The End of POD Draws Near

For those of you unfamiliar with POD, it stands for Print On Demand. These are books printed with icky nasty toner. No matter how great the print quality is, the book still looks and feels cheap. Kind of like wheeling up to a Ferrari convention in a Yugo. It is true that laser printer technology has made amazing strides, but you can spot a toner printed book from quite a distance. You can also identify them blindfolded by simply dragging your fingertips down any given page. Feels kind of like a cross between Braille and 180 grit sandpaper.

POD falls into two categories.

1) a traditional printing house serving up toner printing for ARCs, Galleys, and out-of-print long tail books a publisher still wishes to keep in print. This is the ethical part of the business, and pretty much the only part of toner printing that makes any sense.

An ARC is an Advanced Reading Copy sent out to various professional reviewing services. Traditionally you will print 50-100 of these and they will have a special cover, if you are still entrenched in the business model which uses ARCs. Most people aren’t these days. Why? The pool of individuals requiring ARCs tend to be both unemployed and unemployable. If you have a reference or technical book, don’t bother submitting to a service which requires an ARC. If you do, your book will be handed off to someone holding a Phd. who has never worked an actual day in their chosen field of expertise. If it wasn’t for tenure, they wouldn’t have a job. In many cases they don’t. Anyone who has had to wade through a pool of recent graduates has had first hand experience with just how far out of touch college programs have become.

Galleys aren’t that much different from ARCs in this day and age. Some people still use them and some don’t. The major difference between an ARC and a galley is that a Galley is supposed to be what actually got sent off to the print shop. An ARC is assumed to still be a work in progress. I don’t know of anyone actually sending ARCs out to reviewers anymore. Galleys tend to get either a stamp or special cover indicating they are a galley. Everybody knows it is a cheap print job and they don’t ding you for it. Lead times for offset press can be measured in months, so a galley ensures there are some reviews ready to be posted with the book when it is released. In theory this helps your sales.

2) Vanity “Let us turn you into a published author” scam shops.

There is a large quantity of these companies on the market. Amazon.com even owns some of them. These shops offer “ publishing packages” to the budding author/publisher. Generally they have come-ons like “be a published author for under $600″. The package includes one of their ISBN numbers (by definition they are the publisher, not you when it is their ISBN), some kind of on-line sales page, and an immediate listing on Amazon.com when your book is done. There is generally a minimum purchase requirement on the part of the author, so they have to pay the $600, then buy 48 books at list from the printing house which is actually the publisher.

In short, this is the absolute bottom of the industry. Vanity press titles don’t get listed in any major retail chain and all of that “marketing” you thought you were getting with the package won’t generate a single sale. The author generally doesn’t find this out until AFTER they’ve already “published” through this service and find the per unit print cost higher than the retail price most of their competitors list at on Amazon. Given they have to give a 65% discount to Amazon as part of the “package deal” their list price tends to be double that of their nearest competitor. This is the publishing industry equivalent of a dark alley filled with drug dealers and disease riddled hookers.

All of that is coming to an end.

The 3.0 version of OpenOffice is getting close to the Holy Grail, the ability to save directly to ePub format. The first step, being able to export to XHTML has already been delivered. Another team has been working on a PDF import functionality. Judging from the functionality chart and percentages of completion for those features, they are getting very close. Probably by version 4.0 (if not sooner) OpenOffice will be able to import PDF files from lessor Word Processors and save them directly to ePub format.

How is that bringing this to an end?

Sony is in the process of creating a publisher portal for self/small publishers. The portal is currently going to allow for Sony to do conversion services for those who simply don’t have the foresight to bail on the now dying Microsoft platform. Publishers who can provide an ePub format can move directly into being listed. The Sony eBookstore also feeds many partner sites. Instead of being raped by POD and Amazon, you can simply release your book in ePub format to generate revenue until you can do a quality printing with an ethical printer. Or, you can simply leave your work sitting out there generating revenue without any additional costs.
As of today, you have to convert your book into ePub format. Rather than messing with this, I have been sending my files out to IT Global Solutions for conversion and loading into Sony. Very soon Stanza will have its own eCommerce site up and running for the Apple iPhone market which can also read ePub format.

Yes, the days of the POD scam artists are drawing to a close.