With today’s latest demand printing technologies, any association can become a book publisher.
By Cecilia Sepp
The Guardian newspaper reported in May 2011 that by April 1, 2011, Amazon.com sold 105 ebooks for every 100 books sold in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, it sold 242 ebooks for every 100 books.
These statistics were reported by the company less than 4 years after the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader, was launched. (It should be noted that while hard copy orders may be declining in comparison to ebook orders, these statistics do not reflect value of the purchase—specifically, how much money was spent by consumers.)
With the explosion in e-books, digital magazines, and online content, the opportunities are endless for both publishers and consumers. In light of these statistics and the evolving trends they relate to, saying publishing has changed is an understatement. Does this mean that hard copy books and magazines are going the way of the dinosaur?
Absolutely not. There is still a place for hard copy books and a market for them. However, what e-publishing has done is change the way hard copy books are stored and delivered, thus changing business practices for publishers of all kinds.
Ken Ackerman, founder and managing editor of Viral History Press LLC, is excited about these changes and the opportunities for more direct interaction between writers and readers. "New technology has changed the face of publishing,” he writes. "The Internet creates freedom, puts power in the hands of individual people, and opens exciting new opportunities for direct, instant contact between writers and readers. eBooks, print-on-demand, mobile applications, iPads and slates, have shaken the roots of traditional reading, and waves of change keep pounding the beach.”
In my conversation with Ackerman, I learned that on demand books and print on demand are actually two different things, which I had not quite realized. He explained it this way: "Print on demand is what Amazon does. Rather than warehousing large numbers of books, the book is printed when ordered and then shipped. On demand printing is using a machine (a popular one is called Espresso) that prints the book while you wait.”
Printing books while you wait? A bibliophile’s dream, especially since these machines store vast libraries of both contemporary and out of print books. In many ways, an Espresso machine is similar to a vending machine for books: Put in your money, make your selection, and in a few minutes, you have the item in your hand. "It’s a new thing [bistro printing with machines] and it just started recently. The companies who own and sell these machines have agreements with many of the large companies and they are reaching out to small publishers like me; we’ll get on soon,” Ackerman explained.
In the Washington, DC, area, the famous bookstore Politics & Prose features an Opus machine that prints books while you wait. According to the Politics & Prose site, the Opus machine prices for book printing vary depending on where the book is in its publishing cycle: "The price depends on where the book came from. If it is an in-copyright title available from the publisher, the publisher sets the list price. The book will cost the same as if you had bought it off the shelf. If the book is a Public Domain title, the price will be $8.00 for books of up to 200 pages, and an extra $2.00 for every 100 pages or fewer thereafter. A book of 350 pages, for example, will cost $12.00.”
The Espresso machine is from a company called On Demand Books and can be used in bookstores or you can work with the company to print your books "on demand” for your customers. Thanks to machines like Opus and Espresso, options have increased dramatically, while prices are held to a reasonable amount.
Options like these make starting a publishing arm much easier and less expensive as a business proposition. Like any new business, it takes time to develop a business plan and put the mechanisms in place for management and product delivery. Ackerman is learning as he goes, and decided to start his company by buying back the rights to his own books. "With my own previously published books, I started by getting back the rights from the publishers. All my books had been through their lifecycle. I started with those because I wanted to make mistakes on my own books before taking other books on,” he explained, "I have all four of my books available on the key platforms (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple) and all are actively selling.
"My next project is publishing a set of history shorts—short e-books that are on historical subjects from the 19th century based on materials from journalism," he continues. "One will be Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Chicago Convention—it’s told through the eyes of the journalists and packaged to tell the story of the convention. I have two or three of these that I would like to do as my next expansion. After this, I will start publishing other people’s work.”
Ackerman is developing his publishing business with a strong base in technology: "You need to have a business concept; you need to know what you are going to be publishing. There are many points on the business and technical side, and I’m trying to maximize the use of technology. I have no inventory and don’t sell through bookstores. I sell through ebooks and print on demand and reach readers directly.”
So how could this serve associations both now and in the future? Ackerman thinks it’s an excellent opportunity: "The thing that is surprising is how accessible these things are. There is a steep learning curve upfront and you need strong skills to deal with the technical side of it, but these work well in combination with other channels. The way small presses market is basically in conjunction with blogs, Twitter, and other social media outlets. All these systems seem to work together quite well, and they are taking on a life of their own. For an association it’s a very good way to get out your message; it’s not difficult for an association to become a book publisher.”
Cecilia Sepp is vice president of Association Laboratory Inc. and a member of Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee.