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Friday, 15 October 2010

PODs, E-books, Nuts and Bolts

Guest blog by Paul Collins and Jo Thompson

The world of publishing has been marching inexorably toward a New Frontier for quite some time, now. Palm readers seemed to take off in the US, although struggled to have an impact elsewhere. The E-book revolution has been a rocky road, although recent sales figures from Amazon allude to figures competing with those of print books.

From an author’s perspective, I wonder even now whether print-on-demand – PODs – and e-books are as viable as some would like us to believe. The main problem is in promoting them. Who knows the books are available? Certainly anyone can go online and view all the available books, but there are millions of them. Compare this with looking at books on a shelf in a traditional bookstore and you will see the difference.

I’ve personally had abysmal results from PODs. My Stalking Midnight was a POD, published by Cosmos. To date, despite knowing copies are Out There, I’ve not received a cent in royatlies. Nor can I contact the publisher, Sean Wallace. Cyberskin was also a POD from New Concept, but from memory I received one statement saying I’d sold one copy..

If you want to publish your own book, then there are people like iUniverse. They’ll do the lot for you, but again I question the promotional side of things. Will iUniverse promote your book? Will you sell copies to readers other than your closest friends and family? By all means check them out.
There are others, of course, like http://www.lulu.com/

If this particular trend gains momentum, writers will segue into the lifestyle of poets, writing for the love of it. That is, self-publishers, selling very few copies of their books, and hoping to sell via open readings in venues such as pubs and festivals. Naturally there will be some mega-sellers, as there are already, but these will be superlatives, that for whatever reason have the X-factor.

Promoting your PODs/e-books via social media is fine. There’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, etc. But having experimented with all of these forms of promotion, I am still open to debate as to how effective this forum is in selling books.

I’m currently attempting to upload Ford Street’s books as e-books. Amazon’s Kindle is the friendliest system I’ve discovered. Try uploading to Apple and others and it’s a whole new ballgame. For a start, they want files converted to e-pub. They also require publishers to have US tax files numbers. Obtaining one of these is a nightmare – and that’s only part of the paperwork that’s involved (there can be 26-page agreements to be signed!). Add to this the cost of converting pdfs to Kindle and e-pub formats and you’ll see it’s no easy road. Without significant sales a publisher will never recoup the outlay associated with reaching the digital marketplace.

But one thing we need to consider is that e-books have reached a point where the number of titles available as iPhone apps now exceed the number of games with approximately 28,000 books now online compared with 26,000 games. That’s quite a staggering statistic.

One innovation is that Amazon has made its reading format available to Apple so iPad and iPhone users can download the Kindle Reader software and still use their Apple devices. This might negate some of the problems I’ve mentioned here.

There are aggregators, of course. These are people who will upload the files to many other online stores for you. But there are inherent problems here, too. Lesser known aggregators may not have credibility with the major stores like Apple, Google, Sony, Baker & Taylor, etc. You can stick with the larger aggregators like Overdrive and Ingrams (large digital warehouse operators), but the fees for this can be high, too. Everything costs!!!! And all of this involves a certain amount of trust. A print publisher can furbish print records. Take away the stock the publisher has in the warehouse and you can determine the sales, give or take. It’s not that easy with PODs or e-books. I uploaded an e-book to DNAML a while ago, and despite what appeared to be a 1000 downloads, Ford Street received not one cent. ‘Readers downloaded the sample chapters but didn’t buy the book’, claimed the online store. Hmmm . . .

An option I’ve discovered is to deal with local online stores such as Mercury Retail, Emporium, Booktopia, etc. Being a global market, in theory, the same books will be available to the international market. But again, the main problem is highlighting the fact that these books are available. How do you reach your target audience?

Right now Ford Street is uploading its entire list to Lightning Source. The benefit I see here is that our books, although PODs, will feature on the world’s major online stores. Lighting Source of course is reputable, and I think that despite the effort and cost of providing our books in this way will eventually prove beneficial. I’d not want to compare PODs with e-books – both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Last but not least, a prediction. Within a decade there won’t be “best-sellers” available in traditional bookshops. No publisher can survive alone on the back of their A-list authors. The advances are too high and the returns too little. Independent stores are going under – right now it’s often cheaper for indie booksellers to purchase their big ticket stock from chain stores such as K-Mart, Big W, Target, etc, than it is to get them direct from the publishers. The chain stores sell their stock as loss leaders, using the books solely to get people into their store. Too, some distributors have a surcharge if an order doesn’t reach a certain dollar price, say $300 per order. If you just want five copies of Paul Collins’s The Glasshouse, for example, the indie bookseller would be better off purchasing them from the local supermarket than the publisher, to avoid the surcharge. The author only gets net receipts; the distributor gets less because they’re offering the books at roughly 70% discount; the independent store misses out because they’re actually competing against the store they’re buying the books from! See how ridiculous all this gets?

To cite a local phenomenon: Lothian was Australia’s old independent publisher. They were taken over by TimeWarner, who within two or three weeks were bought out by Hachette. Three publishers are now one within three weeks. This will keep happening. Their staff will be axed, and young authors who might have ordinarily become best-sellers will only find publication with small presses, who don’t have the distribution or funds to market their authors.

Now you might think this is great news for the small presses. They’ll be publishing the potentially great authors that the majors are no longer taking a punt on, right? But hang on. There won’t be any independent booksellers left to sell those books! They’ll have all gone under due to the monopoly of the chain stores, who in turn won’t be taking chances on unknown authors. Trouble is, the major publishers won’t be publishing great authors because the current crop won’t be around, and the publishers won’t have anyone to replace them because they’ve not been taking chances on new authors, who might have become tomorrow’s best-sellers . . .

Interesting times ahead!

Paul Collins
Melbourne Oct 2010

For more on Paul Collins and his writing visit http://www.paulcollins.com.au/
 For more on Ford Street Publishing visit http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com/

Clara lives in her balanced world where everything is perfect. Her glasshouse is free of bugs, her prized pumpkins free of blemishes. But then one day a boy walks into her life and slowly Clara realises that her world is not perfect at all. Her paranoia spreads and she loses all her customers. Finally, she must face up to the realisation that her world is not perfect, and she must make allowances and compromise if she is to survive.


  1. Hi Paul, this is Sean . . . I haven't heard from you since 2007. I haven't worked at Cosmos Books for some time now, as editor. You need to contact the publisher, John Betancourt. I wasn't the publisher, then, at all, just the editor, alas.

  2. Interesting post, thanks Louise and Paul,

    I guess we'll all have to adapt to the changes and work harder than ever to promote our books.

  3. Very informative article - thanks for posting!

  4. Thanks Paul and Louise. Some scary changes, and interesting times ahead. Doesn't sound like anyone's winning here.

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  6. A very good article. And yes, interesting times indeed! Reminds me of the Chinese curse...

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