What is Print on Demand? Simply put, books are printed one at a time using computer technology, instead of gobs of them printed at a time on an offset press. So…POD is clean, green, and economical. Then why is it a pariah to many in the writing world–from authors to publishers to booksellers to writers’ organizations like Mystery Writers of America?
Simply stated, as in so many things, our technology has rushed ahead of our ability to accept or utilize it. Libraries and booksellers don’t like POD because most books produced that way can’t be returned. (Though that is beginning to change.) There may be a delay in filling orders, especially if they’re large orders. POD is often a tool of vanity publishers, and that alone can give it a bad name. Mystery Writers of America will not accept anyone as an active member today (May, 2008) who can’t point to an initial print run of at least 500 books. Other organizations have similar restrictions. Many of those making exclusionary rules say they only want to keep out self-published and vanity press authors. Even Amazon.com is shutting down sales for all POD books except its own brand. This hits, not only those from XLibris, IUniverse, Lulu, and others who print for hire, but smaller publishers who have found that POD fits their needs.
For whatever reason, prejudice toward small publishers and the technology many of them use is especially strong right now, and at least some of this is initiated by larger publishing houses and their authors. Why? The most common reason given is that more experienced publishers and authors are trying to save the rest of us from being taken advantage of. May be. There are probably many reasons, but think about this: According to statistics from Publishers Marketing Association, independent publishing in the United States today is an industry with almost a hundred thousand fiction and non-fiction small presses who collectively outsell the larger mainstream publishers by (depending on who’s count you rely on) fifteen to twenty percent.
So, how about those small publishers? Some call them vultures waiting to rip off an author at a vulnerable time. And, unfortunately, in some cases that is true. However, one author’s poison can be another’s meat, and I can’t think of a better example than PublishAmerica. They’re a favorite whipping boy of those who call the presses who’s publicity promises “We’ll publish you” vultures.
The first sign of a vulture, by the way, is when they ask you for money up front. So far as I can learn in research, PublishAmerica doesn’t do that now, though they may have in the past. However, there are quite a few authors who have had bad experiences with PA. Here’s a quote from one of them that pretty well outlines the problems. “People think they are selling their books to publishers like PublishAmerica and Author House. They aren’t. They have just become salesmen for high-priced books printed by these outfits.” PublishAmerica currently gives only a 5% discount to major distributors, and firms like Ingram and Baker and Taylor would lose money ordering PA books at that price, so they don’t order, even if a customer requests the book. You can’t blame them! And, PA authors must do about 99% of their own publicity and selling.
I can confirm that PublishAmerica books often seem overpriced in relation to similar books from regular publishers. However, their books can be attractive, with good cover art. Editing is often a problem. Authors have the option to have PA edit their manuscript or not. I am assuming spelling and punctuation peculiarities as well as other problems I have seen in PA books are due to the option not to edit. (But I don’t know that!) PublishAmerica does give a 45% discount to booksellers who order directly from them, and they will now take limited returns. (This information from a PA author as well as from their web site.) I have also learned that those who ask for increased benefits and help from PA often get them. One friend went with PublishAmerica because the subject of her “faction” novel was in her 90’s at the time she finished the book, and the author wanted the subject to see the book in print. PublishAmerica put the book out very quickly, (in very few months), whereas a “legitimate” press might have taken up to two years or even longer, not to mention the author’s time querying and submitting until he or she found a publisher who’d accept it. As long as authors are alert, aware of possible perils, and not TOO eager to be published (shall we all laugh here) after facing many rejections, an informed decision to go with almost any publishing method may be the right one for an individual author. Especially in today’s publishing climate, few of us will be picked up by one of the large NY conglomerates. But, let the buyer beware. As has been said in other markets, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!
More about small publishers next time. (Most of them are NOT vultures.)