Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Espresso Machine gives POD authors a break

Print on demand (POD) certainly seems to be making waves and inroads at the moment throughout the industry with talk of Espresso machines and even Random House embracing the technology. A quick look at their website first thing this morning revealed that they have 'introduced' a 'new' technology called print on demand, which enables them to promote what they refer to as 'lost classics' without the need to keep physical copies in stock. Their website goes on to say that 'Digital printing technology now means that we are able to print and deliver books within a week of a customer placing an order. Until now, if you were interested in these out of print titles, you would need to hunt them down in secondhand bookshops. But now you can have a brand new paperback printed when you want it'. Titles available include the works of Barbara Thiering and Robert Gurman, so I suppose it can't all be bad.

Large companies like this nevertheless do seem to have a somewhat selective memory, as when it comes to POD authors such as myself and others that I know submitting their work for consideration we are told that this is not a valid form of publishing, yet it seems okay for them to do it. Don't do as I do, do as I say. Oh well, such is life.

Maybe the tide though is finally turning and we will begin to see a change of heart with regard to this technology. It certainly seems to be being talked about all over the publishing press at the moment. Michael Hyatt, president and chief executive officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the sixth largest trade book publishing company in the US was talking about it just recently on his blog site, which is linked to The Bookseller. I made a few comments of my own, which you will see if you click the link.

It seems that Lightning Source, the major POD printer, who are of course based in Nashville with UK operations in Milton Keynes, have been rolling out what are referred to as Espresso machines, the first of which is sited in New York's Grand Central Library, with others across the US in various Barnes and Nobles stores. This is nothing to do with coffee, as they are actually giant printing machines. Allow me to explain.

At the moment, when you go into a book store or library and the book you find is not on the shelves, you have two options - you can either order a copy or go elsewhere. Now though, with these gigantic and no doubt noisy machines, you will be able to go into the library or book store and have one printed for you in an hour or so while you sit and have a coffee (or tea if you are English of course). What a revelation then this will be, and the even better news is that it it set to come over here !

Michael Legat talks about it as well in the October edition of Writing Magazine, where he also mentions the Simon and Schuster debacle. They tried to insert a clause into their new contracts stating that they retained rights to all books published with them indefinitely, since with the advent of POD technology, books are never out of print. Of course, the Writers Guild of America kicked up a stink and quite rightly so, after all, who wants to be saddled to a publisher who does sod all to help promote your work and takes all the money. By taking the work to a bonafide POD provider, such as Authors OnLine here in the UK (they also distribute in the US!) the author can earn considerably more without that much more effort. After all, Simon and Schuster are hardly likely to put money into promoting a backlist book that sells only a couple of hundred copies a year - they concentrate most of their efforts on the new titles and high sellers, and who can blame them, it is after all a business.

Eventually Michael says, they had to admit defeat and scrap these clauses and quite rightly so. Still, I don't expect they will be the only ones to try this, and it is another indicator of how much more acceptable this technology is becoming, if the large publishers are now embracing it. I think they have finally realised, as I did, that if you can't beat 'em you have to join 'em, and whether they like or or not, POD is here to stay.

Personally I feel that it is where the future of publishing lies, fairly and squarely, and Random House and the Espresso machine just prove to confirm that. Eventually Lightning Source plan to put one in every book store in the US and I can only imagine the impact that will have. Book stores will only have to stock best sellers and it will make it much easier to authors to get into print, because it will automatically lessen the risk. I said to Gaynor Johnson some time ago, who deals with book orders for Authors OnLine Ltd, that I envisioned a time maybe 10, 15 years from now when book stores would have just a few shelves for maybe top 50 paperbacks etc, and the rest would be taken up by these huge machines, with computer terminals where customers used sites such as google books in order to carry out searches for books that they fancied. It seems that I may not have been far wrong.

In the short term though is it such a good thing ? It will take time for the industry to adapt, as everything works as a snails pace and they are notoriously resistant to change. That has been one of my biggest bug bears in fact, the fact that everything in publishing works so much more slowly than POD. That will be a thing of the past though, they will have to learn to respond a lot quicker. POD authors will then for the first time be competing on a even keel and the stigma will be well and truly removed. I just hope that in the process, the POD pioneers do not end up being driven out of business, as it is inevitable that the big boys will try and take over and claim this technology as their own. It is usually what happens. In fairness though, the POD arms of Random House and Barnes and Noble - Xlibris and i-universe, have been in business for a while - thank goodness only in the States, but eventually I am sure, over here as well.

One thing's for certain - sale or return will be a thing of the past, as this technology will not be able to accommodate it on such a high scale. Besides which, if the customer is printing books in store then what would be the point. What a shame then - the author will be paid more than the book shop - I will cry in a minute !

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