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March 12, 2008

All print, no demand

Last week in his Globe column, my friend Ivor Tossell wrote about the internet and self-publishing. Putting forth that the internet has begun to eliminate the stigma of vanity presses– “after all, the Internet is a giant vanity press full of self-published content. The spirit of the Web is to put whatever you’ve got out there, and see if it sticks.”

Ivor explores the exciting potential of online print-on-demand– small runs of textbooks, bad love poetry collections just in time for Valentines, keeping obscure books from ever being “out of print”. But, he writes, “At the same time, it means that books will lose their special status. The mere existence of a book with your name on the spine will no longer mean as much; nor will putting out one of your own make you look hopelessly self-absorbed.”

But I am not sure that I agree with him. Perhaps I just get riled at suggestions of the book losing status, but this seems to me one of those cases in which a book isn’t a book, after all. Poetry may be a different story, but I’m thinking in terms of fiction. Though of course I’ve not been round the world on this one, I hold fast to a belief that good books tend to get published– a belief I can hold if only because I read so many of them. And that a published book is the product of significant investment, not only by a writer, but by editors (and more editors, hopefully), and book designers, and art designers, and by publishers at the top who were willing to take the chance on it.

There are exceptions of course, and instances in which print-on-demand is the best route for a writer, but my suspicion is that any book devoid of such investment would be lacking. The lack would show in the look of the book and the reading, and any wannabe author could probably find these instructions a cheaper way to the same results. Economics being the point, which is where Ivor’s analogy between self-published books and blogs break down. While both are probably equally vain, awful and substandard, at least blogs can be accessed for free.

4 thoughts on “All print, no demand”

  1. Curtis says:

    Interesting article. And i do agree with you Kerry that published books will still hold great value over self-published. There’s something about seeing the little penguin logo on the spine of a book. But how long before electronic books compete for the same shelf space? Will paper books move to the indie bookseller like what cd’s did to vinyl?

  2. Kerry says:

    It’s not a new argument, I think, but I shall put it forth– that the book is a near perfect technology. E-books may have improvements, but come with too many detriments to make the improvements worthwhile. Though no doubt the LP was as revered an object as the book is, it was not nearly as practical an object. Case in point, bookishly, the broken record Holden Caulfield gave his sister Phoebe. If he’d given her a book it would have stayed in one piece, excepting the possibility of fire or flood.

  3. Yvonne says:

    Kerry, books are wonderful things to behold, and read. I am a publisher that specializes in POD… for printing. My publishing services come at a price… and the quality I produce is equivalent to anything out of a big house.

    My authors are outstanding writers who have chosen self-publishing because (a) they want to retain their copyright, (b) they want their work out in less than a year to two and a half, and (c) because, as business owners, their book is their calling card – hence, they want to have some input in the cover design and page layout.

    Print on demand is not exclusively just a printing option. Some POD companies, like mine, work with our authors on the creation of their book, and then, on the marketing. The goal is to give the authors options, produce a truly high-quality product, and then help them reach their market.

    In the end, self-published authors stand to earn more, gain the recognition they deserve, and not be ignored or neglected by a big publisher or a vanity press, that isn’t in it for the author, but only for themselves.

    Your comment on your blog that good books get published because, after all, you’ve read so many… flies in the face of truth. BAD books also get published by big publishers, and many good books get rejected. So, the new world of POD is open to the author who wants to be a success, on his or her own terms.

    BTW, this is a great blog. Very well written with thoughtful insight.

  4. Kerry says:

    Yvonne, thanks for your comment. And it is reassuring to know that Print on Demand publishers love and care about books just as much as the rest of us do.

    But I’m not entirely convinced that self-published authors always stand to gain. For every outstanding writer out there, wouldn’t there be a truck load of bad ones, investing money in something no one’s ever going to buy, let alone read? Of course there is the allure of a *real* book, bound and all, but, savings spent, I imagine the allure would fade after storing a box full of these real books in one’s basement for a decade or two.

    You are right that good books do get rejected, but bad ones do more often and for good reason. And I don’t know if it’s so unfair to have a writer just have to come to understand that.

    Thanks so much again.

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