POD is Bad Business
I have discovered a terrible truth about Print on Demand publishing. I already knew that it was more expensive per book than traditional printing, but what I have learned in recent days is much worse for aspiring authors than most realize.
You see, normally book stores don’t pay for most of the books that you see in stores until you, the customer, actually buy the book. That’s right, they might pay shipping, but the only persons who typically contribute money to the printing costs of books are you and the publisher.
Except with print on demand..aka. POD.
With POD, the publisher only orders and pays for books that they will stock themselves. Orders placed by distributors, and the book stores who buy through them (like Barnes and Noble), and not direct from the publisher, have to pay up front to print any POD books with which to stock their shelves or sell at book signings. With non-POD books, the books are printed and warehoused ahead of time and are typically ordered by stores on credit (something like 90 days) with a full return policy that often gets fully utilized if the book does not move before the bill is due.
So bookstores usually respond to this issue by not ordering POD books at all.
That’s right. All you folks who look forward to self publishing your books with POD, along with all you small publishers who think you’ve found in POD an easier, lower-risk way to get books printed and to market, all you have found is an easy way to see your name in print on books that will probably never find their way to a bookstore shelf unless you either become so widely known on your own that you don’t need bookstores, set the books on the bookstore shelves on consignment (with little or no margin for you), or negotiate with each small store whose business model allows them to buy direct from publishers (ie. not chain stores). Sure, it may be a good deal for you authors who want to personally shake the hand of every reader who ever buys your book or who like buying and hand-carrying your own books to book signings. But if you dream of seeing your book on bookstore shelves nationwide you will most likely never see that dream realized through POD publishing unless you personally sell enough books to attract the attention of a big-name publisher.
I spoke with a printer the other day who caters to self-published folks and read through the email that they sent me listing their services. The things that they offer are tempting and compelling—PDF-to-publish is totally free. The various marketing services that they offer all seem quite reasonably priced, but when I asked if I can pay up front for the printing and go non-POD, so that the book can be more easily ordered by bookstores for stock and for signings, they said that they don’t do that. Also, the marketing services that they sell are all important things that all authors who want to be successful should do, but I am doing all of those things already with the help of Cowboy Logic Press and my publicist.
The reason why I am writing this is that the above facts about POD publishing have just killed my release date book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Layton, UT. I can still hold a cozy little get together with family and friends at a Wendy’s or something, but I can’t advertise to the greater general community for a larger event, I simply do not have the resources to sponsor something that size on my own. The staff of the Layton B&N, bless their hearts, could do nothing for me. Even though they worked to make it happen, their hands are tied.
So look out. I have heard independent publishers and self-published authors accuse the large chain stores like B&N of “good-ol’-boy-networking”, arrogance, and out right discrimination against small-press publishers. That is not my impression of their reaction toward me or my book. Several weeks ago, before Into the Dark was listed in B&Ns inventory database, I visited every B&N between Orem and Layton in Utah and received a mix of acceptance and rejection…mostly some level of acceptance. In fact, some of them behaved in a manner that I can best describe as outright excitement when they saw my galley. It was only when the book was listed, and they could see on the computer screen that it was POD, that they cooled off. Two of the stores’ managers were kind enough to explain to me that the only reason they could not hold a signing for me, or stock my book, was because it was listed as POD, and so company policy regarding how they buy and pay for books made it impossible for them to do business with me. This in spite of the fact that Cowboy Logic paid to print a very large supply of the book right from the start.
I should note that Barnes & Noble are very customer oriented and that you the customer can walk into any B&N in the country and order my novel or any other book that they have listed, POD or otherwise. B&N also sells my book on their website.
The POD stigma (should it be spelled KOD, Kiss Of Death instead?) will not be on my book for much longer. Cowboy Logic Press immediately went to work to correct the problem as soon as I told them. I hope I will get future signings from B&N, though I may have offended them with my pushiness, but it looks like I will not get the POD situation fully settled quickly enough to hold my release party in the Layton B&N as I have advertised.
I will distribute the link to this post to several places where aspiring authors hang out, so that they know. I hope my experiences in this matter will help someone else. I for one will never again sign a publishing contract where POD is not explicitly ruled out. It is not reasonable to ask bookstores to pay up front for an unknown book when they have lots of known books that they do not have to pay for until they are sold.
That and the reseller hesitance surrounding POD just makes selling a new book much harder and more troublesome than it has to be.