Parsing the POD

A Snarkling wants to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin:

If you sold over 1,000 copies of your iUniverse book, would it be considered a real publishing credit, or would it pretty much still be regarded as a funny paper?

Let's start with some hard truths: most books-80%- published by iUniverse and their ilk, sell fewer than 200 copies. (Hello Aunt Gertrude? Wanna buy a book?)

Less than 1% sell more than 1000 copies.

Xlibris published 10,269 titles through March 25, 2004. (emphasis mine)
352 or 3.4% had sold more than 500 copies.

1,463 or 14.3% had sold more than 200 copies.

The average per-publication sale number of an Xlibris title is about 130 copies.

 source:  --The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2004. via DanPoynter's site Thanks Dan!

My gripe with POD publishing is not that it doesn't sell, (it doesn't) it's that most of it is crap. It's mostly crap because "authors" are not subjected to much of a review proces --in fact that's their big selling point. Most POD companies make their money on the sign up fees authors pay. For them, 10 authors of crap who sell 100 copies are MUCH better than one author of not-crap who sells 1000 copies. (I can lay out the math for you on that if needed, just ask)

The source of the comment was an earlier post about a Friends of the Library contest offering an iUniverse publishing contract as a prize. That a Friends of the Library group could in fact offer a publishing contract with every confidence it would be accepted is prima facie proof of my position.

So, you can sell 10,000 copies and my default position is: "it's crap". You’d have to show me the book to get me to change my mind. And, there are books that aren't. I read one this summer that wasn't. The blogger over at PODdyMouth has found six or seven while slinking about the blogosphere.

Most of those probably haven't sold anywhere near 200 copies I'll bet.

And by the way, using POD technology is not the problem here. It's just technology. It's the business model and editorial acquisition policies of the companies that are the problem.
The two things, POD the technology, and POD the business model, have each been shortened to POD and they seem to be used interchangeably and synonomously but they aren't.

My disdain is for the sleaze parlors who say "you can be an author without working at it".
I have too much respect for my clients, and writers in general to think that's anything but crap.


E. Dashwood said...

I find it interesting that POD, which has gained disrepute in the print medium, has cachet in electronic media. PODcasts, both audio and video, are like POD books--homegrown and without editorial review, yet they are considered to be hot stuff. Sirius satellite radio has a show or channel (can't remember)devoted to podcasts.

I don't know why the difference, but I note that it's possible to make money as an Indy film maker--i.e., why don't we put on a show. It's much rarer in print. I wonder if it's because films and music always had, unlike publishing, a wildcat culture.

(And think about it, blogs are a kind of pod. Do it yourself with no review.)

Travis said...

Miss Snark, POD is only a technology when one has no need to type the acronym on a message board. My opinion is that the only people who give a shit about the distinction between the neutral POD and the bad POD are those who are trying to convince themselves that they didn't "publish" their manuscripts with a fancy version of Kinkos.

E. Dashwood, Podcasts and POD are similar only in that there are no barriers to entry. The word "Podcast" is a spin off Apple's iPod technology, or more accurately, iTunes. The difference between Podcasting and printing on demand is that Apple isn't trying to convince Podcasters that they are syndicated radio hosts whose shows will be heard by everybody who has Internet access.

If I ever manage to get my manuscript published, I won't give a moment's thought to the technology used to do so. If I someday lose half my brain in a tragic pogo stick accident and subsequently decide to turn my manuscript over to a printer rather than trying to get it published, I'll probably use the remaining half of my brain to attempt to explain to the rest of the world that my POD book was printed on demand by a printer who "publishes" on demand, not a printer who "prints" on demand.

That's my opinion. Others may disagree, and they may even be right, but that won't affect my opinion.

That reminds me . . . I need to go oil my pogo stick.

IMPORTANT EMERGENCY ADDENDUM: Don't Google "oil my pogo stick" when you're at work. Some idiot put pictures of naked people on the Internet. I guess it was only a matter of time.

Shadow said...

With respect, Miss Snark, you didn't answer the Snarkling's question. If you were told that an iUniverse (or other self-published work, whatever the technology) sold 1000 copies (or 5000, or 10,000, or x number), would you at least be willing to look at it to ascertain its CQ (crap quotient)? The underlying question, of course, is what value of x triggers your interest.

Shadow said...

By the way, those iUniverse statistics are taken somewhat out of context. Perusing the rest of that Dan Poynter link paints a scathing picture of the big publishers. Given that he makes his money encouraging people to become their own publishers, naturally the rest of the statistics listed make self-publishing (NOT iUniverse/vanity POD) sound like the only way to go.

Maya said...

I was glad Miss Snark distinguished between POD the technology and POD the business model. I find many people today automatically associate POD with self-publishing which is unfortunate.

POD the technology permits companies like Amazon to print books through a fulfillment house only when they have orders for them. While printing individual books is more expensive than the traditional method, the sell-through rate is 100% because they don't print anything until they have an order. Under the old system, publishers still have to deal with unsold books which ultimately makes the per-book cost higher than POD.

POD avoids the expenses of maintaining inventory in a bricks-and-mortar warehouse.

I wish Miss Snark would address this whole subject in another column.


Maya said...

E. Dashwood and Travis: Don't be so fast to write off podcasting. First of all, although the term did evolve from merging iPod and broadcasting, Apple has no hold on the technology. Anyone with a DAP (digital audio player) can download a podcast.

Secondly, one of the five big publishing conglomerates--Holtzbrinck--recently announced the start of www.holtzbrinckpodcasts.com. They will begin providing author interviews, excerpts from books, etc. in a podcast format. Although they are initially using this as a PR tool, it's not a great leap to see audiobooks being made available in a podcast format. Think of podcasting as the audio version of e-publishing.

kitty said...

I sold a story for podcast to Escape Pod. $5, but hey, $5 is $5. And I already cashed the check. My story should be up sometime soon.

Maya said...

While I'm on a roll, Sirius Satellite has a show devoted to podcasts--Adam Curry.

However, a radio station in San Francisco (1550 KYCY-AM) owned by Infinity Broadcasting began running an all-podcast station on 5/16/05. It's called KYOURadio.

occasional_anonymous said...

Whenever I compare POD books with books from print runs, the POD books come out more expensive for the customer. No economies of scale. If I can get a mmp by a famous author for $7.99 (and I CAN), why should I pay $23.50 for a book by someone I've never heard of?

POD might be usefully employed keeping midlists alive and getting oop's back into print, but for mass sales it's too costly for the readership.

C.E. Petit said...

Just a comment on the "statistics" quoted in that WSJ article:

They're not consistent with XLibris's own sales materials.

Based on XLibris's own sales materials, after removing three outliers that each sold several thousand copies and recalculating based upon actual titles (not authors, as the article and Mr Poynter did; some authors have several titles), the median sales figure probably lies between 75 and 85 copies. Given the pressure applied (which varies by POD vanity house--oops, the secret is out!) to authors to buy their own books, this isn't exactly good sales. Remember, that 75-85 copies (or 130 copies if you credit the misleading mean) includes sales to the author, the author's family, the author's friends, and quite possibly the author's cats. And promotional copies, gifts to co-workers at the day job, copies mistakenly sent to Miss Snark and her colleagues as "more impressive" manuscript submissions, etc. are included in there, too.

Miss Snark said...

Shadow, I'm sorry I wasn't more clear while I was ranting. My default position of "it's crap" applies to all numbers x through x+1. It would require more than "it sold x" to get me to read it and determine the CQ. (I may steal CQ for use in further posts from the Crapometer!!) What got me to read the POD book this summer was a rave review from a pal NOT "it sold x". She was right.

Even in regular publishing, I don't think sales are a comment on quality.

Anne said...

"And by the way, using POD technology is not the problem here. "

Thanks for saying this. Having a POD machine does not make you an enemy. Their potential as an alternative to Kinkos is wonderful. Lit mags, etc., can take advantage of it too, if the cost analysis shows it will save them money.

Ian said...

Miss Snark, you're a bit focused on the self-publishing part of POD and not on the presses that are using it as a printing method.

Many of the college presses are converting their backlists to POD. The reasons are apparent: No inventory costs. No warehousing. No tax liability. Books stay in print in perpetuity. POD is potentially the savior of literature.

Ancient Paths said...

Yes, I understand most POD books are in fact crap and do in fact sell next to nothing. I asked this question becuase I am one of those "less than 1%" who has sold 1,000 copies or more of my POD novel. I was wondering when the presumption "it's crap" begins to give way, and you answered my question--for you (and perhaps most agents), just about never. But I wonder, why would you assume a POD novel that has sold 10,000 copies (your extreme example) is more likely to be crap than any other novel that crosses your desk? I mean, for a book with no in-store distribution and no marketing to sell 10,000 copies...that's pretty remarkable. I would think you'd approach such a book with an open mind, rather than assuming from the get-go it was crap.

Miss Snark said...

Let's start with the basic fact that sales do not reflect quality.

Then, what I said was "my default position is that it's crap". That means the starting point, the point you want to persuade me to abandon. You're not going to be persuasive by quoting sales figures. You WILL be persuasive if you tell me someone I know has read it and recommends it. Default doesn't mean immutable.

Editors at publishing houses look at this differently. They care about sales. Of the three books I've seen get picked up from POD first editions, all had sold in the multiple thousands and the editors were confident they could sell LOTS more.