Friday, May 2, 2008

POD: The Ugly Step-Sister

For the umpteenth time, I recently heard someone say (not about TWRP, but another publisher) “but they are a POD publisher.” The words, of course, were offered as a warning—as they usually seem to be. I always find this attitude ironic. POD is a method of publishing, no better or worse than using an AB Dick over a Heidelberg (those are printing press manufacturers, for those of you who might not know). So, why is there so much controversy over the POD method and the publishers who utilize it? Let’s take a look at some of the common objections:
1. Publishers who use POD are not reputable. Because there’s no overhead and no inventory commitment, anyone can set up shop
  • Fact: Anyone can set up shop using any business or method. Money has nothing to do with it. Many disreputable companies actually have overhead money to use in order to look reputable and “scam” more people. Just because “anyone” can start a POD publishing company does not mean they are not reputable. How a company deals with consumers and employees, and the quality of the product they offer in relationship to the product price determines whether they are reputable.
  • Fact: There are overhead costs to POD publishing. LSI, Booksurge, etc—these companies all charge a fee for cataloguing a title. And, that’s an up-front fee in addition to the per-printed fees that come each time a title is ordered. In addition to the individual title fees, publishers also have to create a cover, which also costs money.
  • Fact: Inventory commitment is a business decision. I find this argument especially interesting because when Amazon (we all know Amazon, right?) first opened their doors, they had NO inventory! They were a website and database. That’s all. Nobody balked at that. In fact, it was a fantastic business model: Incur as little expense as possible until after the sale. What a concept. It’s what made investors jump in and give Amazon money to set up “real” warehouses, and is also what helped make them the bookstore-and-more giant they are today.

2. There’s no distribution in POD, so authors’ books won’t be in bookstores
  • Fact: Bookstores decide what books are in their stores. If a POD publisher is using LSI as their printer, all those titles are in Ingram’s (the largest book distributor) database, and any store, library, etc. which uses Ingram can order that book.
  • Fact: POD publishers who use LSI actually have their titles available virtually worldwide—that’s major distribution availability.
3. OK, so the titles are available, but that doesn’t help if bookstores won’t carry them—and they won’t because POD books are not returnable.
  • Fact: Returnability is a publisher choice. Doubleday could make their mass market books non-returnable if they so chose.
  • Fact: The Wild Rose Press books are returnable (I had to throw that in there!)
  • Fact: Availability in bookstores depends on consumer demand. The more customers who walk into a store and order a certain title, the more likely the bookstore is to carry that title—or others from that publisher or author—POD, or not. It’s about revenue, not printing model. That’s how inventory is chosen.
4. Nobody buys POD books because they are too expensive.
  • Fact: POD books cost more than mass market paperbacks. No denying that. That’s because it costs more to produce a POD book than it does a mass market paperback printed in the five-or-six digit numbers. BUT, that doesn’t mean people aren’t buying them. The average Mass Market paperback is $8. The average POD book is $12 (fiction). Yes, there’s a $4 difference, but not so much of a disparity that people who want to read are balking at the price of POD. After all, we live in an age where in many places $4 doesn’t get you a gallon of gasoline or diesel. And that $4 hasn’t gotten anyone in to see a regular-priced movie in years! People will easily forego a Latte for a good read. That’s why POD is on the rise. Even the major publishers like Doubleday and Harper Collins utilize this technology at times.
  • Fact: Price always matters to some, and never matters to others. It's a personal choice that has nothing to do with product. Hardbacks are more expensive than paperbacks, but publishers still produce them because some consumers like a hardback--even if they have to give $20 for the same title they could get for $8 in paperback.

So, what am I trying to say with all this? Just that authors shouldn’t get sucked into the mentality that POD is the ugly step-sister and should be avoided. POD is nothing more than a technology for printing--one that is on the rise and becoming more wide-spread because it makes good business sense for publishers to have as little up-front expense as possible. (not to be confused with no upfront cost :) )

When you are looking for a publisher, check the reputability of that publisher. Are they, in fact a subsidy or vanity publisher (a company that charges an author a fee--or other makes other demands in exchange for publication)? Do they treat their authors with respect? Do they have a good reputation and follow through on their promises? Do they honour their contract properly? These are the important things.

Your story is your baby. All authors want the best distribution—and money—for their stories. That’s a given. But when seeking the better/best deal, don’t confuse a “lesser” deal with a “bad” deal. No one would say that accepting a contract with Tyndale over Thomas Nelson makes TN a “bad” publisher. Tyndale and Thomas Nelson are both reputable publishers—even if one of them perhaps offers a larger print run or advance over the other (using those names as examples only--not claiming to know anything specific about either). Just so, don’t say a reputable POD publisher is “bad” just because it uses a publishing method of printing that is different from mass-production. Always, always look for the best deal for you—and that is going to vary per author based on what he or she wants or can get from his or her particular story or situation.

I feel privileged to be an editor with The Wild Rose Press. We strive to help our authors achieve greatness in their writing. There isn’t an editor here who wouldn’t cheer one of our own authors for striving for, or receiving, a contract from a larger house. (Just as I would hope that a Dorchester editor would cheer an author who received a multi-book contract with Penguin).

TWRP has a fantastic reputation. That reputation is recognized by major organizations, such as RWA, and celebrated by authors who are in our garden, as well as advocacy groups like P&E.

We are a small and fairly new publisher. But we have grown leaps and bounds since our inception just two years ago. And one day, God willing, we’ll be counted among those "arrived" publishers like Doubleday and Avon—even if we always use the POD method for publishing our print titles.


Marianne Arkins said...

I always look for ePub books in the store when I go, and I have ALWAYS seen at least a few TWRP (as well as another publishers) books on the shelves. I have fun emailing the authors to tell them when I see their books :-)

I think people equate POD with Self-Published -- and they are VERY different animals.

Good post!

Georgiana Daniels said...

YES YES YES!!! This is the best rebuttal I've seen. Thanks for posting, Nicola!

Susanne Saville said...

I agree. Great post! :)

J L said...

Thanks for this great summary -- I plan to point people to this blog post when they ask what POD is.

And I agree about getting stores to stock our books: I always ask people to go in and request that a book be ordered for them. That might pique a bookseller's interest enough to stock some books on their shelves!

Nicola said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies. Glad you found the post useful.

Linda LaRoque said...

Great post. Clarifies a lot of issues. Thanks for clearing this up.

Rene Perez said...

Excellent post, thank you!

Debra Ullrick said...

Thank you for clarifying things so nicely. My second book, Déjà vu Bride, is through lulu, a self-publishing POD company. BUT, I didn't self-publish my book. I went through a small publisher who uses lulu's services. I went through all the same editing/galley/book cover stages that I had gone through with my story, The Bride Wore Coveralls that was published through Heartsong Presents/Barbour Publishing. Also, I didn't pay any money up front and I get royalties.

I wish more people would read this article.

Debra Ullrick
The Bride Wore Coveralls, Heartsong Presents #789
Déjà vu Bride, the sequel to, The Bride Wore Coveralls, Spirit Light Books
Dixie Hearts, coming February 2009~Barbour publishing
For more details, come visit me at...

Betsy St. Amant said...

Very well said!!