The Internet has changed the publishing industry. Authors no longer have to wait for a publishing company to introduce them to a global audience. A writer can publish his work online and theoretically reach billions of people. Because of print-on-demand technology, publishers can publish more titles a year without having to stock warehouses full of unsold books. These technologically advances have confused the roles of publishing companies and printing companies in the eyes of readers and writers.
Printing companies simply etch ink into paper and bind it for public or personal consumption. Their livelihood is based on the amount of printing and binding that they do and the quality of what they produce. They don't create the pictures or text that are to be printed. They don't market the printed documents or books to the public for consumption. Once it's printed, they are paid and their involvement with the product ends. The service is comparable to those of an apparel manufacturer. Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger design clothing lines but they send the designs to a manufacturer to actually stitch together the designs for public consumption. Publishers and authors send the text, pictures and specifications for the books and the printers print and bind them.
Publishers sell intellectual property to consumers. They sell the rights to use intellectual property to businesses and they also manage the distribution of intellectual property through various sources. Publishers do not print books. They outsource that task to a printer. Depending on the marketing budget established for each book they publish, the publisher will help market the book to get it sold by helping the author with planning tours, scheduling speaking engagements and television appearances. Publishers negotiate with distributors and use their sales staff to get bookstores to stock the titles they publish.
The improvement of print-on-demand technology has caused confusion in the industry. Print-on demand services and author services are mistakenly presented as publishers, when in actuality they are middle men. They broker deals with printers and distributors. Original author service programs were started in the early 90s as co-ops for writers to reduce the high costs of printing and marketing. Since then, print-on-demand technology has blossomed. Some of the larger publishing houses saw the potential on the print-on-demand market and started their own author services programs. These subsidy publishers do not market books for the titles printed. They have no stake in the profit potential of the property. Authors can purchase marketing services through these companies, which generally consist of print marketing materials such as bookmarks and posters. Beyond these basic printed material, no sales staff or other marketing staff is given to authors.
Author Services: subsidiary publishers and print-on-demand services often use these titles interchangeably and promise aspiring writers more than can be delivered. The Science Fiction Writers Association cautions that "POD services often portray themselves as a revolutionary new publishing model that's opening up a world of opportunity for writers locked out of the market by the narrow standards of the monopolistic commercial publishing industry." Print-on-demand technology does not sell books. It reduces the cost of printing books and eliminates the need to stock unsold inventory.
Even through traditional publishers, most authors have to spend a lot of their own time marketing their titles. Publishing houses focus their marketing dollars on the most well-known authors in their stables such as Tom Clancy, Steven King or Danielle Steele. Often times, writers have to hire Public Relations and Marketing Firms out of their own pockets to sell books. For new writers, it's best to work through a publisher. Publishers will assign editors who can help writers perfect their craft. Veteran writers can benefit by taking advantage of the print-on-demand technology because they can keep their titles in print indefinitely and can control what they write. Often times, a veteran writer is stuck producing the same type of work that he has been writing for decades because the publisher isn't interested in any unproven forms of writing from that author.
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America: Writer Beware; Print-on-Demand Publishing Services
- CNET: Self-publishing a book: 25 Things You Need to Know
- "Print-on-demand Book Publishing: A New Approach To Printing And Marketing Books" ; Morris Rosenthal ; 2004
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