[image error] Print on Demand (POD) companies have done what traditional Vanity Presses could not; they have capitalized on the hopes and dreams of aspiring writer's and cut deep into the profits of the big publishing houses. One would think what they have devised is a great business model, but what if I tell you that model is flawed and the demand for POD companies has exceeded their ability to keep up?
First, I'd like to ask users of POD providers if they have a clue as to where their manuscript file is at this very moment. Do you know if your POD is out-sourcing your print orders to other printers? Who is handing distribution of your books? And to my eBook authors, do you know if someone else is selling your eBooks and making all the profit?
I recently had a conversation with a representative at the company I use to print my books. The conversation came about after I became engaged in a discussion in one for their community forums. My journey to the forum started simple enough. I offer my debut novel in hardcover format. One day I was on Amazon.com and noticed that someone was selling my hardcover book for $29.95. This was interesting to me for several reasons. One, due to the high cost of generating hardcover books the POD company does not offer distribution services for it, nor does Amazon sell them. As a matter of fact, the POD no longer offer hardcover books as an option for new titles. Two, it was my understanding that only I could order copies of my hardcover version, which is priced at $29.95 for set-up purposes only. So the question arose, how was someone able to sell my hardcover as new, when they should not have access to it.
In light of this discovery, I decided to create a sellers account on Amazon and sell the books myself, at the price of $19.95, which is the cost if you order it from my website. Within minutes of being notified that my account was approved and my hardcover was available for sale, I logged into Amazon only to find that the other seller had reduced their price to $15.95. This interested me even more because one, how did they know to out-price me so quickly, and at this price, the seller would not make much profit, if any, on the book based on the POD assumed cost to print it. Prior to this incident with my hardcover I had already become concerned, even suspicious about my book sales; so much so that I had contacted the POD prior, about missing royalties. The packaged response was to provide the date, price, and location of the sales and they would research.
On the day I visited the community forum, I wanted to see if there were any topics about royalties, but what I discovered was someone asking about resellers on Amazon.com. I joined the discussion and added my two cents about my hardcover. The following day I logged into my email account and was shocked by the number of replies coming from the discussion. In a nutshell, this is what people were discussing:
• Resellers were selling copies of books, and because they are listing them as used, the author would never see a royalty.
• If the reseller actually had new copies, where were they getting them from and was the author being compensated.
• There was huge concern as to who these resellers are and how they are getting so many "used" copies of books written by little to unknown authors.
• Alleged buyers communicating to authors they had purchased their books but the author never seeing royalties for the sales.
• Concern that buyers were complaining about the quality and format of books, to the point that the author felt obligated to replace the book.
I decided to re-enter the discussion and share some specific instances I had experienced, i.e. meeting a book club president at an out-of-town signing and having her say that her club had featured my book a few months earlier; noting that the local library had stocked my books at several locations; and other random discussions from people who had contacted me via Facebook, email, and my website to say they had purchased my book(s) and shared their thoughts. Even a sale that showed up the first week on Amazon's new BookScan reports was never materialized (my royalty through Amazon is different than sales from a distributor). I expressed that these instances bothered me because 95% of my book sales to-date are hand-to-hand sales, or from my website where I encourage people to buy from.
Once I did this, a slew of responses came from a couple of moderators of the forums bashing me for being gullible, ignorant to the royalty payment guidelines, and expressing that people lie to make authors feel better about their books. It was at this point that a company representative stepped in. The following day I received the call from a company representative. And this is where my own bubble burst.
Print on Demand companies is in way over their heads. Although the on-line agreement has a clause indicating they can allow any third party to assist with fulfillment, the truth is only books I order are fulfilled by them. It appears all other orders i.e. a physical bookstore or on-line seller; the book is most likely printed by a third party source. It is then up to that TPS to notify the POD that they have generated a book. There are two huge problems with this arrangement: 1) if the company printing the book never notifies the original POD, the author will never get paid because there are no checks and balances currently in place to track the activity. 2) The printer, at their discretion, can alter the format of the book. By alter, they can change the physical size, reduce the font size, use a poorer quality paper, or choose not to coat the cover.
As our discussion went on, nearly every issue raised in the forum made more sense. When asked what could be done to stop this, I was advised that I could turn-off the option to have my book offered through their Expanded Distribution Service. This would mean my book could not be ordered anywhere but Amazon and my personal website. Essentially, with the EDS the book can be made available to anyone claiming to be a book seller, but if the distributor has a deal with another printer to print the book for less, then there is a chance I will never get compensated for the sale. Remember the resellers from Amazon, who claim to have multiple copies of "used" books, well the truth is they don't. If a buyer orders one of their books they figure out a way to get it printed, which may or may not be through the POD I am contracted with. Even more frightening is that Amazon could very well be that reseller since it is a fact that they contact buyers to get books back for this purpose. As it turns out, two weeks earlier someone had ordered a book through Barnes & Noble on-line, and I had not seen the royalty show-up in reports. The rep was able to track the book down, and I was compensated for it. But only because I knew the date, location, etc of the sale.
On several occasions I have been contacted via email by overseas printers offering to manufacture my books for less than my POD. In the past I simply sent the emails to Spam. Now I am wondering if these people really have my file and can generate my books, which is a whole other ballgame. This could also explain why some authors are willing to take this route.
Back to my hardcover, I explained to the exec that the seller indicated the book was new. I explained to her that I carry a small inventory of my hardcover copies solely for people who prefer that option. In addition, every hardcover I have sold or given away has been autographed. Plus, complimentary books are stamped as such. She offered to order the book from the seller, inspect it, and then mail it to me. She received the book about a week later, brand new, with no autograph. She contacted the seller who informed her that he/she received the book in a box of miscellaneous books that were donated to him/her. Since that was the only copy, they will no longer be offering my books for sale. The fallacy in this, months earlier, the POD announced they were changing how hardcover books would be generated, truth is they are now printed by an outside source. How convenient.
It would be easy to say that I should simply find another POD, but based on the conversation they are all working under the same model because no one expected the number of self-publishers, or for the numbers to grow so quickly. Furthermore, the short list of names provided as possible printers, believe it or not, is their top competitors. Really, if I wanted these people printing my books I would have contracted with them. This seemed like the biggest violation of all considering I chose this company after shopping around and deciding they produce the best quality books with better per book pricing. Knowing that someone else is presenting my work in a lesser quality is even more disheartening than knowing my books may be selling at various outlets and I'm not being compensated. If you have a copy of one of my books, turn to the last page and see if there is a barcode. If not, your book was not printed by the company I contracted with, and has not been registered on Bookscan, the service that tracks a large amount of book sales.
Now to my eBook authors, don't think for one second that your book is safe and secure on Kindle, Nook, or other devices. Just do your research and you will find that eBook files are easily being converted to .txt files and then reformatted and resold for profit. In some cases, people are reloading the files to Kindle and selling them under their name. (Click here) It is also floating around cyberspace that some authors who only published eBooks are having their work mysteriously popping up on sites for sale as physical print books. If piracy happened in the music industry, and then the movie industry, it is surely taking place in the publishing industry. Bottom line, once that file leaves your hands, it basically becomes a free-for-all for anyone looking to make a quick buck.
Tracy L. Darity is the author of He Loves me He Loves Me Not! and Love…Like Snow In Florida on a Hot Summer Day. For more information visit: www.TracyLDarity.com.
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