Interesting overview of POD and book distribution services.
There’s certainly a lot more in this space now than the last time I looked into it (circa… 2009? I think?).
Amazon’s been having various spats with various publishers in various jurisdictions for pretty much the whole of 2014. This one, in the UK, is interesting in that Amazon is pushing to force publishers to allow it to use its own POD services to produce titles if it doesn’t have them “in stock”.
To say this is very, very contentious would be an understatement.
Some of you may remember me talking about something similar with regards to backlists in bookstores. It’s one of those things that I think is coming, and in a decade or so we’ll consider it as normal as we do ordering books from Amazon now. Emphasis on the “Amazon”, not “ordering books online”, too; Amazon has always been good at getting in early on (read: “monopolising”, if you will) the commodification of the physical presence of books. I’m not talking about the content here, but rather the vehicle in which it’s delivered to customers, be it in an ominously smirking box or whispered into your Kindle.
The thing about publishing is that it’s still largely populated by people who care about the physical quality of the artefact of a book. About paper and binding and matte-versus-gloss and deckled edges and whatnot. To that mindset, commodifying books a la a photocopier is anathema. You’re talking, in effect, about a bunch of designers being told their work is no longer valuable in this Brave New Digital world.
Some books are Art Objects and some books… aren’t. There’s plenty of room in the ecosystem for both, but the transition won’t be a pretty one.
And, just for interest, here’s the marketing video of the Espresso actually in operation.
True story: my grandfather was a printer/book-binder. Back before a TERRIBLE BOOK-RELATED ACCIDENT forced him into early retirement…
When people ask me questions like, “Alis, why did you choose a digital-only publishing deal over p&e?” the answer gets long and complicated. But this is part of it.
The biggest problem bookstores have–from publishers, authors, readers, and themselves–is the fact that they just (to paraphrase the meme) can’t stock every book. So they have to try and pick which ones they think will give them best bang for their shelf space. Except publishing is a subjective beast and the numbers are impossible to get right, which is why the returns system exists. (In a nutshell: if books don’t sell, bookstores strip the back cover, chuck the book into the bin, and send the cover back to the publisher to get credit against future purchases. One of the corollaries to this system is that it makes calculating author royalties monstrously difficult, given that a stripped and returned book isn’t considered a sale… but publishers don’t know that until the book is returned, the timing of which is up to individual stores.)
Bookstores will, I think, always carry pre-printed stock of bestsellers and anything publishers have bought co-op for. These will be your trades and your hardbacks, plus all the books that don’t lend themselves well to PoD.
But for everything else, and in particular novels from midlist/debut genre authors, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more print-your-own stuff going on. PoD machines like the Espresso will get better, because technology always does, and, in a decade or so, in-shop prints will have largely replaced the mass-market paperback.
That’d be my bet, anyway. If I’m wrong, y’all can come back here in 2024 and gloat about it, I guess.
While I’d prefer it not be from Amazon–having one single vendor monopolise every part of a market is never a great idea–it’d certainly be cool to see the day where a POD machine was an essential part of every bookstore. Can’t find something on the shelves? Why, then you can print yourself a copy right there in-store! (Or buy the ebook, or order it, or, or, or.)