I’ve heard from a couple sources recently that publishing on demand is the future of the biz. Having a background in economics that is really no background at all, I can’t speak to the practicality of this business model, but just from my idle consideration of the subject, it seems like there are a couple of built-in problems.
1) It’s my understanding that the business model works on the principle of creating very small runs of a title, then printing more if demand picks up. Fine, if you’re self-publishing, but doesn’t the entire business depend on making large investments (advances, marketing, editing, fact-checking, design) and then banking on a large pay-off in the form of healthy retail success? By limiting the number of copies of a book you’re printing, it seems like the prospect of recouping your costs, and perhaps making at profit a the end of it, is going significantly downwards. The solution to this would be to, I suppose, release lots of titles to niche markets, all of which have a razor thin profit margin. But again, you have to spend money on advances, materials, and marketing in order for this to have any kind of success. It seems like the only place where money is really being saved is in warehouse storage, and that’s not even the biggest expense in the business. On demand publishing cuts output, but does it really cut down on the costs inherent to the business?
2) What about e-publishing? Publishing to formats like the Kindle and iPad is coming to dominate the publishing landscape, and publishing on-demand seems analogous to creating a “tank buster” while failing to realize that the enemy now has nukes. With e-publishing consuming such a larger share of the market, is it really necessary to revolutionize the way we create actual books? As e-publishing picks up an ever-larger market share, there will be smaller actual print runs of books, but that’s not so much a rethinking of the way we publish books as it is a scaling down of the same process.
So, what do you think? Am I grossly misinterpreting this whole thing?
For what it’s worth, I could see book publishing going to a model similar to what we’ve seen with the music industry (only not, with any luck, something that has a similarly devastating economic impact). I could see e-books becoming the norm, with actual, paper books becoming a specialty product for collectors, something analogous to the way vinyl is now viewed by music enthusiasts.
Or, maybe, we’ll all just quit reading and start watching reruns of Gossip Girl, which was actually pretty good last week.