Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paper books will never disappear.

Thirty-two years ago I became a book publisher. In 1990, of course, electronic books were just random strings of code running around in the mind of literary teckies. Physical books made out of paper and ink were coming off presses in incredible numbers. Printers were relatively easy to find, so I negotiated with one in my area of North Florida. What I delivered was camera-ready; that is, I had designed the look of the book, typed it, proofread it, and assembled it. A friend designed a cover, so all the printer had to do was burn the plates and print it.

Now here's the thing. For a real paper-and-ink printer, preparation and setup are everything. Once preparation and setup are complete, it is just as easy to print 10,000 copies as it is to print one, but the preparation costs are steep. So the price of printing was tied to the number of copies. The book I delivered turned out to be just under 200 printed pages. If I would have chosen to get 100 copies, each one would have cost well over $20--an impossible proposition for a book whose cover price was $7.95.

I ended up ordering something like 5,000 copies of this book, which brought the cost per book down to just under $2, not including shipping which added another few cents to the total. And opening that first box and seeing the stacks of shiny red covers was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yet, over 30 years later, I still have a good number of these books in storage, still in their original boxes with their original packing. Dozens of copies can be purchased on-line from stores across the country for under a buck.

Now we have electronic books, which have no physical storage problems. A huge debate is raging over whether or not the print book will eventually be totally replaced by electronic images of itself. But much of the same technology that gives us iBooks and Kindle has also created print on demand. Roughly speaking, print on demand simply means making a hard copy of an e-book. There are many of these print-on-demand publishers floating around the internet. Lightning Source, affiliated with library and bookstore distribution giant Ingram is one. CreateSpace, owned by greedy Amazon, is another. There are hundreds more to choose from. I chose CreateSpace because there are no set-up fees and because the book will automatically be listed and sold by Amazon.

One of my publisher friends recently suggested using CreateSpace, saying that it "wasn't rocket science." Maybe not, but getting your book--and cover--uploaded correctly to CreateSpace is not easy. I have now published three books through CreateSpace. For the last two, it took my wife and I several weeks to get things the way we wanted them in terms of book size, font style, margins, and the like. But their review process is extremely helpful. And designing a cover is always a pain, although CreateSpace will actually provide a selection of templates for free, as well as offering professional services in case you are not a do-it-yourselfer. This post, though, is for those who are.

The upshot is that I now have three books published through CreateSpace. Using their standard page and cover stock, each of the three books is about 100,000 words and all weigh in at just one pound, but there the similarity ends. Each has a different font, for instance, and different margins. They also have different sizes, which affects the price. Here'a a breakdown:
Book One, 6 x 9, 256 pages. Cost per book: $3.75
Book Two, 5.5 x 8.5, 304 pages. Cost per book: $4.49
Book Three, 5 x 8, 340 pages. Cost per book: $5.00

The "suggested" size is 6 x 9, which is what I chose for Book One. Larger pages translate into more words on the page and less pages overall. The larger the font, the more pages. And the higher the page count, the greater the cost. But all are attractive sizes and in line with sizes used by mainstream publishers for fine works of literature, which these are.

What's more, the price of these books is affordable to virtually anyone. For $5 you can own a great-looking copy of your masterpiece. And you don't have to order more than one to get that price. In fact, I don't think you have to order any at all--you can just let greedy Amazon sell it for you. But it you are someone who sells your own, you can turn a pretty good profit by taking a book you paid $5 for and selling it at the standard trade-paperback price of about $15. Even if you discount it for friends or promotions, you can double your investment.

So now we get to the reason for the title of this post. Although e-books will continue to have a greater audience and have a greater impact on our reading habits, print-on-demand publishers will ensure that many--if not most--of us will want print copies of our own books, even if we no longer have a need to litter our bookshelves with John Grisham or Stephen King tomes. And I don't think there's an author on earth that would pass up the chance to make that happen. I sure didn't.