You like print books. I like print books. A lot of people, for various reasons, don’t like digital formats like PDF. That’s why in 2020 we went all-in to make our most popular titles available as print-on-demand (POD). Now it’s 2021, and we’re hitting pause on POD. I wanted to take a moment to explain why.
Sales and Production
Even though we made our bestselling titles available in print, POD only accounted for about 3% of sales last year. The highest-volume book sold 12 copies. A few sold none. The average was 3 copies. Looking at things from a purely economic standpoint, POD doesn’t seem worth the effort.
A lot of people are under the misconception that POD just prints the same PDFs that you download. It’s not as simple as that. While it’s not a tremendous amount of extra work, both the covers and the interiors of each book need to be reformatted. That’s time that could be spent on other things.
COVID-19 and Postal Issues
COVID-19 and postal issues remain in place. From our end, it takes about 2 weeks from the time we upload POD files to the printer approving them. We can’t make a book available for sale until we’ve ordered a copy (a proof) and looked it over. It takes about a month between placing the order and the POD vendor printing it and shipping it out. Then it takes about a month to get here. That’s two-and-a-half months between submitting a file and being able to make a POD title available for purchase.
No big deal, you think. That’s just the flow of business, and I agree. A larger issue, for me, is that when a US customer orders a copy, it takes a month before they print it. Then you have to wait however long it takes for the mail to get it to you, which customers have told me can be a few days to several weeks. I’m not comfortable with the idea that, in 2021, it might take 2 months for you to get what you ordered.
Brexit and Fees
The UK and EU are a whole other situation, and thanks to Brexit it’s not getting better. The UK POD vendor hasn’t had the long lag time between placing and printing and order. However, because of COVID-19 and Brexit, things get held in quarantine when crossing international borders. There usually isn’t any tracking, or even an option for tracking. Now publishers are being told that customers will soon be responsible for duty fees, VAT, and brokerage charges. Which means, in short, that even though you paid for the order and the shipping at the time of purchase, you may need to pay the postal carrier in your country some additional fees before they hand over that package. There’s no way that I, or any other publisher, can accurately assess how much those fees will be. I can tell you that they’re not cheap.
Hitting Pause on POD
At the end of the day it’s not just about doing what’s right for this business. It’s about doing what’s right for the customer. I’m not saying that we’ll never do print-on-demand again. The titles currently available will remain so. We’ve just not going to add any additional titles going forward. If the situation in the world changes, we’ll revisit. I’m still investigating alternatives that might be both economical for customers and profitable for us. For now, we’re pressing pause on POD.