Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

« Watching the Flags of Freedom | Main | Expressions »




Great piece! It's a breath of fresh air, to hear folks talking logically about this issue, instead of clinging desperately to the old publishing icons of the past. I think a lot of people overlook the economics that drove the publishing industry for so long -- people with education and money and time were the ones behind publishing, in the past, when advanced literacy was not widespread, printing presses were expensive, it took a lot of time to set type and print out books, one sheet at a time, and then bind them and distribute them.... The publishing model that so many are fond of, is truly a relic of the past. Now that many more people can read and write, have the resources and the time to "consume reading products", and technology is at a place where book creation and fulfillment take a matter of days, not weeks and months, print-on-demand is sure to make its presence felt -- and how!


>How do publishers feel about outsourcing their printing and fulfillment? What’s not to be thrilled about?
Depends on the profit margins. Print on demand costs a lot more per book that a press run. Today Amazon's Advantage program (which warehouses and does fulfillment) takes 55% of the sales PLUS the publisher pays inbound shipping to Amazon. that means if the book has a retail value of $10.00, and amazon only orders a few at a time, you might make about less than >Pretty sexy, yes? Neither Random House nor amazon are out of pocket for the printing cost, because it’s covered by the price of the book

I agree that it's a terribly wasteful process in terms of energy and resources to 1) manufacture paper stock 2) ship stock to a printer 3) put ink on paper 4) ship it to a publisher for storage 5) ship it to a reseller for storage 6) ship it to a customer 7) read it and put it on the shelf for years.

but POD usually costs a lot more per book more than a press run. Today it seems more geared for individuals who want to self-publish. it's also useful for software manuals which have the shelf life of fish. but become of the economies of scale, it's usually more cost effective presently to run the press for a while, even after the transport and storage costs.

Also, the printers in places like China, Hong Kong, India, etc are much cheaper than US printers. Also for products which require assembly (collating, box folding and loading) we've produced projects in Hong Kong for 1/5th of the cost of producing them in the US. In fact, if I produced it in the US, the cost would be greater than the retail value.

FYI did you know what nearly EVERY POD service in the US is a reseller for ONE company (Ingram's Lightning Source)? Ingram/Baker Taylor have a monopoly on the industry that's killing competition and innovation.

I think a better solution would be a state-of-the-art (yet to be realized) eInk/ePaper solution...some paper you can write to and erase over-and-over. just think about the newspaper industy and what a tragic waste is it to pitch millions and millions of newspapers into the garbage every single day.

an eInk/paper device would be better than a book, because it could support hyperlinking, sounds and animated graphics. it would need super high resolution with no eye-fatiguing glare. and you wouldn't need rows to bookshelves to have a library at your fingertips. Sony's reader (dubbed "Librie" here in Japan) is heading in the first direction, but still has a way to go.

Sony Reader:

it would need bullet proof DRM, to prevent pirates from undermining content producers ability to make a profit. I see a real lack of regard for copyrighted works (rampant music downloading and video sharing). if writers, publishers and artists can't secure a profit for their efforts, they won't even bother to produce a product in the first place, thus depriving us all of quality work.

publishing will live on for a long time to come, but for a great many works ebooks suit the needs perfectly. the problem has been that the poor quality and complexity security of the ebook readers.

If you have any questions for a book publishing insider, feel free to let me know.

Max Hodges
White Rabbit Press - Tools for Japanese langauge learners

White Rabbit Xpress - Special order service for Japanese goods


Let me add one more thought, I think a better solution to the present problem (lack of a acceptable ebook reading device) is for publishers to sell direct. Ingram and Amazon both take 55% of the sale PLUS publishers pay inbound shipping. Although some large publishers can negotiate somewhat better deals, that's a HUGE portion of the profit. And it's why the cost of books is at an all time high--it's truly exorbital compare to what people used to pay.

The distributor takes a 55% discount, so that they can give the bookstore a 40% discount. the author gets 8-10% of the SALE price (not the retail price), that is the get 8-10% of the discounted price.

We sell our books directly on our web site. When customers buy directly from us, we ship from either our warehouse in Japan or from the US, depending on the location of the customers. We ship from Ohio and Amazon ships from Kentucky. Order from us and you'll get it just as fast as from Amazon. We've even raised the price on Amazon in order to offset their huge fees. When people buy from us, the publisher. 100% of the money (well, less credit card fees) you support us more fully in continuing to develop outstanding products.

Just because you found it on Amazon instead of find it on our site, it amounts to a cost of advertising expense for us of over 55% of the product's value.

How about if customers just buy direct from the publisher--like the Dell Computer model?

Someone could create an Amazon-like online bookstore. Customers can search and browser just as many books, and read and post reviews. However when they order, the order goes to the publisher. The publisher can fulfil the order themselves, or send it to any outsourced order fulfillment center or POD service. This allows the publisher to maximize their profit. A small portion of the sale, goes into maintaining the site. This basically amounts to the publishers pooling together their resources to create a one-stop shopping source for books, but eliminating the profit killers standing between them and their customers. This would be like Amazon's Marketplace expect that Marketplace takes 15% of the sale (plus $1 I think), also also amazon has pre-established rates for shipping, REGARDLESS of the book's weight.

The problem with amazon is that it amounts to a virtual monolopy, just like Igram/Baker Taylor. My allowing your book to create an audience of millions and millionns, Amazon provides a valuable service. But my charging so dearly for it, they hurt publisher's profitability and keep prices high for the consumer.

Google is possibly working to integrate a book search with their Google Base listings systems, which might be a step forward, if it allows buyers to easily find books and then buy them directly from the publishers...

Wayne McCoy

The thing I like about book stores is that I can look over a whole collection with a sweep of the eyes and catch something that interests me. Moreover, I can pluck that book from the shelf and randomly thumb through, assessing the author's style, elements of the story, structure, etc. Try doing that with online access. And, I might see several books that catch my eye, whereas online I can only see what what the online portal allows me to see. Yes, I can see reviews of the books, but I'd rather form my own opinion rather than depend on those readers who happened to review the book, and sometimes bring their own biases and agendas into the process. And just how is the POD process going to assure me of quality literature? Much of what is published for the mass market today is badly-written crap.

Dan Green

"And just how is the POD process going to assure me of quality literature? Much of what is published for the mass market today is badly-written crap."

It doesn't seem, then, that the current system is doing much to "assure" you of "quality literature."

"I can look over a whole collection with a sweep of the eyes and catch something that interests me."

Think of litblogs as a subsitute for surveying the stacks. Unless you really do judge a book by its cover.


"The thing I like about book stores is that I can look over a whole collection with a sweep of the eyes and catch something that interests me. Moreover, I can pluck that book from the shelf and randomly thumb through, assessing the author's style, elements of the story, structure, etc. Try doing that with online access."

Actually, it's easier to check the cover, blurb, and sample pages with clicks of the mouse than pulling a book out from the shelf based on its spine title. Most books in a bookstore are not positioned with the cover facing outward.

I like bookstores for the atmosphere, but it's too time-consuming. Throw in the fact that you may want a book that went out of print some time ago, and bookstores show their limitations again.

Changes are coming, just like the music industry. Once the right "Ipod" is found, look out.


>>Changes are coming, just like the music industry. Once the right "Ipod" is found, look out.

I think these changes already happened during the digital revolution in the 1990s. At least in the United States.

shauna mckenna

"Think of litblogs as a subsitute for surveying the stacks."

But Dan, to be frank, that doesn't strike me as too much different than the "books as boyfriends" model of editorial acquisition you describe, except that the reader is to trust highly skilled amateurs instead of ostensibly skilled professionals. I wouldn't see that as a problem, except that unless there is inevitably has to be some kind system of pedigree, or readers are left with a whole lot of research in order to construct their own elaborate filters.

And a lot of us don't really have time for that; we're working outside academia or publishing; we're raising kids; we're pursuing other forms of recreation or culture. As a longtime fan of your blog, I know you dislike artistic populism, but I can't see how fine art of any kind can stay viable if you willfully professionalize its consumption.

Dan Green

Shauna: First you say that in reading litblogs "the reader is to trust highly skilled amateurs instead of ostensibly skilled professionals." Then you conclude by saying that my suggestion to read litblogs "willfully professionalizes" the selection of books to read. I find your argument a little confusing.

shauna mckenna

You're right; that's confusing.

Take out the word professional. What I mean is you need gatekeepers. Bloggers are wonderful, but they're liable to be inconsistent and undependable. It's a hobby, after all. It's great that bloggers can be the watchdogs of the publishing world, to point out when quality is lax and the offerings are suspect, but unless the bloggers build up "houses" of their own, readers wouldn't know who to turn to for recommendations without spending massive amounts of time on the process. Which takes away from the amount of time you have to actually read literature.

I don't really understand how we'd be helped by fracturing literary audiences to a point where a common reading experience is almost impossible. And that's what I see as the inevitable outcome in a world without any publishers at all.

Dan Green

Shauna: If you'll permit me, I consider it to be a little more than a "hobby."

shauna mckenna

I don't mean it as a value judgment, Dan. But if you put as much time into this as a full-time job, and you're wholly uncompensated, I'm pretty sure you'll be the exception to the rule if you keep at it in the long-term. I know a lot of other people who do absolutely amazing things that they don't think of as hobbies (I was the editor of a well-read online magazine for a while) but who burn out pretty quickly when it gets to be as demanding as a full-time job.

I'm still really curious about who is going to be sifting through the self-published market, if all paid middlemen are unnecessary.

Thanks, as always, for the provocative (in the best way) thoughts.

Robert Nagle

I'm not going to address any of your points.

Instead I'm going to rattle off some bullet points that make me hopeful (pardon my terseness).

1. Ebook readers are becoming cheaper. In 2-3 years they will be very affordable.
2. The fact that google provides free PDFs for pre-1923 books is itself a reason why a device that reads PDF's is inevitable. (BTW, I don't think sony reader satisfies that need yet).
3. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a writer and publisher. (At the moment I am working on such one publishing initiative).
4. Don't worry about the economics of it. Good content will find good readers. (Yes, I am blinded by my own utopianism!)
5. Here's a business model I think would work splendidly for ebooks.
6. Comparatively speaking, it requires more effort to persuade a reader to invest TIME in an e-book (or regular book) than MONEY.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
Literary Pragmatism--Available as a Pdf