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Jon Horton

Monday, December 19, 2005

Print-On-Demand from a Small Publisher's POV

jackson hole blog

by j. r. horton

march 2005

last month i said I’d offer my analysis of the value of Print-On-Demand. basically, when you write for a publisher your share of the pie amounts to between four and seven percent of the gross — and no publisher can tell you what that number really is. bad accounts receivable, damaged books, returns, etc. etc. effect the number. in other words, the author’s share is reduced by the publisher’s liabilities and inefficiencies. on the other hand, as one’s own publisher you receive fifty to sixty percent of the gross and know exactly what the real deficiencies are. that said, here are some thoughts on the advantages of the new technology and the new publishing paradigm.

For the Bookseller

1. NO BACKORDERS. Small orders are fulfilled by POD in the turn they are received, even if it is for only one copy. Booksellers have orders of, for instance, only one book fulfilled with the same dispatch as an order fifty.

2. Another profit center in what is now a marginally profitable business.

For the Publisher

1. No receiving and handling cases of books=no labor or labor costs.

2. No storage costs — this is normally a line item, and it is expensive.

3. No fulfillment costs. Saves the time, effort and labor of shipping.

4. No taxable floor inventory.

5. No billing and accounts receivable!

6. Receipts deposited automatically in the company account.

7. Complete tax info available in fiscal year-end accounting from POD.

The Downs

1. The POD i am using at the moment is owned by Ingram and, so, by Barnes and Noble. Because of that you can get some Microsoft-style corporate arrogance on occasion. i am seriously considering changing to BookSurge because it was recently bought by Amazon and they almost always make quality products.

2. Most other distributors are not hip to the new paradigm or, because of Item One above, are hostile to the concept. Getting them to carry POD titles is a slog, most especially because the Barnes and Noble printer charges prohibitive prices to distributors other than the house’s Ingram.

3. Ingram has not made it clear on its web site that, when the book title's screen appears and reads "On Hand: 0" and "On Order: 0", the book is still available through POD. It's a minor item to them but it has cost us many, many orders.

4. On Demand publishing is too often considered vanity publishing by the book trade. The upshot is that not very many booksellers and others in the trade want to go to the trouble of examining this new way of doing business. The saving grace is that very few of the true vanity books are professionally promoted by the authors and soon disappear from view. However, business is business and ignoring potential sales in the present book world is risky business. Fulfilling orders, even if only from near relatives of the author, yields the usual 40%.

5. Because of the above, orders are fewer than in the established, but much more labor-costly, ways of producing, distributing, and selling books.

6. It's expensive. All the above "ups" are handled by POD and they charge handsomely for the services so, in the end, the profit is only marginally larger than for the normal process. But, finally, it's worth it to us.

7. Accounts receivable are held by POD for 90 days, drawing interest the while. See Item One above.

For the Author

1. Publishing history is replete with stories of successful books turned down by tens of publishers, including Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and T. E. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Like those immortals, the author who is writing outside the mercantile mentality, Print On Demand is often their only chance for recognition. It also avoids the now common New York practice of politically correct editing. In other words, the author has a shot at having their book find an audience on its own—and that's just about all one can ask for.

excerpt from Murder in Moab an authentically Western novel.

When Tom had been in the alcohol rehab program at the Vet's hospital he had learned that he was fear-based, something which had taken him by surprise. He had spent his whole life, up to that moment, proving that he was afraid of nothing. The epiphany that he was afraid of everything had been a surprise, but liberating at the same time. It was the key to all his hidden feelings, the key to the crypt where his buried self had been secreted away.
Secrets. One of the verities of Alcoholics Anonymous, where he had spent years excavating that buried self, was: You are only as sick as your secrets.

Tom took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell you a story I've never told anyone."

"Not even Mom?"

"Not even your Mom. Especially not your Mom."

The son looked at his father expectantly, suddenly trusting.

"One time in the war me and my team went to this house. We were looking for a spy. This spy worked in a...well, it was a whorehouse. This spy was a woman, a beautiful woman who was getting lots of information from military officers who went there, got drunk, then talked to her about things they weren't supposed to talk about. Big secrets."
Tom took another deep breath and raised his eyes to the wall. Yoda's gentle green face stared back from a poster.
"I won't go into it, except to say that the woman got killed right in front of me.

My team leader, Linc Stockman, shot her as she was running across the courtyard and she was only a few feet from where i was standing when the bullet hit her. i saw it all. Up real close."

He looked down at Jackie's face and he could see that a fragile bridge had been thrown across the crevasse that had separated them for so long. It was the first time in years that he could see trust on his son's face.

Tom put his hand on his son's hand, looking for strength enough to tell the long-hidden truth.

"Son, she was a close friend of mine."

"A friend?"

The father nodded, knowing he was going to have to confess it all.

"Her name was Da Ly Huong, which means Magnolia in Vietnamese, but we called her Dolly. I had spent a lot of time with her before she was killed—in her bed and other places, like when we went shopping together and I bought her things. I was more than a little bit in love with her and she turned out to be the highest ranking spy in Danang."

Tom felt tears coursing down his face again. Dammit. He hunched his shoulders, closed his eyes to stem the flow and was comforted by the feel of his son now squeezing his hand. That touch drew the two together as the dank memory was exposed to the air.

The memory that had tried to strangle him in his sleep for more than twenty-five years included the wait in the moon-bathed garden thick with the smell of night blooming flowers and the big moths drinking nectar. There had been a sudden noise from the house and he saw a slight figure running toward him, then a shout for her to stop. Tom saw her reaction to the sight of him waiting with pistol drawn and her staggering stop. Then the sound of the shot and the grotesque disarticulation as the bullet passed through her body and her disanimated little body flopped to the garden stones like a sack of dropped garbage.

He had gone to her and saw the black blood soaking her beautiful ao dai, saw the irreparable damage to her tiny body.

Then he heard her whisper, "Oh, Ton, you numbah ten." And her soul jumped away from his touch.

The shot had come from the veranda of the colonial-era whorehouse, fired by his best friend Linc. But in the horror of the recurrent, suffocating, nightmare he, Tom, is the one who shoots the girl.

PTSD therapy had brought to light that Tom had gone on the mission happily, full of a sense of having been betrayed by his lover to whom he had divulged secrets that may have led to the death of American soldiers. Smoldering in self-righteous anger, he had waited in the dark, thinking he could kill the woman gladly if she was armed, if she resisted. After Dolly's death he, like his son, his dreams had grasped him by the throat and accused him of the deed itself. His own perverted conscience, glad for a chance to attack, had waited in the dark for years.

Then, under the grace of his son's embrace Tom saw her face again the exquisite face of the most desirable prostitute in Danang. He visualized her smiling happily as he slipped a thin gold circlet onto her impossibly dainty wrist. The perfect little hand, the lovely brown eyes and the bright smile burgeoned and took on life in his remembrance. The vision said, Thank you, Ton. You good man. You numbah one.

The rich tropical light of the afternoon shone again on her pink silk ao dai and the smell of her orchid perfume filled his head. That lovely scene now overlaid the old horror that would never return to haunt his sleep again. He had confessed his greatest secret and been redeemed by the unconditional love that coursed into him through the embrace of his son. And Tom finally gave himself up to the ancient woe.

And the child becomes the father to the man, someone wrote somewhere. And the man who wrote it knew God's own truth.


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