12.13.2005

So, Why Isn't Everyone Doing It?

Speaking of self-publishing and POD, how come big-name writers don't do it? They could keep the profit, book stores would stock them and people would flock to it. Imagine the next Harry Potter or Stephen King as a POD ... sure, the publishing advances for them are high but surely keeping a lot higher percentage of the royalties would be better.


Good question.

21 comments:

fitchnchips said...

Wouldn't marketing be a large part of why not POD? Big name publishers have some big buck PR to push a book into the big box stores.

the chocolatier said...

Maybe because of the work involved? If they published with a POD company, they'd have to do their own distribution, they'd be responsible for any returns, their own marketing. Why do all that when big name publishers are falling all over themselves (and paying you buckets of money) to do it for you?

MadScientistMatt said...

POD is entirely the wrong process for printing a book that sells thousands (let alone hundred thousands) of books. If Stephen King wanted to self-publish, you can be sure he'd use offset printing instead and get the books made for a tiny fraction of what it would cost to print them on a Xerox Docutech.

Come to think of it, are there even enough Docutechs in existance to handle a Stephen King print run?

The high unit cost of POD only makes sense when the volume is so low you'll never recoupe the setup cost. A better questions is why bestselling authors don't self-publish.

My guess is that they may simply negotiate higher royalties than what they pay an average author - although Miss Snark probably has a better idea of what their royalty rates are.

Ric said...

Wow. History buffs will note that Mark Twain went broke trying to publish his own stuff - he wanted that extra money that the publishers get. Don't think that's changed over the years.
On obvious bestsellers, it's the distribution that counts.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Perhaps they are also already signed into multiple book contracts with their publishers and aren't in a position to consider such options.

Further to that, the publishing community is a tight-knit one. If you've had a good agent and a good publisher that have invested in you (the promo, the tours etc.) and then walk away, your name would likely be mud. Unless there was a pretty good reason for your departure.

And, of course, the higher profits would be eaten up by paying for your own promotional tours and doing all of the leg-work yourself. Most of the authors I really respect have good relationships with their editors and consider the feedback a critical part of the publishing process, so you would also need to consider paying for a consult.

Am I wrong in thinking that Stephen King tried an experiment allowing people to buy a download of a book for $1.00? The foggy part of my brain insists he did and sold about 100,000 copies of it, but it could be sleep-deprived hallucinations. I'm not really a follower of his work.

I do think it's possible there will be a future day (a few decades from now) when almost everything is POD. For both environmental and economical reasons, if publishers can find ways to fill orders quickly without carrying superfluous stock, more and more will likely move in that direction.

Anonymous said...

In March of 2000, Stephen King did self-publish his own e-book. It was a novella called The Plant, and he sold it in parts online, as I recall. It was an experiment, and I don't think it was too successful. He sold it on the honor system, and I guess some folks weren't too honorable.

For the whole story, and some insight into ebooks in general, go to http://slashdot.org/features/00/11/30/1238204.shtml

J.R. Turner said...

I think y'all are right. The operative word here is *work*-not that big names don't work hard, but that they'd rather spend their time writing than dealing with the headache of being their own publisher.

After all, isn't that truly what's behind our drive to find NY success? So we can spend our lives as authors actually writing?

Warmly,
Jenny:)

Catja (green_knight) said...

Most writers want to write. There is a limited amount of hours in the day, and you either get to write and do writing-related stuff, or to put together your book, print it, distribute it, and promote it. As in the case of BigNameAuthor all of this needs several people, he'd have to hire them. Where do you find able professionals that don't get starstruck (first of all, a good editor) or try to rip you off?

Seems to me it would be cheaper and less hassle to take a lesser sum from a publisher, particularly as a large chunk of it will be in the form of an advance (which can be banked and earn interest) as opposed to having to pay salaries to all those professionals before the first bucks roll in. Oh, and the risk will be completely yours - if the book doesn't sell, you'll *still* be out of pocket.

If you're a hobbyist with nothing else to do, self-publishing might make you a profit. If you are an established writer who could use the time to write something else publishable, it sounds like a bad deal.

bordermoon said...

Self-publishing via POD has some advantages, in that you don't have to store inventory (cf the Thor Power Tools Decision). Some of the POD companies also can offer some distribution services, such as listing on Amazon.com.

Certainly self-publishing is not for the best-selling author. But (assuming one keeps one's head about costs and doesn't purchase a lot of services one doesn't need) self-publishing is a good way to publish books that may not fit the market, or are clearly only for the author's own amusement; for family histories, poems, and memoirs. And --most important-- to have an actual copy of one's book to hand to one's mother.

One's mother, remember, is the darling woman who exclaims "What a wonderful review!" when shown a publisher's flap copy.

Occasionally, books that were originally self-published are even fortunate enough to be picked up and reprinted by a publisher. It is not, however, the way to bet. (As Willie Garvin once so memorably remarked to Modesty Blaise: "My word, Princess, you'd 'ave to be dead lucky!"

Oh, yes, POD can also be useful for publishing fanfic -- which is NOT to be listed on Amazon.com!

Stacy said...

I see the Math that the Publishing Manager and Production Controller do when a book is just about ready to go to the printer. The cost of printing a book and the length of time it will take to recoup this cost at the price the market will bear makes publishing a high risk venture.

I once read a Get-rich-now book that made sense to me; the author said that any rich person knows that it is always better to risk someone else's money, and let your's earn interest in some cushy bank in Cayman. With that in mind, I would ask why anyone who has a publisher willing to shell out the ready cash would want to spend a dollar of his own.

Stacy said...

I put an unnecessary apostrophe in 'yours'. Now I feel bad.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this from Boing Boing (at http://www.boingboing.net/2005/12/13/diane_duane_wonders_.html) but apparently Diane Duane (an author I'm not familiar with) is considering POD for the closer of a trilogy (first two books didn't sell enough to get the third printed). Anyway, she's conducting a straw poll on her blog - might be interesting to keep an eye on. The main post is here: http://outofambit.blogspot.com/archives/2005_12_01_outofambit_archive.html#113446948274092674

Harry Connolly said...

They already do:

Wildside Press

From the website:

If you have professionally published books which are now out of print, and if a demand still exists for them, then we are interested in talking with you about reprinting them in our program. Books that sell 50 to 500 (or more) copies per year are profitable in print-on-demand editions. Those numbers are small enough for niche markets, backlist titles for established authors, or specialty editions—but not big enough for traditional commercial publication.

POD is not useful for most new books, but the OOP backlist can bring in extra bucks that way.

Harry Connolly said...

Geez, I completely forgot to post this, too:

Fantasy writer Lawrence Watt-Evans releases new novel on web in installment plan

Read the page to see how he did it and why.

Deborah Branscum said...

Why POD, why not just start your own publishing company? Five years ago Sweden's Pirate Publishing was founded when Sigge Sigfridsson, Liza Marklund and Jan Guillou--three best-selling genre novelists--abandoned their publishers to start their own publishing house with the help of Guillou's wife, Ann-Marie Skarp, who became head of the company.

The publisher Guillou left was spitting mad and called the action a declaration of war. He also said the Swedish book industry was facing something entirely new: a pirate publisher. The cheeky authors adopted that as the company name and established better terms for themselves and the other authors eventually added to the roster. Those better terms included a 50-50 split on book revenues (after expenses) and a willingness to market books more aggressively than the competition.

You can read more about Pirate at http://www.branscum.net/archives/2005/05/happy_birthday.html. It surprises me that no American authors have tried it. Maybe next year.

Linda Adams said...

No one mentions what's wrong with POD and why a best selling author wouldn't do it:

* Bad image. No matter what, the books have the image of being poor quality books that can't get published anywhere else.

* No returns. The books can't be returned. This is a huge turn off to booksellers. What if the book doesn't sell? Some people use the logic that if it can't be returned, the bookseller will have to sell it. Uh ... not if they don't get it in the first place because they can't return it.

* Very expensive. Compared to traditional print books, the cost is high. I saw a book that had 80 pages, it was a trade paperback, and the POD company was selling it for $20.

* Poor quality. I can spot a POD book by its cover from a mile away. The quality and marketing appeal simply isn't there.

* POD is still self-publishing. Why would Stephen King pay to publish his book and wait for the profits when the publisher pays him and does the advertising?

commenter said...

deborah b: The popular American lesbian fiction novelist "Radclyffe" has tried it: she started her own lesbian fiction publishing company a few years ago. She publishes all of her own fiction, of course, but has also picked up a couple dozen other authors as well. Presumably she's making a lot more dosh from her own books now than she did on just 10% (or whatever) royalties, since she's still in business.

Tribe said...

Why? Because it's a pain in the ass to read a novel on a computer, that's why. Has anyone ever read an entire novel on a computer screen?

I didn't think so.

kaolin fire said...

An interesting note -- http://outofambit.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_outofambit_archive.html#113446948274092674

Diane Duane asks her readers if they'd be willing to pay for POD.

bordermoon said...

I know I've said (er, written) this before, but please remember that POD simply means Print On Demand. It's a simply a type of technology.

The problem is that the technology is being confused with the growing number of on-line companies trying to act as both "a publisher" and "a service to authors".

Only a few years ago, Xlibris was a perfectly nice production company. After reading some of the posts here, I went and looked at it now...I think they've gotten delusions of being an actual Publisher.

Catja (green_knight) said...

Diane Duane's book? If you like fantasy, or if you like cats, you'd be in for a treat. It's a great shame that she has to resort to this. :-(

And she's not the only fine writer who is struggling, which, for someone still trying to break into the business, is frightening.