Kirby: People still have this stigma of kind of a something coming off of a photocopier and stapled together. They go, “That’s a POD book.” I’m going, “There’s not a person in the world that can tell the difference.”
Ron Pramschufer: This is Ron Pramschufer and welcome to Publishing Basics Radio where weekly we try to help you navigate the self-publishing mind field. Now Kirby, I’ve never seen so much confusion over a simple phrase, “print on demand.”
Ron Pramschufer: Any idea where it originated and how would you describe it?
Kirby: I don’t have any idea. You know, we’re not the largest user of print on demand. It really is–most of the technology emulates out of the bank world printing statements, so I think what happened was they had to print so fast it just demanded the technology we developed and then it migrated into the book world.
Ron Pramschufer: Wow. ‘Cause see, part of the confusion, I mean, people ask me all the time, “Do you do POD?” and I say, “Do you mean do I do short-run book printing?” and most of the time I say, “Yeah.”
Kirby: Well, that’s the sad part is, I think a) We keep trying to drive traditional models using new technology and it’s too bad that we don’t kind of go, “Wait a second, and some have. Some have said, “Wait a second, we’ve got this new technology. How do we use it better than the old traditional method?”
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. ‘Cause I see mostly print on demand. I see, you know, zillions of digital presses out there, and can you produce a book? Yes. Can you produce one book at a time? Technically, yes. Do they? Very, very, very few do. I mean, to me, print on demand means as needed when you need it, one title at time.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. So with that said, how many true POD book printers are there out there in the country?
Kirby: Oh, Ron, you’ve actually hit on such a great topic ’cause I was listening to one of our sales people and they were talking about we were the only ones to be able to really print one at a time, and this person corrected them, and the person was absolutely correct. Anybody can print one book at a time. The question is can you scale it, can you do it efficiently? And the bottom line is, of course corporations have to make money, so can you make money at it? And when you look at it under that light we’re one of the few that really can print one at a time.
Ron Pramschufer: All right. Now, my understanding is the original idea was to allow publishers to bring out-of-print books back in print or to keep them in print.
Ron Pramschufer: They had a demand, but not enough of a demand to go back and print offset.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. And that makes a lot of sense, okay, that you’ve got these books that are in these bibliographies all over the place, and these college kids all searching and, you know, there’s a demand–whether it’s 100, 200, 500–there’s a demand per year. Somewhere along the line this changed, and obviously you still do the old out-of-print, you know, keeping a back list. Somewhere along the line it switched to Ron Pramschufer list. POD has somehow switched from an innovative great reputation printing method and evolved into a not so great publishing method as far as, you know, the reputation. They say the distributors don’t want POD books. Book stores don’t really stock POD books. Do you see that from your end? Do you see it more as a printer?
Kirby: I think there’s a little bit of confusion in that in that the true POD model is different. Because we can print and bind so fast you don’t need to have inventory if you can afford to wait a day or two to have it delivered, or whatever it takes, and so it becomes very confusing where people say, “I wanna buy that book, but it’s not there.” How do you buy a virtual book? Well, you put an order in. We print, bind it, and ship it. But people are confused with that one, and it’s a tough kind of sell. How do you get over that lump of selling something that isn’t there, but the people who are smart about it now and are starting to go, “Wait a second, let’s see, I get about 40 percent returns on my books or 60 percent returns on my paperback book (The numbers are huge.). I’m keeping these in a warehouse. I’m paying for the warehouse. The guys in the warehouse knock them over occasionally, you know, some walk out the back door occasionally. I’ve got cash tied up sometimes for years in this inventory.” Why not just print it when somebody needs it? Now, the flaws in that is if you are a believer that you’ve gotta have it on a bookshelf to sell it, then people don’t like it and they kind of go, “I’ve gotta have physical inventory,” and there are so many traditional models that we get wrapped up in. I paid the author a huge advance. That justifies a 50,000 printing. Let’s print 50,000 or 500,000, and you gotta go, “Guys, why? Wait until you’ve sold it.” We can print it and bind it and ship it faster than most people can pick it out of their warehouses.
Ron Pramschufer: Yeah. I think the problem comes in more not with the ones that are making choices of going 500,000 books, but the ones that are making choices of doing 500 or 1,000 books. Generally, POD, you can’t really afford to take returns.
Ron Pramschufer: ‘Cause you’re paying a higher printing cost, which you should. You know, you’re only buying one book at a time, but you can’t give the same discount structure and you can’t really take the returns, so you know, is the store saying they can’t get it because it’s nonreturnable? I mean, it half makes sense.
Kirby: Well, yeah. Now you’re getting into retailer’s issues where a lot of them don’t wanna carry books that don’t have a returnability on it.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Say you put a return, you know, okay. I get a lot of feedback. A lot of people say, “Oh, we don’t wanna carry a POD book. We won’t order a POD book,” as if it’s like a leper, and I don’t know how–we’re making strides, I guess, in the right direction, but I don’t see this changing. I mean, I see whole bookstore chains saying, “I’m __________. I can’t even get the book.”
Kirby: I know. Well, Ron, 10 years ago when you looked at a book coming off a digital book printer than it was not very good quality. Today I could hand you an offset book and a digital book, a paperback book, straight black and white text, there’s no way that you can tell the difference without an eyepiece, without a loop or a magnifying glass. Visibly you cannot tell the difference. The binding is as good, the print quality as good, the paper is as good. The cover is good. In fact, Xerox is claiming that the covers are 15 percent better than offset today.
Ron Pramschufer: Oh, there we go. Go Xerox. Yeah.
Kirby: Yeah. So I mean there’s some neat things that are happening, but people still have this stigma of kind of something coming off a photocopier and stapled together. They go, “That’s a POD book.” I’m going, “There is not a person in the world that can tell the difference that doesn’t have a loop or a magnifying glass, but we still are stuck or painted with this old stigma of it’s not as good quality.
Ron Pramschufer: Yeah, ’cause one of the things now–I’ve been dying to ask you this question.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Everybody doesn’t necessarily–I mean, the average person can’t tell the difference between a POD book and an offset book.
Kirby: Not only can’t tell the difference–
Ron Pramschufer: And certainly not this clerk sitting in the book store.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. So how do they know it’s a POD book?
Kirby: Just because we always flagged it as a POD book.
Ron Pramschufer: And you still do. If I go to Ingram ipage and I look up a title this giant logo for Lightning Source, which even the stupidest clerk can say, “Oh, POD.”
Kirby: Yeah. Ron, we’re trying to get rid of that.
Ron Pramschufer: So are you forcing them to put it in there?
Kirby: Well, I’m doing my best. I mean it does nobody any good to be painted with this stigma of POD. Those are some of the–you know, the book industry is very slow to change and very slow to accept new ideas, but you’ve got some major publishers out there that the light bulb has come on and they’ve gone, “Wait. I can save a lot of money,” or, “Wait, my warehouse is 150,000 square feet. I only need a 40,000 foot warehouse.” Now we’re not saying you ever get rid of it, but you don’t need 150,000 square feet if you start to put the titles in the POD program at the appropriate time.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. And the distribution channels, or whatever, now I’ve spent a little time on your web site. From what I understand I send you a digital file.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, at that point, what happens? It sits in your hard drive until somehow magically you get an order.
Kirby: When you give us the title we will put the information for that title in as many digital catalogs around the world that we possibly can. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Baker and Taylor, Ingram, obviously, and when that goes out they get picked up by the different data bases, so hopefully somebody goes to a Barnes and Noble or an Amazon and says, “I want Ron Pramschufer’s book,” and if it is Amazon, the order comes through Amazon to us and we will print, bind, and ship the book, and that’s how it works.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. So do you deal direct with Amazon?
Kirby: Let me be clear on the Amazon thing. If your book order came through Amazon, Amazon can buy your book through Ingram or they can buy it directly from us. What they will try and do is consolidate freight, so if they decide that they’re buying 16 other books that it would be cheaper to buy the 15 or the 16 books from Ingram and buy the print on demand book through Ingram. We print it, bind it, and ship it over to Ingram. They put it all in the same box with those 16 books and ship it to Amazon.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Well, you ship direct for Amazon, don’t you?
Kirby: We do not. No.
Ron Pramschufer: Oh. Ingram ships direct.
Kirby: Yes. We do not, and that’s why it might be beneficial sometimes–it all depends on discount structures–to go through Ingram rather than directly through us.
Ron Pramschufer: Well, I tell people actually if they deal with Amazon–’cause Amazon’s always been good to the small publisher.
Ron Pramschufer: If you look at their program dealing direct, that advantage program, or whatever they call it, by the time you give ’em the steep discount and pay the shipping, you can’t make any money. I mean, it’s the one time like with strictly POD that you can make more money selling books through Amazon through this method than you can the traditional method.
Ron Pramschufer: Right. And that’s normally not true with other POD situations, but certainly with Amazon, and assume bn.com.
Ron Pramschufer: Now, how many retail outlets–I see bannered about the Internet, you know, the access to 26,000 retail outlets or whatever–is that basically people using your network?
Kirby: Yeah. I think so.
Ron Pramschufer: Are they really that many?
Kirby: Well, there are a lot of different–you know, we always in the book world we think traditionally Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Borders, but we forget the dog food stores. They’re huge on selling books, and the boutiques and little things that we don’t think are traditional booksellers, besides the independents, but there are probably that many that are selling titles, selling books, maybe not as their main business, but yeah.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, ’cause one thing I know is very confusing–you go to Amazon. Here’s this poor guy who just published his book. Right? Okay. He knows it’s been published like for 24 hours. He goes on and he finally sees his book there on Amazon, and it’s listed on 27 different sites as a used book, along with Amazon.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Now am I right that none of those 27 sites even have a book?
Kirby: You are correct.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. How’s it work? Everybody’s waiting for somebody to push the button and pay the money?
Kirby: Correct. Don’t confuse that with the used book market, but on the new books if he’s just put it up with us and it has finally gotten through to the Amazon site and somebody can see it, then if Amazon is the only retail channel that it’s going through then the only place you can order it from is Amazon. The other people that are showing that would have to order it through Amazon if that’s what’s been restricted.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. I’ve got one last question for you. Amazon bought a company called BookSurge.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Amazon is basically a retailer. BookSurge is a printer and they’re a publisher, too.
Kirby: Well, very important, yes. They’re a printer and a publisher.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Where do you see–my personal crystal ball sees Amazon coming down one day and saying, “If you want your books from Amazon, you small publishers, you’re gonna use our printer.”
Kirby: I don’t know what they’re gonna do. We are watching the whole situation very closely. I’d love to have a magic ball.
Ron Pramschufer: Yeah. I haven’t seen any followup to it. I haven’t really seen anybody with like my same opinion, but then on the other hand–
Kirby: Oh, Ron, I will tell you that there are lots of people that have your opinion.
Ron Pramschufer: Oh. Great.
Kirby: There are some neat theories out there on what they could examination doing or what they’re cooking up. I don’t know. They are a wonderful customer to us. We hope we’ll continue to be a wonderful customer. You know, you wanna look at what percentage of the marketplace they hold and as a publisher if you got forced into just going with one retailer, you know, would you wanna chance that you’re gonna limit the market size?
Ron Pramschufer: I don’t disagree with you. Just like everybody rates being on Oprah, I think people in general overrate being on Amazon. I see the figures every month, and it’s not as high a percentage. You see ’em company-wise. I see ’em on a little small scale, but they’re not nearly as large a percentage as what you would think.
Kirby: And I bet your percentages are a bang-on what mine are.
Ron Pramschufer: All right. Well, Kirby, it’s been really good talking to you.
Kirby: See you later.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay.
Ron Pramschufer: From Publishing Basics Radio, this is Ron Pramschufer. See you next week.
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