Saturday, 31 January 2009

Comments on Self Publishing Article - New York Times

Print Friendly and PDF

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.”

New York Times, January 27th, 2009.
This is an opening quote from an article about self publishing in the New York Times this week by Motoko Rich about the rise in self publishing. It is true, interesting and nice to see such a well established newspaper cast a cursory eye over an area of the publishing business which has long exploded into life. But perhaps it is actually no real news to anyone who has entered the world of self publishing already, whether taking on every facet of self publishing, from designing their own interior and cover layouts for a printer, getting quotes, and ultimately promoting and marketing their own finished book to the trade and customer, or contracting the multitude of author service companies available, from AuthorHouse, Lulu, Xlibris, Infinity, and even Amazon’s own self publishing program through companies like Booksurge and Createspace.

The fact is that every author who published a ‘Self Made Entrepreneur’, ‘Get Rich Quick Business Plan’, ‘Diet for a Heavenly Body Program’, and ‘Find Your Way Through Spiritualism to a Heavenly Pathway’, ‘How to Become a Millionaire’, ‘Collected Sermons by the Evangelical Reverend Jones’, ‘Become a Success by Winking at Everyone’, ‘Farm Peanuts and Become the Next President’, have all being plying this kind of publishing method for the past twenty years. With print on demand technology, gone are the days when your living room, spare bedroom and garage were filled with boxes of unsold books.

“The trend is also driven by professionals who want to use a book as an enhanced business card as well as by people who are creating books as gifts for family and friends.”

New York Times, January 27th, 2009.
Pretty much since the internet strolled in to our homes some years ago, ordered a pizza, slumped down in dad’s best chair, and announced it was taking up residence and staying for good, this kind of publishing has been a mainstay in our lives.

The very heart and soul of writing is the honest and brutal fact that ‘everyone has a book in them’ and that’s exactly where it should stay, or is it? The companies who offer the self publishing services I mentioned above to would-be authors don’t agree. There are many more companies as well. They are popping up ten-to-the-penny at the moment. Some last, and others are gone within months, leaving authors disconsolate, bitter and lost in the quagmire of the publishing world. There are of course a few, who for a fee will offer an author the promotional and marketing services so desperately needed to launch a worthy book. Some like Book-pro and Booklocker will screen incoming manuscripts and reject them if they do not believe the author or the book have the necessary will or market to succeed reasonably well. Others, at the medium to low end, are simply printers masquerading in the guise of publishers. Open your next Sunday newspaper or magazine digest and you will see the back pages proliferated with small ads for these companies. ‘Seeking New Writers’, ‘Want to be Published?’, ‘See your Book in Print’; the tag lines are endless.

“This month, the company [Author Solutions], which is owned by Bertram Capital, a private equity firm, bought a rival, Xlibris, expanding its profile in the fast-growing market. The combined company represented 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, released last year.”

New York Times, January 27th, 2009.
There is the key to the success and explosion of self publishing companies. The business model is based not on finding a ‘best seller’ to finance smaller selling titles on a publisher’s list of titles, which is the basis of a tradition publisher like Penguin, HarperCollins or Random House, but rather, upsell an author package to 10000 authors in a year worldwide (that’s 10000 x anything from $500 to $2500) and you have a very serious business going. Even at $500, you’re looking at $5 million, with a potential of anything up to $25 million. Yes, many large self publishers like iUniverse, Createspace and Wordclay have invested considerable amounts of money online in making it easier for authors to ‘load up’ their magnum opus, but the returns to the publisher far outweigh their investments. To the average author using these services, on the best and most advantages figures, they might sell 100 to 200 copies of their book, showing a modest and minimal profit. Lulu, another large and successful author self publishing service, when averaged across all titles published, clocks in at less than 2 books sold per author! So where exactly is the kudos in self publishing?

Many within the tradition publishing trade would scream ‘Vanity’, a self rhetorical examination of our own value and personal journey, and the greatest thinkers and writers among us would scream, ‘but that’s how I started’. Many self publishing companies are expert in spinning the marketing lines of how Poe, Joyce, Whitman, Wilde etc., ad nausea, and many others started on the ‘self publishing’ ladder, but, at best, when properly researched, their stories are romantic, fanciful, and very much from a world of publishing when the average man in the street hadn’t an arse in his trousers - no more than the education to read but a handful of words from a printed page. Literature was not for the common masses and, sadly, this is the world traditional publishing is steeped to its gills in. Today, for the common man and woman, the exact opposite is true. In spite of our recessionary times, more books are being sold and read than ever before in history. Book retailers cringe at the discounts they are passing on to the buying public. Distributors and wholesalers cringe at the returns that land back on their doorsteps month after month. In part, the written word has imposed itself into our very being, from emails; from mobile phones and text messaging, twittering to its heart’s content like an innocent songbird; the explosion of chat and forum networking across the globe; human speech presents itself as a few simple words, and the words come so easily and cheap now. The written ink upon parchment paper is no longer as sacred.

“Vanity presses have existed for decades, but technology has made it much easier for aspiring authors to publish without hefty upfront costs. Gone are the days when self-publishing meant paying a printer to produce hundreds of copies that then languished in a garage.”

New York Times, January 27th, 2009.
Print on demand technology has its origins in the banking industry. It was the efficient method chosen to print statements from an electronic file, and so the whole print industry saw a new purpose. With more sophistication and technique, we had the printed book, one by one, at a quality that now rivals offset print methods. And with no inventory storage expenses and at a cost which will no doubt soon cross swords with traditional press machines, even the cumbersome and traditional publishing companies have embraced it for re-issuing small runs of back catalogue titles which before would never have seen the light of day. But it is not just the technology which has infiltrated the traditional publishing companies - recessionary times aside and the need for a dollar to stretch further – the whole way publishing has worked for nigh on two centuries is also changing.

It is hard to say right now where traditional publishers find themselves in this sea of uncertainty. Paper costs steadily rising, profit margins of retailers growing smaller, and the very source of the written word, the author, finding more discriminate and direct ways to bypass the publisher to reach their reading masses. Will we see the grand publishing house reduced to being a mere media/promotional outlet for the author? The publishing terrain is uncertain. Companies who were printers now call themselves a publisher, that is, in practicality, and not necessarily reality. Few will and probably can ever step up to the mark and call themselves publishers in the sense of what a traditional model of a publisher amounts to. Publishing is about risk investment, whether for the publisher or the author themselves. Even publishers now expect more input and a populist ‘hands-on’ profile from their authors regarding promotion than ever before. The agent is expected to delivery near perfect manuscript to the publisher at the very time when we hear the same publisher casting out its editors into oblivion.

Motoko Rich, in his New York Times article, very much highlights the rare successes of self published authors managing to get picked up by large publishing houses. This may remain the same for self published authors for the foreseeable time, but through the global advance of the internet and the slow but steady increase in online book sales, self published authors are coming up with more and more avenues to circumvent the traditional publishing path to success. The mainstay of self publishing companies will always be an author paying the package fee and then buying their own books to sell on to family and friends. It is the authors who take on self publishing in its truest sense, that is finding an editor and printer, setting up their own imprint, obtaining their own ISBN’s and promoting and selling their own books with professionalism, guile, perseverance and ingenuity who may one day change the way books reach the light of day and the buying public.

In time, the way authors see their work reach the reading public; the control they have upon it when they set it free; the way the written word is dispensed in format, and the methods we use to propagate it, sell it, digest it; may change, but the power of the written word will always remain sacred; it is up to us all how we truly value and treasure it over the next two centuries.

You can read Motoko Rich’s New York Times article in full at the link below.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Friday Project - Overview

Print Friendly and PDF
The Friday Project is a publishers which was bought by HarperCollins in May 2008 as it teetered on the edge of commercial collapse. Now, just like HarperCollins' HarperStudios , the London-based independent publishing house, founded by Paul Carr and Clare Christian in June 2004, will operate as a shared profits publisher, with still the possibility of an advance to authors. The Friday Project Publishers began initially as The Friday Thing, an Internet newsletter taking an offbeat look at politics, media and current events. The Friday Project publishers look for material from the web and then publish the work in traditional book form. Much of The Friday Project published material is available for free download as part of a Creative Commons license.

Scott Pack, The Friday Project's Commercial Director, and formerly of Waterstones, said, “Our profit share contracts will give authors a bigger stake in the success of their books and by making much of our list available for free online we will have direct access to readers, enabling us to generate that all important word of mouth before, during and after publication.”

In 2007, co-founder, Clare Christian launched Friday Fiction, a new imprint for original fiction discovered on the web.The move follows a similar business model to HarperStudio. The imprint offers writers a profit sharing model with advances limited to £70,000 str.

In March 2007 The Friday Project was shortlisted for two industry awards, one for Innovation in the Book Industry for their commitment to making their books available under a creative commons license and co-founder Clare Christian was shortlisted for a second for the company in the category of UK Young Publisher of the Year.

Again, this move can only once again underline that their is now a small but clearly noticeable shift in how our books are being published and how authors and publishers alike are going to have to revise their business models for book publishing and be far more creative over the coming months and years.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Espresso Book Machine Arrives in UK Bookstores

Print Friendly and PDF

Some of you may remember reading on this site almost a year ago about the Espresso Book Machine (EBM). The machine is a printing press that will produce physical books in-store by means of print-on-demand technology. In effect, it is an on-demand book machine linked to an electronic database of published books. Here is the article we first commented on this in-store technology.

The Espresso Book Machine was the invention of the On Demand Books company. Originally it was aimed at the library and bookstore market and the machine works independently of a publisher and is compact enough to fit in most reasonably sized retail bookstores. The machine works by utilising a book’s electronic PDF file from a database. The first ever Espresso Book Machine was installed and demonstrated on June 21 2007 at the New York Public Library and a handful of bookstores in the US now have the machine. Newsstand claims to have already printed some 500+ titles in perfect bound paperback since it made use of the first machine last October.

Newsstand is confident that it will be able to create a demand for ‘on the spot’ printed books and is planning to charge £10 for a standard paperback version and £14 for a large print book. With more publishers signing up with Newsstand, the database should increase but prices may vary. Blackwell Books, also based in the UK, had hoped to be the first company to install these machines last summer, but following delays their first installed machine will not appear until spring of this year at its bookstore in Charing Cross, London.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The First Cuts: Salutary Scratches or Open Wounds?

Print Friendly and PDF
I mentioned in an article over Christmas that book retailers in Ireland had performed marginally better in 2008 than on previous profits for 2007. However, early figures suggest that the UK book retail trade recorded profits that were marginally down on last year. There is much discussion amongst UK retailers about the strategy of committing themselves to larger discounts for the buying public. The figures for 2008 seem to suggest that without these extenuated discounts, profits would have been significantly up. What this does tell us about the UK market, which has been mirrored in Ireland, is the buying public are actually spending more on books year by year.

You only have to walk into your local WH Smiths, Waterstones, Easons or Borders stores to see the real passion and patronage of the buying public to realise that they are doing all that can be expected of them. They browse, they buy, and they read. So where does that leave our distributors and publishers?

According to Steve Plackett, a Business Development Manager at Ajanta Offset Printers, ‘The poor old publisher is stuck in the middle, they are getting pressure upwards from W H Smith and Waterstone’s and downwards from the printers. They can’t easily pass on price increases.’ The nub of it seems to be the control the large high street chains and wholesalers have on publishers and distributors. The answer clearly does not seem to be to allow retailers to hurl discounts out at the buying book public and then step back and consider their good deed done and any distress in the book industry ‘couldn’t possibly be their fault, as, after all, they are looking after the public’. The fact is, the discounts have to be made up somewhere, and someone in the industry isn’t having steak with their fries this Friday.

A further concern is emerging in the print industry. The sterling pound is continuing to struggle against the euro and the dollar is also engaged in its own global and economic dogfight. News is that print costs are rising significantly and it is due to the cost of paper, that is the raw stuff, the paper without the head of George Washington or The Queen! Cromwell Press and Alden Press will not be the last printers to go into administration . Tony Chard, Managing Director of MPG, said that paper prices had gone up 25% in just the last six months. ‘We don’t swallow the increase: we pass it on. We have no choice but to pass it on 100%. The margins just aren’t there.'

'We’ve had a really good start to 2009. We’re finding our model is very appealing to publishers looking to reduce inventory.’

These are the words of Lightning Source president, David Taylor, one of the world’s leading digital print on demand printers.

The fact is that publishers are constantly revising and reducing their off-set print runs throughout the last two years. This in itself has to reduce the margin of profits. The pressures will continue to increase on publishers to revise their business models in 2009, and it remains to be seen if they are the ones in the driving seat with the ability to direct the true future of publishing.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Curious Tale of the Explosive Lulu Books

Print Friendly and PDF
You may not know the author Jared Ledgard but it would appear his self published books have been attracting some attention over the past year in newspapers here in Ireland and the UK. Here is a link to a news item in The People UK newspaper from January, 2008, by journalist, Daniel Jones.

Oddly, the news story was picked up again by The Irish and UK Daily Star newspaper this morning. Here is the Daily Star news article by Tom Savage, claiming an 'exclusive story', (Hardly exclusive, I think Tom, that is if you had read the People in January, 2008):

Notwithstanding the glaring headlines of the original People newspaper article; ‘DIY Bomb Manuals on Sale with the Groceries at Tesco’, the story perked my attention despite the newspapers not mentioning the fact that Jared Ledgard’s series of books on chemicals and explosives are self published. Here is a listing of Ledgard’s books on

Going by The People article, Tesco withdrew the products from online sale, but even now, the books are still freely listed on many book retail sites. Although list his books as being published by ‘Jared Ledgard’, a little digging and research revealed that Jared has a storefront on and clearly uses them as his source for self publishing his books. What shocked me most was not the fact that these books detail explosives and could be used as guidebooks for the budding terrorist, but his prices are astronomical!! They range from 12.90 euro for a simple calendar, right up to 37.01 euro. It would be interesting to know just how many sales Ledgard has generated over the past few years with books titled, 'The Preparatory Manual of Black Powder and Pyrotechnics', 'Kings Chem Guide', 'Explosives Information Calendar', and 'A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents'. Though, for me, his most interesting book is 'The Eternal Equinox', described as 'a revolutionary and radical book designed to train the defense services of nations to better help them understand the ideologies, theologies, beliefs, causes, and structure of terrorism and their individual attributes, and how to combat them.' The book blurb does also add 'The following book does not reflect nor express the ideas or beliefs of the author or publisher in anyway.'

I’m not sure what reasoning the Irish Daily Star had for re-igniting the news story again, but it does highlight another viewpoint on the freedom of expression and the freedom of authors to self publish, and indeed, exactly what kind of information is included in the books published.

I did do a search on Google Book Search and came across this discussion about the author’s books. Here is a small snippet:

Newsgroups: rec.pyrotechnics
From: jasper
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2008 06:16:14 -0800 (PST)
Local: Sat, Dec 27 2008 9:16 am
Subject: Re: Rubbish book
Reply Reply to author Forward Print Individual message Show original Report this message Find messages by this author
On 26 Dec, 18:15, wrote:
John H. The author has been known for quite some time to compile info from old patent applications and aged journal articles into a book on the subject. These books range from pyro to explosives and the like. All have been found to be extremely lacking in original research and are absolutely rife with errors. Use any info from any book that bears the name Jared Ledgard at your own risk!

It will be interesting to see if this story gets picked up anywhere else and why exactly the Irish Daily Star decided this morning to run with it more than one year after it initially reported in The People newspaper by Daniel Jones.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Amazon and Booksurge Antitrust Lawsuit - Update

Print Friendly and PDF
The judge presiding over the forthcoming Amazon/Booksurge antitrust lawsuit has requested both parties legal representatives to attend court in Bangor, Maine. It is not uncommon in Federal lawsuit cases for a judge to make this kind of request. This tends to optimise the Federal court's time and eliminate parties bringing lawsuits based on frivolous or unsustainable grounds.

Amazon & Booksurge filed for the lawsuit against them to be dismissed last August. It is understood that the judge in this case will listen to full legal arguments from both parties and make his decision then on whether the case should be set with a formal date and proceed.

The case was taken by last year following moves by Amazon to cajole some POD publishers into using their own print-on-demand company, Booksurge, for books sold through in the United States. For a period of time last year some POD publishers had their 'first party' buy buttons removed by Amazon from their online site. The strategy of Amazon was seen as an attempt to monopolize the POD book market.

The news of the Federal court was disclosed by Booklocker's Angela Hoy. You can find the news release at her site on the link below.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Diggory Dog-gone or The Second Coming

Print Friendly and PDF
The Diggory Press website has been down since Christmas and it appears all direct ‘Diggory’ listings have been removed from Google’s search engine. It’s unclear at this stage if Diggory Press itself has ceased trading as a publisher or whether it is simply the early signs of a ‘Second Coming’. Over the past year, the story has featured in The Times, The Guardian and Private Eye Magazine as a consumer rights issue. This news that Diggory Press' website and listings on google are no longer available, in itself, will be of no comfort to any authors who have signed up to any of Diggory’s author services recently, and certainly precious little comfort to the 78 authors still engaged in a lengthy legal action in the British Courts.

Diggory Press

One wonders how many unsuspecting authors have signed up with Diggory recently, oblivious and unaware of the current ongoing legal proceedings, filled with their own writing and publishing aspirations. But again, it does underline just how many authors looking for publishing services will part with hard-earned money without fully examining and researching a perspective publisher, whether they operate as a traditional publisher or sell author publishing services. Some publishing services can range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand. The time has long passed for us to have an organisation or agency which can set down basic rules and guidelines for the operation of publishers who sell author services. I think this is as much the responsibility and in the interest of POD publishers to push for some form of proper business 'charter of practice' then just leaving it to the common writer to seek fair play and recompense in the courts of the land after the deed has been done. This blogsite has been filled over the past year with countless cautions, articles and updates on this ongoing issue, and the very basics an author should look for in a reputable POD publisher.

Publishing Standards

Stephen Manning, who has regularly been updating ‘all interested parties’, has communicated today that the court trial is now set for October 2009, and while there may be clear signs that the publishing entity of ‘Diggory Press’ is coming to an end, it continues to affect many authors who have recently signed up to their author publishing services.

The positive news for affected authors is that the ISBN agencies, Nielsens Book Data, Bowkers Book Data and also printers Lightning Source are now co-operating with these authors in an effort to remove original book titles and allow authors to re-published their books through different publishers.

It will be another long legal year for authors affected by this, and what is most disturbing of all is the manner in which personal disguise, intransigence and lack of sheer common-sense decency has allowed this case to spiral chaotically beyond what it should ever have become. This in itself makes one wonder what true business intentions were ever in place at Diggory Press. For the time being – that remains a job of the courts to preside over and carry out.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Author Solutions Purchases POD Publisher Xlibris

Print Friendly and PDF

Author Solutions, owned by equity investors Bertram Capital, has continued its strategy of development and expansion in the digital print-on-demand publishing world by purchasing Xlibris, a leading publisher in self-publishing services to authors. The purchase was announced yesterday, Thursday, January 8th, by Author Solutions CEO, Kevin Weiss. The purchase figure was not disclosed.

"ASI is pleased to add Xlibris to our industry-leading portfolio of self publishing brands," said Weiss. "This acquisition solidifies our leadership position and strengthens our ongoing commitment to offer the world’s most comprehensive set of publishing, promotion and book-selling services to authors."

Author Solutions acquired iUniverse in September 2007 to add to AuthorHouse, Wordclay and Inkubook. This expands Author Solutions output to some 100,000 titles and includes 70,000+ authors. In real terms, this represents about 5% of all new titles going into distribution this year. This further strengthens their position on rival POD publisher Lulu Enterprises.

According to Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions, "business remains strong". The months of November and December 2008 were record months for POD publisher AuthorHouse.

John Feldcamp, who founded Xlibris in 1997, will remain with the company.

Although I don’t believe Author Solutions’ recent commercial acquisitions over the past 18 months are driven by the current global recession, I do believe that the continued recession may lead us to see some of ASI’s rivals consider some form of mergers and acquisitions with other POD publishers and author service providers. Certainly, this will not be the last acquisition by ASI.

TIPM Live Facebook Stream