Saturday, February 4, 2012

Does POD Still Have a Place in Self-Publishing?

In just a few short years the publishing industry has changed dramatically. So has self-publishing. The eBook is radically changed both industries. Technology, history has shown, simply has no feelings when it comes to people and the inevitable march forward shows no mercy it would seem.

I am fairly certain when Gutenberg began printing books with his press, particularly the Bible,  some people decried the certain loss of the beautiful books painstakingly produced by skilled and artistic scribes. Technology won that battle fairly quickly as evidenced by the quick spread through Europe of the printing press.

With Kindle sales in the millions this past Christmas and the Nook generating some much needed revenue for the struggling BandN, eBooks have been a boon to the industry, the reading public and the self-publishing author. So much so, some self-publishing authors are beginning to question if print versions of books, even using print-on-demand, still has a place in self-publishing.

For many self-published authors, print-on-demand was what allowed us to publish our books and at least have a chance of recouping the money invested, and if nothing else the joy of holding a copy of the finished book in hand.

But has POD print publishing become a form of vanity publishing? Joanna Penn takes an interesting look at the role POD and print books have in the life of self-published authors in a guest blog on Joel Friedlander's blog The Book Designer.

Ms. Penn argues print books are now vanity publications, but in a good sort of way. While I understand the point she is making, which primarily are for authors of fiction, I am not so sure POD paper books no longer have a role in the business of self-publishing for non-fiction authors.

The term "vanity publishing" used to refer to an author's work that was so poor the only way it would be published is if the author paid to have the book printed. These books were indeed often horrible and did little to help the reputation of any author who self-published. When legitimate author services companies began to crop up, most of whom used POD to print their clients books, these companies were often labeled as vanity publishers.

With the advent of Amazon allowing self-published authors to have access to customers, the POD business model, made popular by Aaron Shepard and Morris Rosenthal, helped many self-published authors be able to not only market and sell their books successfully, but to make money in the process.

Times change and so does business. The advent of the eReader has made a huge impact in the self-publishing industry. In my case, my Kindle sales outnumber my POD sales by a ratio of 200 to 1 as of last month! On the surface it would seem Ms. Penn is correct in her thinking the day of POD and print editions are over for self-published authors.

It is true I have not purchased a single print edition of a fiction book since receiving my Kindle. The same is not true for non-fiction books. While I do purchase non-fiction to read on my Kindle, I still purchase print books for research (I still want to be able to write in the book the old fashioned way and dog ear pages to find easily) or when I know the content will be image and graphic intensive.

In the case of my own non-fiction books, I will continue to publish my large, meaning 8.5 x 11 and 200+ page books in a POD print edition as well as a Kindle and Nook edition (even though my Nook sales have been laughable) precisely because my books are both image and graphic intensive. I also know my reader population and many of my potential readers will be slow to adapt to the new eReader technology. If I want to sell books to that segment of my potential market, I must continue to offer a print edition.

I should mention that while my Kindle sales went through the roof last month, I also had the best month ever in selling print editions. While the percentage of total sales was low, it was still lucrative and worth the time, effort and cost to have those titles available in POD print editions.

Will I change my approach to how I produce my new books in the future? Yes. I plan to offer a series of short, informative books, designed to introduce a topic and then promote my full length book at the end of the short version. These books will be text only and sell for .99 cents as Kindle shorts. These books will be targeted at potential readers who are just entering the market and are already technology oriented, not the older, more experienced potential readers.

Does POD still have a place in a self-publishing author's business plan? I think the real answer is "it depends." The author must know his or her potential readers and the quality of book the technology can support and still have the reading experience be enjoyable or informative in an easy to understand and use fashion. If I were in the fiction writing business, I would always release a Kindle version first and depending on sales and target audience follow up with a print version.

The real issue is not whether or not POD still has a place in the self-publisher's business model. It is being market savvy enough to know what the author's readers want and need from their reading experience and matching the book production to meet those wants and needs.