(This post was first published as a part of the “What It Takes” series on author Steven Pressfield’s site.)
Steve announced the release of Black Irish Books’ first subscription-based product earlier this week.
Fitting in with Black Irish’s boxing glove logo, the subscription features “JABs” from Steve—mini-books that pack a punch—starting with two books from Steve this month, and then one a month starting in February.
We’re excited about this new offering, but also exciting is the production model.
This marks the first time Black Irish Books has launched a product available only via Black Irish Books (No Amazon or B&N or anyone else)—and the first time it has done a print on demand (POD) project without going through Amazon.
When Black Irish Books launched, it was doing print runs of 10,000 copies at a time. This kept the per book production costs low. However, it brought up the cost of warehousing. Those books have to live somewhere—and until they take up residence on someone else’s shelf, savings from large print runs are lost to warehousing costs.
In a perfect world, those 10,000 books sell out right away—except that with every year more individual sales go to Amazon. We haven’t flown through books on the BI site as quickly as needed to offset the warehousing costs—and then the printer stopped handling distribution, which led to relocating all those books to a new warehouse.
As we ran through print runs for individual titles, Shawn set up the books for POD on demand via Amazon’s Create Space, instead of going back to print for another 10,000 copies. This is why some books on Black Irish’s site aren’t available in print on the BI site. It was proving less expensive to go through Amazon than to go through the process of reprints and paying for reprints and warehousing.
Amazon provided a solution to allow for distribution without high warehousing costs. However, the per book cost is more with Amazon and we don’t have connections with customers.
The Amazon model makes bulk discounts challenging, too.
While Amazon’s share of individual titles increased, Black Irish’s share of bulk orders has increased. When BI first launched, we received pushback from bookstores that wanted to 1) order through wholesalers instead of BI; 2) wanted BI to cover shipping costs to them; and 3) didn’t want to adhere to BI’s policy of no returns and prepayment. The prepayment and no returns were big sticking point since bookstores were used to being able to order books without having to pay for them right away—and then having the ability to return them at no penalty. Not great for a publisher since no sale is ever final. The bookstores—especially the university bookstores—came around. The 55% discount off orders of 10 or more copies of the same title beats the 40% discount most publishers offer (which usually goes into play at a quantity much higher than ten copies)—even if they have to cover shipping themselves. BI now has return bulk customers, placing orders of hundreds of copies every few months and/or thousands at a time.
However . . . It’s challenging to make a profit off bulk pricing when the books are printed one by by one, vs via the 10,000 print run model.
There’s also the fact that there’s an entire customer base at Amazon, with whom BI has no contact. We don’t know their names, addresses purchases, etc. Nothing.
How to keep costs lower and have a connection with customers?
Find a competitively-priced print on demand printer that can handle distribution and warehousing as needed.
We found just that—a printer that beats the per book POD pricing of Amazon.
This affords BI the option of providing exclusive print projects, without having to give Amazon or anyone else a slice of the pie, and helps keep warehousing costs down and direct connections with customers up.
Ever since Penguin Press provided quality books at affordable soft cover pricing, instead of the traditional hardcover premium pricing, publishers have been challenged to innovate in more of the same ways.
Ebooks, many thought, would be the wave of the future, and eliminate the need for books, but that’s not been the case. Enough of us still prefer print books.
With POD, though it has been around a while, it wasn’t accessible (or even available to) everyone—and it’s been looked down upon, partly because self-publishing wasn’t respected and the thinking that there must be something wrong with books that go straight to paperback.
This is the same thinking that brought us “it-must-be-bad-because-it-skipped-the-theater-and-went-direct-to-DVD thinking. And yet . . . Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House” is one of the best productions I’ve watched this year—created and distributed by Netflix, direct to consumer instead of the traditional theatrical release, and cut into bite-sized viewings instead of film length. Todd Jacobs, a film guy and former high school classmate of mine, called “Haunting” the future of film. I agree.
Same with POD.
This idea that a book has to be hardcover is dated and unnecessary—and prevents a wide-range of individuals from having the means to purchase and/or manufacture it.
The softcover opens the market. The POD version rocks the market—and the printer that does POD and distribution is the future.
For publishers—traditional, indie, and the guy next door—POD kills warehousing fees. POD with distribution kills the need to rely on Amazon. POD with distribution and competitive pricing is a win win for everyone. Author makes money. Printer makes money. Customer and authors/publisher have an opportunity to engage.
All good—and exciting!
(If you’re interested in learning more history about the paperback, and in being inspired by publishing innovators, check out Smithsonian Magazine’s article “How the Paperback Novel Changed Popular Literature” and Mental Floss’ article “How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read.”