December 13, 2005
Thanks for taking the time to reply to my letter. Your letter is dated December 6 and I got it today, so given that it takes 3-5 business days for a letter to arrive from one Canadian address to another, it arrived right on time.
You had asked me in your letter if I use Print-on-Demand. The answer is yes. What really got me excited was that you said you might consider using it sometime in the future. I have to admit, I was tempted to give you a call and tell you everything I know about POD, but then I thought, No, I better write it all down so that way Dave has something tangible to refer to instead. So here we are. I will add, before I go on and on about POD, that you are more than welcome to use me as a “POD resource/info trough” as I’m quite versed in how it works, the pros and cons, and how the publishing world currently views POD. I have enclosed my business card for that purpose and printed on it is my phone number should the mood strike you. Sometimes quick questions are better answered via phone than waiting for old Postman Pat to deliver the news.
I have no idea what your POD knowledge is at present so I’ll tell you the main points of what I know under the assumption that you know very little or nothing about it. That way, I figure, I’ll cover all the bases.
So here we go.
Like most anything, POD has its pros and cons. Off the top of my head, unlike offset printing, your per-unit print cost doesn’t change with quantity (i.e. printing one copy is going to cost you, say, $3.50 per unit, and printing one thousand copies will still cost you $3.50 per unit; I’m also speaking in US funds as that’s where my current printer is located. More on that in a second). So that’s a con. It is advantageous for the self-publisher who doesn’t have $3500US lying around to print up a thousand copies in one go, or whatever the per-unit cost would be at a thousand. Can only afford to print a hundred or two? No problem. Get the rest when you’re ready.
You’re Canadian, as well as I, so this next bit might be useful. Currently I’m using a printer in the US called Lightning Source (www.lightningsource.com; feel free to have Gerhard look it up for you online; perhaps also consider giving them a call). The advantage with them is that it’s true Print-on-Demand printing, meaning they follow the “print anywhere from one copy to a zillion copies” rule. In Canada, I have only found a handful of “digital printers” but each still requires a hundred-to-five-hundred-copy minimum print run. I have yet to find one that would print me up only one copy, should I ever need just one copy or even, say, ten copies. The other advantage with Lightning Source is that they’re owned by Ingram, the wholesaler giant in the US, and each title you set up with them can be included in Ingram’s catalogue with nothing more than the simple click of the mouse (it also lists you automatically with Baker & Taylor, one of the main library ordering systems in the States; for both the Ingram and Baker & Taylor listing, there’s an annual fee; for myself, since most of my readers are in the States, utilizing US distribution works to my advantage). This helps for not only bookstore orders, but also for being listed with online retailers like Amazon.com (and listed with any online retailer tapped into the Ingram feed; the listing with these websites is automatic). The disadvantage when it comes to the brick and mortar stores is that though your title is “available” through Ingram, it’s still up to the bookstore to order it in and unless you’re an author with a name, that can be difficult unless you solicit the stores themselves via whatever marketing method(s) you choose. Another advantage to using Lightning Source is that if either an online or offline retailer orders X amount of copies of your book via Ingram, Lightning Source takes care of the fulfillment and shipping for you (which would take care of the problem you had with Amazon) and you get a check ninety days later for however many you sold (the formula being: retail price less bookstore discount (which you set) less per unit print cost equals your Net take home pay for one copy). This definitely frees up more time for the self-publisher to create future product and/or to market his/her current work and/or take care of any office work and/or fill any direct orders to both readers and libraries (that is, Canadian library orders). It is also worth noting that Canada’s main wholesaler, Indigo, can also hook up to Ingram for order fulfillment (i.e. if Gerhard goes to www.indigo.ca, he can show you my own titles and the others my company has produced; this is something you’d have to set up with Indigo.ca though, the website listing; having your titles listed in the main Indigo system, meaning the system the major Canadian chains use to order books, is a different matter as the Indigo website is a separate system altogether; strange but true; hope that made sense). The good part about my printer being in the States is that I get paid in US dollars, which works well for me as our dollar is worth less than the American dollar. More bang for your buck, depending on how you look at it.
One of the major cons of POD is its reputation. What has happened is a bunch of vanity—or as they call themselves, “subsidy”—presses have been using POD because of its low overhead. This in turn has allowed anything under the sun to be printed, namely unedited material and terrible, terrible stories (i.e. clichéd fiction, rip-off fiction, you name it). Over the past few years bookstores have wisened up to this and are very reluctant to stock POD titles unless it’s by a well-known and respectable firm like Random House (who uses primarily offset but also uses POD for its smaller titles or just to keep slow-moving titles in print, or so I’ve heard) or other firms like them. It’s even hard for those with a small press like mine—those of us who take this business seriously and produce edited and quality original material—to fight our way through the mentality/stigma that POD equals, essentially, crap. In short, subsidy presses (which are bad news altogether; I used one for my first book and, man, what a HUGE mistake; it was a nightmare start to finish) have given POD a bad name. Same with other outfits like lulu.com where, though there is no cost to you to set up your title, anything can be printed and there is no monitoring of content. Lulu.com makes their money by charging very high per unit costs to their authors (i.e. what would normally be a $4 POD book, they would charge around $9, roughly). Yikes! I think their service is a great one in allowing an author to “test the waters” with his/her work, but I really do wish there was some sort of standard one had to adhere to regarding what is published (I’m mainly referring to having it mandatory your material is edited). What needs to happen, in my opinion, is for these companies to be exposed for what they are and, further, shut down. I could tell you countless stories about dozens of authors whose dreams have been crushed by these so called “publishers.” (“Publishers” who, even after charging an author an arm and a leg to “publish” their book, only pay out to their authors a small royalty of 10-20% Net.) I think a writer (or comic book creator) has only two options when it comes to seeing their work in print. Either a) go the traditional route via a small or large press or, b) self-publish the work via your own company. The option of subsidy/vanity publishing shouldn’t be there. Too many people get hurt (I was one of them). The only “out of house,” in my opinion, that a self-publisher should do is pay the printing bill. And even then, if you had a million or two to spare, then by all means get your own printing press. (Provided you’ll recoup the cost, of course.)
One of the downsides to POD is the per unit print cost, which, as mentioned, is a flat cost per book regardless of quantity printed. I look at the justification (perhaps just for my own comfort) of the higher per unit cost like this: a) Lightning Source is fulfilling all my wholesale orders for me so they should be compensated for that (fair is fair), b) though there are no physical books until the book is actually “printed when ordered,” they are acting like a virtual warehouse so instead of spending X amount per book housing them somewhere (like the big publishers do; or they buy their own huge warehouses or pay for “land” in another warehouse), I give the printer a little bit for that as well. So, if you took away those two costs, I suppose my per unit print cost would be about what it would cost via offset printing, again depending on quantity produced.
In the end, yeah, if you’re looking to sell five hundred to around a thousand copies of something, POD is definitely a good choice and, as said, with Lightning Source, most of your fulfillment is taken care of (that is except for direct market orders and any Canadian library orders you might get). Otherwise I’d stick with offset.
I hope the above information was helpful, Dave, and like I said, my door is open to any questions you might have.
I hope this letter finds you well. Say hello to Gerhard for me. Thanks again. Keep in touch.
PS. I just finished watching the Ye Bookes of Cerebus Dvd the other night. Jeff Tundis sent me a copy. Very informative, and the Cerebus artwork—from what I could see on the Dvd—was truly amazing. The exhibit runs till end of January. How is it going so far?