POD Books. Is Everybody Doing It? Why Not?

LB collectionIt’s no secret that I love books. I’ve been a voracious reader since age 4, when I discovered there were worlds within covers and I could visit whenever I liked. Since acquiring my Kindle, my book hoarding tendencies are firmly under control. (At least on the surface)

Here is what I dislike about books–the waste. Do you know what happens to mass market paperbacks nobody buys? The covers are ripped off the spines and returned to the publisher for credit while the books themselves are discarded. Remainders are stacked on the “nobody loves me” tables, with ugly stickers marring their jackets, or gathered up by remainder companies that push them cheap in warehouse-like environments. Publishers guess at how many books will sell, and if they guess wrong (which is most of the time) a lot of books go to waste. Not to mention what all that overage, warehousing, shipping and stocking and unstocking does to book prices.

Enter Print-on-Demand, which I happen to think is the best invention since the printing press. Granted, I wasn’t impressed when POD books started showing up in my local library. Many looked little better than bound manuscripts and they had a cheesiness about them that offended my bibliophilic sensibilities.

That’s changed. A lot. On the outside, POD trade paperbacks are indistinguishable from trad pubbed books. In the hands of a skilled designer, the interiors are just as good, too. The technology has caught up to the medium and it’s getting better all the time. Even better, no waste. No warehousing. No printing a thousand to sell a hundred. No stripping. No endless cycles of overbuying and returns.

For indie writers, offering POD editions is becoming less a “perhaps” and more a sound business strategy. Amazon will be launching a bundling program called Matchbook. Buy the print book, get the digital edition for cheap or free. It’s a way to get your books into libraries. As B&N declines as a major brick-and-mortar presence, indie bookstores are regaining market share. They need stock. Sure, they’re (in general) hostile to indie books, but reality has a way of intruding into even the most deeply held prejudices. Plus, current distribution models are not sustainable. It didn’t work all so good when it was a closed system and it works even worse now that it’s opening up. POD could prove to be a boon to smaller bookstores.

In light of all that, that is where my newest obsessions are leading me. I’ve been up past midnight for days now, figuring out print book layout. I’ve been sorely tempted to use one of Joel Friedlander’s templates. He has decades of experience in book design and I’d trust anything he produces. But I can’t learn by filling in the blanks. I have, however, been devouring the articles on his website. If you’re interested in learning how to design and layout print books, that is where you can start.

Ebooks are so simple by comparison.

In any case, if I’m quiet for a while, it’s because I’m immersed. I have a grasp on the basics, and I certainly have enough good role models on my bookshelves. I have hope that I can someday produce beautiful print books, too.