Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Shape of Publishing to Come

It wasn't that huge a turnout for MPH Writer's Circle this Saturday ... maybe most wannabe-publisheds run away from any topic that sounds techie.

But Paul McLean's (of Fuji-Xerox Asia Pacific) presentation about print-on-demand publishing was extremly informative ... and for me, inspiring. I'm convinced that for many of us POD is the shape of things to come, and it's only a matter of time before not just individual writers but local bookshops and publishers (are forced to?) embrace it.

Why? Okay, let's take two scenarios. (Mine, not Paul's.)

A Malaysian publisher has a very good reputation but only a small local market. He prints by offset publishing for the local market. He wants to sell more overseas. He has a good webpresence and posts books to international clients who order them. But he would like his books on the American and British market and on Even if he finds someone to store and market the books for him in those countries, he still has to put his books in boxes and expensively ship them there. It's troublesome and expensive to get the books where he wants them.

A young Singaporean writer (okay, I'm talking about our friend O Thiam Chim) writes a book and decides to self-publish. He decides to do Print-On-Demand publishing with an American company who can get his book listed on and made available to an international audience. Problem: when he wants to sell his book to a local market, he has to import his own books from the US and pay shipping and duty on them. This makes the book so much more expensive than if he has printed locally (by POD or offset).

Print-on-demand could be the answer for both of them. It needs to work like this. The writer or publisher create digital product which can be printed on demand here or from centres overseas. Clients (anywhere in the world) order via internet or via a special booth in the bookshop and are supplied cheaply and quickly (within hours perhaps) with a quality product. There are no shipping costs.

If the book sells really well then it makes sense to move to offset printing which is cheaper for quantity. If the book doesn't sell, not a great deal of money has been lost. There are no warehousing costs. (These add significantly to the cost of a book.) There are no unsold books to pulp. A book never needs to go out of print.

The technology for this already exists. But as Paul said yesterday, selling the idea to client organisations is the hardest part. (MPH is already in negotiations by the way which will put them ahead of the crowd.)

And there is no POD company which operates internationally yet. So bridges need still to be built.

The physical quality of POD books needs to be assured - the publisher doesn't want his overseas clients to buy books which are inferior to the offset copies he produced for the Malaysian market.

Will we buy POD books? I bought my first a few months back a few months ago without noticing.

I'd read about a psychology book on a website. Looked for it and found it on Abebooks. Ordered it and got a nice new copy within a few days at a reasonable price. It wasn't until I'd finished reading it that I realised that the publisher was iUniverse and the copy had been printed specially for me! The book fulfilled all expectations and was in no way inferior for its having been printed digitally. More importantly, I hadn't even paused to think whether this copy had been printed digitally or by offset while I was ordering it or reading it.

It will be interesting to see how the whole POD thing develops here. And I think none of us - writers, readers, publishers, or booksellers can afford to ignore it.

Meanwhile, if you are interested publishing your book by POD locally, you can check out G&L Solutions.


walski69 said...

Being somewhat familiar with this print trend (actually it's been around for a number of years), courtesy of Mrs. Walski who works in that field, this is definitely the way to go into the future. Fuji-Xerox has been very successful with POD apps, particularly in the US, through Kinko's - the college student's panacea for missed lecture notes and all-around duplication needs. Although, when I was living States-side in the 80's, POD was probably just a neuron in some Xerox developer's brain waiting to spark - actually, waiting for better data transfer infrastructure, which we now have.

In fact, what MPH should do is tie-up with Amazon, and similar online book suppliers, to be the production agent for Malaysia. KKDN may not be totally pleased with this, for obvious reasons, but this is one quasi-legal way to get our hands on some of the more difficult to obtain books.

And much more economical, too. Both from the book seller and (hopefully) for the book consumer. But it may just compound your book storage problems - which to me, is one of those "good" problems to have, eh?

Rob Spence said...

Hi - got here via Library Thing. Glad to see there's such a vibrant book culture in Malaysia. I'm sure you are right about the printt on demand idea- it's got to be the way ahead. Another aspect of "the long tail" phenomenon that the internet has produced, I suppose.

bibliobibuli said...

walski - the idea of mph tying in with other pod companies is a good one and i'd like to see other publishers doing this too

the KKDN ... oh yes, there's a problem. how would they get to censor books?

rob - it's nice to meet you! yes, you're quite right about the "long tail". i think paul said in his talk that 30% of all books published had print-runs of less than 100. but the idea that writers have a greater chance to get their work out independent of the big companies is something i find very exciting.

ain't library thing great!

your blog is great and your taste in music is almost the same as mine!!! wow! (bouttine souriante, joni mitchell, martin carthy ...) you're a burgess and ford maddox ford fan?

Rob Spence said...

Yes, Burgess is my "subject" - I've written articles about him, and have a book coming out next year about his work. Just next month, I'm off to the biannual conference at the Burgess centre in Angers , France. I'm really hoping that the event is sponsored, as it was last time, by the local wine company...

bibliobibuli said...

we are planning (or my friends ex-malay college are supposed to plan) a burgess event here soon to celebrate 50 years of burgess in malaysia ...

i tried to contact the burgess foundation (3 times) but no-one replied

and did you know about 'the malaysian trilogy' becoming a 'restricted' book here?

Rob Spence said...

No, I didn't know about the banning - but I do now. Ridiculous!
The AB Foundation had some staff changes in the summer, but you should get a response now. Try Nuria Belastegui, the administrator at
The 50 year commemoration sounds interesting. I'm sure the foundation would be interested in it.

bibliobibuli said...

very many thanks for the info, rob. i will get in touch with the AB foundation.

meanwhile here's a few more burges thoughts:

Rob Spence said...

Hi - reading your posts with great interest. As it happens, I had to be in touch with the foundation today, and I mentioned the possibility of a 50th anniversary celebration. Maybe they could send me over as the Manchester observer:-)

bibliobibuli said...

it would be great to ask you over, rob. i have this idea of unveiling a wall plaque in mckk like the blue ones you see on london buildings. and donating burgess' books to the school library inc the "restricted" one! i've just got to give the old boys a poke in the side and get this project on the road again ...

Anonymous said...

Good post Sharon. would be interesting to see the development of POD as a legit alternative for new authors. eliza

Rob Spence said...

Yes, get poking! Seriously, it would be nice to commemorate AB's time in your part of the world.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks, eliza.

rob - the mckk annual dinner has to be got out the way first (dec 2nd) and then the old boy's association is very pokeable ... i want it to happen very much

Rob Spence said...

Sharon - sounds like something might happen. Let me know, please, if anything does.

Ruth said...

This is really exciting. :) I guess I have no excuse about writing that book now ..

Argus Lou said...

I was one of those tech-phobes who was dragged kicking and cussin' into the 21st century by the 'long tail phenom'. But, hey, what do I know? I have a cookbook from Canada titled "I've Gotta Have That Recipe!" which I ordered several years ago from, an online print-on-demand publisher. It was a bit expensive - about RM78 (including shipping costs) for a spiral-bound quite-softcover. When I received it, I discovered one picture page missing and emailed the publisher about it. They promptly apologised and sent me another copy.

A then-colleague happily took my first copy - but then he'll never know what melt-in-the-mouth sugar tarts look like.