy as easily as it prints a thousand. Warehouse costs are completely eliminated with POD (provided that they are involved with the distribution process through Just-In-Time distribution, which so far, it seems Lightning Source is the only one to go that route, but it does go that route, globally).

    A palette of unsold books is such a big expense, that any mass-printing decision has to take it into account. Mass printing also has to deal with higher returns, and with inventory risk.

    Here is an example of calculating inventory risk into the decision to go with a rpinting technoclogy.

    If you print 5,000 books for $10,000, but only sell 500 of them, that makes the print cost of each book $20, plus the warehousing cost for books not sold, plus the costs of processing returns, equalling perhaps as much as $40 per book sold.

    But with POD in that same scenario, the books are only sold when ordered, at about $5.50 per the same books, or $2750 versus $20,000. If the book quality is the same, the distribution is the same and the content is the same, a publisher cannot face his stockholders by admitting that he had to go with the $20,000 option due to POD being a “bad business model,” as you claim. That publisher would be seeing new management.

    Now, if the scenario is that the entire run of 5,000 books is sold-out in a month, and the warehouse cost is only a few hundred dollars for that period, then the cost of each book may be as low as $2.50 per copy. But through POD, you are still paying $5.50 per copy, so the $12,500 mass-print run is far cheaper than the $27,500 POD run.

    Now, if the 5,000 copies sell in a single order, Lightning Source will send the order to offset press, which is POD at only about $2.50 per book, without the warehouse cost. That’s $12,500 for the full run, the same as mass printing.

    But here is the rub. Without pre-publication orders for the book, you have no idea of how the book will sell. If you have pre-publication orders, you have an exact idea of what you need. But if the book won’t immediately sell 20,000+ books, it is hard to gather enough pre-publication orders to get a good idea of what will follow those initial sale orders.

    And so at that point you are left with the question of how many will sell, a true unknown variable. Since losing a lot of money on the chance you’ll make a lot of money is less preferable than the sure thing that you will make a small bit of money, the POD option tends to stand out, especially for first-time authors who are complete gambles.

    The numbers are not flexible. Inventory risk is a sizable cost in publishing, and anything that reduces inventory risk is of interest to any publisher, or any other manufacturing company.

    I must say that I am confused, since Behler Publications is exactly the kind of publishing house that POD works best for. How much money are you spending on printing and warehousing books that would better be spent on marketing? How much of your bottom linie is taken up by the warehouse costs of Partners Publishers Group? The titles I see in your catalog certainly seem worthy of focus on marketing, not on warehousing, with perhaps the exception of the writing guides that probably move in larger numbers.

    I do appreciate your comments. I do have plenty of more up-to-date articles, at readwriteroyalties.gather.com, should you wish to read something more relevant to the industry than yeras-old forum discussions about ideas that never came to fruition.

    And if anyone has questions about POD as a publishing technology, or about just-in-time distribution as a distribution tool, I am happy to try and answer them as best I can.

    David Rozansky
    Publisher
    Flying Pen Press
    http://FlyingPenPress.com
    Publisher@FlyingPenPress.com

  33. Tara Maya says:

    Very interesting discussion. On my blog right now I am doing a series on small publishers, and I admit I just assumed they all used digital printing. (Which I admit I also called POD technology. I will try to remember the difference, but this looks tot be, like the proper spelling of “doughnut”/”donut” an uphill battle against common usage.) Thanks for alerting me to the difference.

    Out of curiosity, if you don’t mind saying, was the book that ran through 5k and tthen 9k books Jan’s Story?

  34. “POD is technology.”

    I give up.

  35. Tara: Yes, that was Jan’s Story.

    David: I’m away in Alaska right now. When I have the time, I’ll address your post because I feel there are many aspects of the industry about which you appear to be misinformed.

  36. NinjaFingers says:

    The three problems I perceive with digital printing as your distribution model are this:

    1. I know Dan says it is not true for Lightning Source, but I have heard many stories of sudden demand hitting a publisher that uses this method and them simply not being able to handle it. It’s entirely possible Flying Pen has found a way around this, but it certainly happens…and then you have angry readers, a frustrated author and a publishing house’s name in the mud.
    2. Just being in Ingram does not get you in bookstores. It allows people to walk into a book store and *order* the book. Bookstores will not buy books which cannot be returned. Therefore, these books are not there to be randomly picked up by casual readers.
    3. The per-unit cost of digital printing is higher. Any sensible publisher will pass on some of this cost to the end consumer…making the cost of the book slightly, but noticeably, higher. People notice this.

    That said.

    I have no problem with very small publishers using digital printing. It has its place.

    Its place is for niche non-fiction (for example, the vast majority of Wiccan and neo-pagan books are self-published and digitally printed…because if you sell fifty a year, you’re doing well) and odd-ball, non-commercial fiction. For example, the anthology on my desk right now of zombie stories set in the Old West was digitally printed…and appropriately so. Its not likely to sell a lot because, really, zombie stories set in the Old West? (It’s a wonderful book and I would love to see it sell well…but you have to admit, niche audience there).

    Digital printing is a good option for books that deserve to be published but are not, for whatever reason, commercially viable…but its not going to make anyone a lot of money.

  37. David, I’m not quite sure where to begin since there’s so much, that I could be writing for days.

    I would like to respond to this article, which maligns my good name.

    Since you’ve shown some difficulty with definitions regarding the publishing industry, I feel the need to clarify this point. Malign means to make evil, harmful, and often untrue statements about; speak evil of and having or showing malice or ill will.
    There are none of those elements in my blog post. Rather it appears as though you take exception to hearing the truth, which isn’t malicious. It’s simply being informed. On the other hand, you’ve maligned commercial publishing with your unfounded statements of our inherent horribleness.

    I have never tried to hide the fact that if an author’s work does not sell well, neither Flying Pen Press nor the author will make any money,

    That isn’t what you said. You said, “If we purchase rights to a book that does not sell well, we are not out much money at all.”

    That is vastly different than saying “we won’t make any money.” My point is that your “save ourselves first and foremost” mentality derives from the fact that you can’t afford any risk and stick their neck out for their authors. I fail to see how this is advantageous to the author.

    Other authors like the effort we put into publicizing their work, as we work harder than large publishers who simply put the midlist authors on a line in a catalog and let it sink.

    This statement is just plain silly. Commercial publishers have something you lack: reputation, distribution, and store placement. This pales to a POD business model with little money and an inability to shoulder any risk.

    I make no bones about asking authors to share the risk with Flying Pen Press. In return, we offer greater royalties, up to 46% of the profits garnered from the sale of each book.

    All the gee-wizardry of higher royalties mean nothing if you can’t get the book to the marketplace.

    As to the point you make that success takes money, that is not so. The quote is, “To be successful, you need a lot of money or a lot of sweat.” We don’t have the money, so we go with the sweat. Buzz marketing can’t be bought, so sweat really works best.

    This is nonsense. Buzz marketing = internet marketing, and everyone knows it’s very hard to be heard above the vast din of the internet.

    Microsoft was built with sweat equity, not start-up capital. George Lucas became the richest man in Hollywood with hard work and not one thin dime of start-up capital.

    Please. This is a garbage comparison. You have told authors that you have re-built the publishing wheel and that those mean, nasty commercial presses are a sure road to hell. Gates and Lucas didn’t need to lie because they had a product that was truly revolutionary. You are an ill-informed source for new writers who know nothing about the industry.

    A thimble of hard work and a drop of knowledge is worth a barrel of investment.

    You simply could not be more wrong. Those who believe this don’t sell books for a living.

    That you would say that writers can’t learn enough or work hard enough to do what publishers do with money (and more often than not, don’t do with money) is an insult to writers everywhere.

    I stand by that statement because it’s not the author’s job to learn the job of a publisher unless they intend on becoming their own publisher for their book. Do I need to know how to fly a jet just because I want to catch a flight to San Francisco? No, I trust the pilot with my life. The author trusts (or should) a reputable, successful publisher to take care of their book.

    (and more often than not, don’t do with money)
    Really? Cite your proof.

    Yes, printing on demand means little risk. Which is why so many good authors are beginning to wake up and realize that they can reach the same bookstores, the same distributors, the same readers, for about four times more income, through self-publication via the POD model. By reducing the risk, publishers are less attractive to writers.

    This is woefully wrong. If that were the case the POD business model would be emulated by commercial presses.

    As people pointed out, don’t confuse the technology of POD (used by every major publishing company in the world, including university presses and literary presses)

    As I keep saying, POD is not technology. It’s a business model. You’re talking about digital printing. POD publishers such as yourself continue to use this terminology in order to appear to be more mainstream than you really are. Yes, all publishers use the digital printing technology – as I’ve repeated over and over on this post.

    Lightning Source is our POD printer, a subsidiary of Ingram Books Company, and through them, we get global distribution into bookstores, Amazon, libraries, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, as well as all the major European distributors and wholesalers, without spending any money for warehousing.

    Let’s be very clear about this. LSI puts you into the Ingram, etc. catalog. They do not have sales teams out there pitching books to genre buyers. This is nothing more than being listed on a database. If no one knows your POD book exists, then being in a catalog has no meaning.

    Lightning Source managed the distribution of the Sarah Palin book that went bestseller overnight in the 2008 election when she was first announced as a candidate. Chances are, you have a Lightning Source-printed title in your house right now.

    Yes, LSI has an evergreen option that many publishers take advantage of once the main print run(s) are done and the book is out for a while. This happens when orders trickle in. You’re comparing yourself to Sarah Palin’s publisher just because they have the evergreen option? Please.

    I would go as far as to say that most POD books are published not by self-published or vanity-published authors, but by conventional publishing companies.

    Cite your sources.

    A publisher who does not take the costs of printing and warehousing and distribution into account, because “POD is just not right,” is headed down the path to bankruptcy.

    Um. No kidding. And you mean digital, not POD. Commercial presses to P&L statements, and all that is taken into consideration. What’s your point? The difference is that we accept books that we believe are marketable to a large enough readership in order to make money for everyone. That’s why we use web-based printing – it’s more affordable than digital. However, we use digital printing for our backlist and ARCs.

    Warehouse costs are completely eliminated with POD (provided that they are involved with the distribution process through Just-In-Time distribution, which so far, it seems Lightning Source is the only one to go that route, but it does go that route, globally).

    Great. So you have no distribution costs. But authors need to be prepared to acknowledge that they will never have the ability to have a successful book because you simply aren’t equipped for it. You don’t have the money to pay for a large print run that needs to be warehoused all over the country, you have no distribution, and little working capital to market and promote to any efficacy.

    A palette of unsold books is such a big expense, that any mass-printing decision has to take it into account. Mass printing also has to deal with higher returns, and with inventory risk.

    Yes, David, these are the risks a commercial publisher takes because they believe in the book.

    If you print 5,000 books for $10,000, but only sell 500 of them, that makes the print cost of each book $20, plus the warehousing cost for books not sold, plus the costs of processing returns, equalling perhaps as much as $40 per book sold.

    First off, any publisher who’s paying $2 per book is a fool. For an average sized book ~ 250 pages, tpp, the cost to print 5k units would pay about a dollar a book. Secondly, no one is going to print up 5k units unless they know darn well the book is going to sell through. Only an idiot would print up that kind of a run. Since you’re not a commercial publisher, you simply don’t know printing costs, nor do you appear to understand how publishers arrive at a print run size.

    But here is the rub. Without pre-publication orders for the book, you have no idea of how the book will sell.

    Perhaps you have no idea, but experienced commercial publishers have a very good idea of how a title will sell. Do we all make mistakes? Sure we do. But we win much more than we lose because commercial presses have experience of selling books to booksellers, have their finger on the pulse of readers, and they have a very good promotion plan.

    Preorders may suck because booksellers, in general, are waiting to see what demand will be. But once that book is out, they can’t get them quickly enough. Publishers have already scheduled that out and are ready for it.

    I must say that I am confused, since Behler Publications is exactly the kind of publishing house that POD works best for.

    You mean digital printing? You’re right – we use digital printing in our ARCs and backlist title. But we do web-based runs (offset) for all our books. Our runs start at 2500 and go up to 15,000k. We do that because those books sell. So where do you get the idea that digital is the best way for us to go? Proof, please.

    How much money are you spending on printing and warehousing books that would better be spent on marketing? How much of your bottom linie is taken up by the warehouse costs of Partners Publishers Group? The titles I see in your catalog certainly seem worthy of focus on marketing, not on warehousing, with perhaps the exception of the writing guides that probably move in larger numbers.

    For starters, our contractual agreements are with PPG are none of your business. What’s worrisome is that you’re suggesting that warehousing costs vs. promotion is an either/or proposition. That is the mindset of the POD business model because for you, with little operating cash, it really is a choice – all which isn’t to the author’s benefit.

    My point with all this is that until you actually become a commercial press, then you aren’t able to qualify your opinions with anything more than, well, opinion. In that, it becomes hard to take your claims seriously.

  38. Moses says:

    Interesting discussion. Lynn you sounded right till David replied to your well worded rants. You seem to have quite a lot of faith in your fat wallet in which case you really should not be bothered by the likes of David who are doing what they gotta do. You are not the only one threatened by change. I see a lot of it here in Zimbabwe where i live. But many thanks for the post it gets a lot of facts out..from both sides of the story and as always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  39. Moses, you misunderstand my intent. I don’t speak up about these issues because I’m threatened. I can’t be because David and I travel in completely different circles. My sole intent is to educate authors to the pitfalls of the likes of David’s pie-in-the-sky ideals.

    Were it just David “doing what he has to do,” I wouldn’t waste my breath. But the facts are that thousands of authors listen to what he and other ill-informed people say about publishing – and they follow their advice, which ends up leading them down a very sad path.

  40. […] Finally, someone admits what the Print on Demand business model … […]

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