Yesterday I had the good fortune of participating as a panelist at Kodaks “The Future of Book Publishing Roundtable 2011“, hosted by the NYPL in NYC. Publishers Weekly’s Jim Malliot moderated. PW and Kodak did a very nice job with the arrangements. It was a very well organized and interesting day.
Thought leaders from all parts of the book value chain were there, so it was interesting to hear the different perspectives. In attendance were representatives from traditional publishers, self publishers, litho printing companies, authors, and POD printing companies.
You can read another article on the event here on the Print CEO Blog.
Here are my key takeaways from the discussion:
The convergence of e-sales and POD technology are exerting pressure on both ends of the book supply chain
As e-book sales continue to increase, the waste and risk contained within litho runs for books will be tolerated less and less. At the same time, POD technologies are and will be making advances.
Factor #1: e-sales are shrinking long runs for 1st printings.
Factor #2: POD technologies like high speed inkjet, and integration/automation with binding lines are continuing to evolve.
This will make the longer pre-paid “POD” book runs more viable as time goes on. Because of the economics, publishers are printing shorter and more frequent litho runs, as a hedge against potential returns. This decreases the cost effectiveness of the litho run, due to the add’l makeready, plate, and shipping costs. All publishers freely admit that managing this process is a risky game. In addition, it was noted that this process has become even harder of late due the level of instability in the market today.
With these two factors converging, we are approaching the day when long-run pre-paid POD will be possible, and will able to satisfy a significant amount of the short to medium run litho book runs. We are not quite there yet though.
The pendulum of power is shifting back to the author
Authors have more choices than ever: traditional publisher vs. self published, e-book vs. p-book.
Today’s self publishing sites, like Lulu.com, are not really publishers, they are technology platforms. They enable authors to reach people on the other side of the globe as cost effectively as possible, using a POD model where books are printed as close as possible to the delivery destination. No book is printed before it is bought and paid for. This minimizes waste and time in transit, and speeds up time to market.
Self published authors are killing it with e-books. Many of them are doing it with no prior traditionally published titles under their belt.
Going the route of traditional publishing is not so necessary anymore. Publishers serve a valuable function. Without them, it would be harder to get really polished work out there. No one debates this fact. However, it has become obvious to so many authors that things like cover creation, editing, e-pub conversion, can all be outsourced – by the author – and taken care of just fine.
All of this extra work, is well, extra work. It’s not easy. But it’s totally doable. And it buys authors much valued independence and a bigger piece of the profit pie. This is something that I don’t think has really sunk in yet at many traditional publishing houses.
What about promotion, and the marketing machine that can be brought to bear by the traditional publisher? That’s true, that is very important. I don’t have that piece figured out.
But I do know that many authors have capitalized on blogs and presences on the web to promote themselves. Melinda Roberts is a perfect example of this. She has built a huge following in the Mom blogger community through multiple web sites. Authors have been able to build and establish a following in this manner in advance of coming out with their books. This has helped them sell more books; both e and p versions.
Lulu’s “place in the space” is becoming more significant
It was nice to see Lulu at the same table with some of the biggest publishing companies in the world today. Especially when we are, when you think about it, not a publisher – we are a technology platform. I think it speaks to the importance of Lulu’s “place in the space”. Lulu is well positioned to empower a new breed of entrepreneurs through our Open Publishing Platform, and to bring more value to our authors through our global distribution footprint for books.
Pre-paid POD is after all what Lulu specializes in, and the shift to this model is being driven by the economic forces and technological innovations that are at play in today’s market. The companies that continue to innovate and bring new ways to authors to make money and profit from their work will be the ones who succeed.