Do you think a POD publisher will ever create a Best Seller?

We've dicussed POD publishing with some interest. Now here's a question to ponder. Can a POD publisher produce a novel that will crack the Top 10 list in the Best Sellers column? Frankly, I think one can if they are willing to at least do one or two things the more traditional publisher does to get books out onto shelves. What do you think?

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Would you please define POD publishing. POD as far as I know, is a reference to a digital printing process that allows it's users rapid production and shipping of it's printed product. This process is used by many companies, including publishers. It eliminates the need for warehouse space since the product is digitally stored until an order comes. POD includes use of offset printing and xerox technology.

If you are talking about vanity publishing then you are talking about a different animal.

I think eventually most publishers will use some kind of POD format. It just makes good business sense, so my best guess is yes, POD will eventually produce best sellers, probably produced for a publisher. It will require some changes in the business model, but I think that is inevitable. I don't think the publishing industry can economically continue the insanity of returns.
Usually the traditional publishers provide a ready product prior to the anticipated demand by stocking book store shelves and mailorder houses. POD publishing is used to move small orders of reprints or the books put out by small publishers who do not have the funds and warehouses to stock large numbers of a title. Clearly readiness is important, since many book buyers buy on impulse.
I understand where you're coming from. Unfortunately POD first became a hit with vanity-publishers and the stigma (if you want to consider it a stigma) is set POD = vanity-publishing.

Technically, you are correct. Small 'traditional' publishers use POD, along with other vehicles. The question I had in mind, rephrased, should be, "When will we see the small POD publisher, like Midnight, Ink, publish a novel to get into the Top 10 beselling list.
As long as offset printing is cheaper than POD printing, then big publishing houses will not all go use Print on Demand technology. It's a money thing. Like buying the24 roll case of toilet paper for $10 instead of buying the four roll pack for $3-- it just doesn't make good financial sense.

For books that are backlisted, I think we'll see more big companies use POD, but not for major runs.

Similarly, with small presses, most small presses don't have the ability to create large print runs. They use POD because they do small print runs. It's cheaper to print a 100 books with POD than to print 500 or 1000 (typical offset runs IIRC) and throw all but a hundred in the trash. But it's cheaper to print 500 books at a time than 100 (or even 1).

For a small press book to make the bestseller list, they would need to have copies everywhere, like large presses are able to do. I go to Borders, Target, Sears, CVS and I see books by Random House, but I don't see ones by Capital Press. It's this omni-presence combined with marketing that gets readers to buy. And if enough readers buy, a book can become a best seller.
Remember that the most influential best seller lists do not count numbers over the lifetime of a book--they count units in a week. (The analog in movies would be a movie that opens, rather than a movie that has legs.) So a book could sell 10,000 copies in a week and make the NYT list, even if it never sold another copy, while a book that sold 384 copies a week for a year would have roughly the same number of books sold, but would never make it onto the NYT list.

That's the point of strict sell-by dates for books they hope will hit the NYT list. They want a huge number of sales that first week, which is often the best week for a book. Not always, of course, but since that first week includes all the pre-sales numbers from Amazon and B&, it's a good bet.

I don't know how many books have to be sold to get on the NYT list--it varies by the week, for obvious reasons. But I know of a trade paperback that made the extended trade NYT list with 2050 copies sold, and a hardback that made the extended hardback list with 2240 copies. (Those sales numbers are from Bookscan, by the way.)

So you'd have to have best seller levels of pre-sales numbers and initial orders for a POD book. I don't think it's likely to happen.

But the business is changing, and I agree that if a big name--like J.K. Rowling big--said her next book was going to be POD, she'd probably still hit the NYT list.

PS - I'm only talking about POD technology.
Thanks, Toni. That was informative. I've always wondered about those Amazon pre-order numbers.
OK, I know next to nothing about publishing, but it seems to me that publish-on-demand *could* produce a best-seller, if it was done right.

The crux, I think, is how the publicity works. If POD companies depend on the writer to provide his/her own publicity, then only writers with a trust fund will produce POD best-sellers. However, if POD companies are willing to invest in some publicity for their titles (and, if they want to make money, why wouldn't they be?), I don't see how POD could avoid hitting the motherlode someday.

I gather, from reading various threads on this topic, that the current POD model is that the POD company has some outlet (i.e. Amazon), and just has the book listed there for sale - no publicity. For Amazon, I understand that they don't have to 'waste' publicity dollars on POD books, because they make more than enough profit from their other merchandise. However, a company that did *only* POD would be insane not to publicize their titles.

I guess part of the question is how 'best-seller' is defined. If we're talking sheer numbers of books actually sold, I think it's possible. If we're talking dollars earned, I dunno. If I sold my book for a dollar through a POD house, I bet I could sell a lot more than someone of equal talent selling his/her book for ten dollars. Sadly, what I think this means is that 'best-selling author' will no longer mean 'filthy rich.'
"Bestselling author" means nothing more than bestselling author. Most are not filthy rich--I know serveral. I am one, barely--two books I co-edited have hit the extended NYT list. Trust me, I made more money as a technical writer 14 years ago.

As far as a POD book making it to a major list such as the NYT list is that they can't sell enough fast enough. You have to have enough copies of a book available in a given week, not over the course of the book's lifetime. And by the time you're printing thousands of copies, it's cheaper to print a different way.

And again, I'm only talking about print on demand as a technology.
This seems so weird to me! Wouldn't that be 'fastest-selling' rather than 'best-selling?'

If that's the criteria for 'best-selling,' then I can understand B.R.'s curiosity -- it does seem highly unlikely that the POD model could best a big publishing house, unless, as someone else noted, the author was already well known, and whipped up a froth of anticipation.

Man. The things I have to learn.
The thing is, lots of books by unknowns make it as bestsellers. Sometimes it's advance buzz, and sometimes it's luck and good timing. And sometimes books by the big guys tank.

Heck, you can be a bestseller and still tank.

One of the most important measures publishers use is sell-through, which is the percentage of a book's print run that actually sells.

So, say you've got New Author and they print 5000 copies of her hardcover. They actually sell 4900.

Okay, now you've got Bigname Writer, and they print 250,000 copies of his hardcover. They sell 20,000 copies the first week, and he's on the NYT list. By the time it's all over, he's sold 125,000 copies.

Now if you just look at the numbers--4900 versus 125,000--it seems obvious that the publisher is going to be happiest with Bigname Writer. But nope, they aren't. New Author sold 98% of books printed, which is an amazing sell-through. Bigname Writer only sold 50% of his print run, which isn't so hot. His next print run will be a lot smaller, if he doesn't get dropped entirely.

And we all have a lot to learn--if publishers knew it all, they'd have printed fewer of Bigname Writer's books.

I remember hearing about James Clavell's next book after the runaway success of SHOGUN. Everybody wanted that book. Finally a smallish publisher won it in auction for 1 million dollars, spending every penny of their acquisitions budget. That's right--they only acquired one book that year. Published it to great fanfare. It broke even. That's it. For the same money, they could have give 100 authors 10,000 advances, and while some of them might not have done well, they'd have had 100 chances for a big seller.
Not only that. They would have made a start at creating a stable of reliable authors and future chances of doing well.

Clavell clearly would always go with whoever paid most.


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