From the Press to the Reader
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POD Articles
Balancing a Promotional Budget
Beware of...
Beware, Treacherous Clauses Ahead
Do's and Don't's 101
Fee or Free?
From the Press to the Reader
Great Expectations
Is POD for Me?
Library of Congress 101
Measuring a Publisher's Health
Publish or Self-Publish?
Royalties, the R-word
Sales Rankings
Should You Accept Returns?
What Is POD?
A few notes concerning the 2011 update
Title: From the Press to the Reader
Author: Clea Saal
Summary: An extremely oversimplified comparison of how traditionally published books, and POD published books are marketed.

Every POD publisher claims that their books are indistinguishable from those produced by a traditional publisher. While this is true on the surface, under the hood there are a couple of differences that you should be aware of. These don't have an impact on the book, and they won't be apparent to your readers, but they are likely to have a significant impact on the opportunities and obstacles you will encounter when it comes to marketing your book.

Printing costs

For a big publisher, doing a 10,000 print run, the average printing cost adds up to, approximately $1.00-$1.50 for a 200 pages paperback. These figure can vary, of course, but that would be an acceptable rough estimate. Printing costs are calculated to be 10-15% of retail price, and sometimes they amount to even less than that (retail price would end up being somewhere between $10.00 and $15.00).

The same book printed using POD technology would have a cost per copy of approximately $4.50-$5.00. While it is true that POD published books have no warehousing expenses, nor is there the concern over unsold copies, the difference is immediately apparent. Obviously, retail price for a POD published book cannot be set using a similar structure, if it were, retail price would be somewhere between $31.50 and $50.00.

In order to offer readers (and authors) a competitive retail price, POD publishers have turned to cutting corners when it comes to the intermediate steps of their distribution process.

Discounts, distributors, wholesalers and retailers

A traditional marketing structure takes the following discounts into account:

Distributor: 15% of retail price Wholesaler: 15% of retail price Retailer: 40% of retail price Total discount: 70% of retail price

This means that the publisher actually sees 30% of the retail price. Printing costs, operational costs, and author's royalties, have to come out of that 30%.

A POD publisher uses offers a retailer's discount of 30-40%, and that is it, there are no discounts for distributors, and no need for wholesalers. Unfortunately promotion is one of the distributors and wholesalers duties, so the publisher, and the author, end up having to pay a hefty price for those savings when it comes to the marketing process, and so, more often than not this duty is left entirely up to the author. And, regardless of the retailer's discount offered by any given publisher, bookstores very rarely buy their books from the publisher, they deal almost exclusively with wholesalers.


To make matters worse, bookstores work with a consignment system. That means that they order the books, keep them on their shelves for a few months and then they return all unsold copies to their rightful owner, namely the publisher, regardless of the conditions those copies happen to be in. Only after the book has been sold, will the bookstore pay the wholesaler, who will then pay the distributor who will finally pay the publisher.

The great advantage of POD publishing is the fact that no books have to be printed unless they have been sold beforehand. Unfortunately, since bookstores don't like to buy books before they sell them, this creates a circle, and that means that getting POD books into bookstores can be nearly impossible.

To put it simply:

Since the publisher won't print a book unless it has been sold, and the bookstore won't buy a book before it's sold, there is no way to have an unsold copy sitting on a shelf.

Book returns

This is closely related to the consignment issue, so much so that they are often confused, but it is important to keep in mind that accepting book returns is not the same thing as working under a consignment system. The end result may seem to be similar, in neither of these instances is the bookstore expected to assume the burden of unsold copies, but there is one significant difference:

When working under a consignment system, the bookstore never has to pay for those unsold copies, it merely pays for those copies that have been sold, and only after they have been sold. When a publisher accepts book returns, then the bookstore is expected to pay for all the books it orders, and then it can be reimbursed for those books that were not sold.

The media

One of the most important aspects when it comes to promoting a book is getting it reviewed by newspapers, and specialized magazines, and that requires review copies that can be made available a couple of months before the book's release. This system works very nicely for publishers who are dealing with a long process, such as the one used by traditional publishers. It doesn't work quite so well when the whole process, from initial manuscript submission to release date, takes less than a month.

In addition to that, "respectable" critics are not likely to "waste their time with vanity press releases". If you are lucky, and you live in a small enough city, you may be able to get your book reviewed by a local paper or even get onto a local radio-show, but you are not likely to get any additional exposure unless you are willing to pay and to pay dearly for it.

On a positive note

So, if there are no distributors discounts involved, how come most POD published books are available through online retailers, and they are listed in major distributor's catalogs? The answer is simple: because, quite often, they are in fact printed by a company that belongs to that distributor. For them, adding these books to their catalog is basically free, and it gives them an important edge over all other printers, besides they make their profit out of printing, rather than selling and promoting, these books.

Online retailers don't have to worry about things such as limited shelf-space, but they do want to be able to say that they have the most comprehensive catalog available and, since online sales are always, in a sense, special orders, they can afford to list POD books, and if they manage to sell a few copies, well everybody wins.

Some publishers like to brag about the fact that their titles will be listed in major distributors' catalogs, others barely mention this at all, so what does this mean? The fact remains that getting listed in those distributors' catalogs is part of the printer's package. That also means that there is little difference when it comes to the exposure an average title from any of those publishers receives. True, some publishers may take out adds in some promotional resources and specialized catalogs, but when it comes down to the availability of their books through different channels your choice of publisher really doesn't have a significant impact, as long as you use one that offers distribution through online retailers as part of their basic package (publishers that charge an additional fee, or require a more expensive package, in order to get you book listed though online retailers are often a different matter, as are those publishers that print their own books).

No matter which publisher you choose, please remember that the fact that bookstores CAN order a book doesn't mean that they WILL.

 OK, I know this is not too optimistic, but hopefully it will help you plan your marketing strategy in such a way that you can overcome these obstacles. Believe it or not, it is possible (and it can be a lot of FUN, as long as you don't take yourself too seriously).

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