Sunday 22 April 2012

Small Press – Advantages 2 – Print on Demand

Certain reviewers and certain authors’ societies are still snooty about Print on Demand (POD). They believe it is only for self-publishing amateurs. Yet it has been used for years in the educational and academic worlds so a book isn’t printed until it is sold. It’s an ideal system for books that are only going to sell a few copies.  And if you do get a big order, the price you have to pay is competitive with discounted bulk off-set printing.  
There is no doubt that per unit it is a lot more expensive, particularly on small print runs. Our books’ printing costs, including any shipping and admin charges work out at between 2.00 and 4.00. A traditional publishing house can obtain a unit value of 20-40p on the same size books thus making a much bigger differential between the recommended retail price (RRP) and unit cost. However, this is more than made up for by other overhead costs: nice offices in London, salaried staff and contracted outsourced staff. Small presses don’t have those.  
Lightning Source (LS) makes it particularly easy for the small publisher: For £7.00 + VAT per title per year they will make the book available world-wide, keep it hooked up to over 32 distributors / wholesalers, print locally to keep down costs  and waive all admin and shipping costs.  Even if, say, Amazon UK wanted just one copy of your book, they feed the digital information into the machine with that of all the other   books Amazon UK wants that day. They are shipped together. We don’t see the money for 90 days but LS does all the invoicing and chasing. We get a monthly statement and details of how many books have been sold in which country and the money is put directly into our bank account. This is wonderfully admin and risk-free for us.  
Our clients also have the advantage of getting a brand new book, very quickly. Notice, the Book Depository buy from us, via LS, and they insist on books being available within 24 hours of ordering.  LS naturally comes up with the goods. Customers don’t get warehouse-stressed goods. There are no warehouses at publisher / printer end.
There are environmental issues here as well.  LS uses paper from sustainable sources. No paper is wasted as only books that are required are printed.
No book need ever go out of print. Of course, from time to time you may want to revise a book. It takes about 48 hours to digitize your amendments and costs up to £52.50. So, it’s relatively simple, quick and inexpensive. An author who has grown may wish an earlier work to go out of print. For that reason, our contracts tend to run to three or four years and are renewable thereafter by mutual agreement. In practice we actually only pull the book if the author requests it. And sure, we’ll sell the rights on to one of the Big Six if they request it and our author agrees.
POD ought to get a better press. LS, though a bit of a monopoly, is a good company to work with. Generally the books are of good quality and any problems, of which there are few, are dealt with swiftly.                


Tuesday 3 April 2012

Small Press – Advantages 1 Financial Security

One of the greatest advantages of the small press is that publishers can operate in a financially secure way. If they use a Print on Demand company, such as Lightning Source, they can set up titles so that they pay for nothing until after the customer has paid. All three publishers I’m involved with – Bridge House, The Red Telephone and Chapeltown Books use Lightning Source. Lightning Source, for £8.50 a year per title  – this includes VAT – hooks publishers up to distributers world-wide. We have to offer a discount – we choose 35%. We price books to cover that discount, printing costs and a reasonable profit. We offer our authors deals if they buy five or more copies – usually 75% of RRP plus free shipping.     
There are overhead costs per book: set-up with LS costs about £52.50. It’s good to have a proof copy. That’s another £21.00. If we use a cover artist, that’s about £250.00.  Or we can buy a stock photo / illustration for a lot less – about £8.50. This includes a license for about 250,000 print copies and unlimited web usage. Sometimes we even create a cover ourselves. We have to supply one copy to the British Library and sometimes the other Legal deposit libraries request a copy. Review copies we send out at our discretion. It may depend on how much money is in the bank. Authors receive 7.5% royalty on net price, going up to 10% once 1,000 copies are sold.
We do full editorials – first edit, line edit, copy edit and proof read. Our books are carefully designed. More often than not the partners themselves do all of this, though if we’re cash rich and time poor we’ll outsource. We sometimes outsource and pay by profit share. The contractor does work initially for free but gets a permanent royalty. The partners take a profit share. So, they earn only a very little but one day, if we get a best-seller …
When we publish to Kindle there are no upfront costs. We receive 70% of the RRP, without VAT, and we pass 50% of that on to the author(s) minus a small royalty for any partners who have worked on the book.
We tend to keep a couple of books’ worth of set-up costs in our bank account. There’s never a time when we can’t set up a new title. If that did happen, we’d wait.
We have no fancy offices to pay for in London and we have no staff salaries to cover. We do pay an annual subscription to the Independent Publishers’ Guild (IPG). This is our only general overhead. But it is useful. It makes us feel professional, they have important information and they can often help us solve problems. That costs just over £200 a year, including VAT.
All of this leads to several other advantages, which I’ll discuss in further blog posts.