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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

June 02, 2006

The break-even point: traditional offset vs. POD

I missed a few interesting things last week while reporting in excruciating detail on my letterpress class, y'all. And one of them is this post by Meritage Press publisher Eileen Tabios.
Having just released my first POD title, I can make some comparisons, including the number of book sales I must sell to cover costs related to printing and designing a book. Here's a comparison of this "break-even" sales point for a POD title versus a title printed through more conventional means, to wit:

POD title: about 133 books

Conventionally printed title: about 435 books.

These numbers are based on moi Meritage Press' experience -- but possibly reflective of many poetry presses. The comparison results mostly from how a publisher doesn't have to incur right away the costs of creating an inventory, which, for Meritage Press titles, historically has been about 1,000 copies. That inventory cost offsets the advantage of conventional printing in its lower cost-per-book basis.

For a POD title, I'd probably first order about 200 copies to cover anticipated review copies, some initial sales, author copies and so on. That's 200 versus 1,000 copies I need finance right away. (Of course I'd order more than 200 copies, depending on a particular poet's "market" but it likely still wouldn't near 1,000 right away.)

Now, if you're a poet or publisher, you know that selling 133 books -- let alone 435 books -- is a chore. It's probably a near-impossibility for many poetry books, at least within a reasonable period of time. (Let me stress -- I'ma talking real poetry sales, not comps or trades. Sales.)

As Eileen notes, the break-even point will vary for each publisher, and is affected by how much is spent on promotional activities such as advertising and complimentary review copies (and their postage), etc., in addition to the base operating costs of running a press (which depends on the size of the outfit, number of employees, distribution system used, etc.) But her analysis gets straight to the advantages of POD over traditional offset printing and warehousing of a full print-run: less money up front and greater flexibility in terms of resource commitment and even storage space (which some publishers have to pay for as well). Cheers to Eileen for sharing, and don't forget to check out Meritage's books!

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  • if the permalink anchor doesn't work for you (it's not for me), scroll down to thursday, may 25!

    By Blogger shanna, at 9:30 AM  

  • some of us have talked about some of this some. i mean, we have been looking into the paper grades at lulu and asking them to consider offering recycled and acid-free choices, etc. i will admit not knowing anything about where the production facilities are, but i would assume they can't be overseas to have fulfillment as quick as they do. if the production facilities are in the u.s. (or canada, as so many printers used by u.s. pubilshers are) we'd be safe to assume the standard worker protections, rights, and benefits are being upheld (i'm a socialist, so don't get me started about whether what's standard is enough!).

    but your point is excellent, scott. producing *anything* en masse raises such questions, no matter how artistically inclined the intent. if/when i choose to go the POD route, i will certainly want to know these things. (reb may, actually, already be aware of some of this stuff. i know she did lots of research about lulu and the differences in quality--which stem from the differences in their various production facilities and fulfillment operations.) if you're aware of any articles/statistics or other info, please do share!

    environmentally speaking, the whole publishing industry stinks. most of the books produced are eventually destroyed. not really fair to pin that on POD, which in fact, potentially saves resources by creating only enough supply to meet demand.

    carried further, how and where and by whom are the ink cartridges and computers and desktop printers (see BoingBoing today on Apple's iPod sweatshops) and even the papers and binding materials handmakers employ made? is it just a matter of scale that makes the difference?

    By Blogger shanna, at 4:58 PM  

  • after a quick check of the lulu forums (bored at work), it seems they do indeed print most of the books in the u.s., using a printer in rochester, ny (which soft skull has also used in the past). others are printed via lightning source (also in the u.s., in tennessee, with additional production facilities in the u.k. soft skull's used them too, as did the biguglycorporate press i used to work for.)

    here's the topic: http://www.lulu.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=11946

    there are also a couple of different open threads about using sustainable/recycled papers, etc. it's good to know folks are asking/thinking, no?

    elsewhere on the lulu site one of the forums mentions an additional production facility/printer located in spain. i haven't found anything more on this yet. i'll look some more--just to satisfy my own curiosity!

    By Blogger shanna, at 5:37 PM  

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