One of the most overused words in digital cyberia is paradigm but unfortunately there are instances when there is really no synonym that will suffice. Such is the case here where I describe a completely new way of doing business in the book publishing industry.
After Encyclopedia Britannica, Travel Agents and other brick-and-mortar establishments that have been severely challenged by web based business models, it may be the turn of book publishers next ! The online publishing and print-on-demand (OLPPOD) business is all set give the established publishers a run for their money and offer new hope and unprecedented empowerment to unknown authors.
Online publishing is old hat. I have been writing on the web since 1998 but have always felt that substantial pieces of work need to be in hard copy for the reader to first enjoy and second make sense of complex content. However efforts to get one's work in print has been very difficult. While JK Rowlings and other well known authors have no dearth of publishers running after them, the case is dramatically different for newcomers. No publisher is willing to invest in printing, binding and storing a reasonable number of copies unless the author is willing fund the first print run. Unless the author is famous, his books are not printed but unless his books are printed, the author cannot become famous -- a classic Catch 22 if there ever was one !
OLPPOD changes this game beyond recognition !
In OLPPOD, the author is provided with a web based platform that allows him to upload a copy of his work in a standard word processor format ( DOC, RTF etc) which is then converted into a PDF file. Book covers are created out of royalty free images or from JPEG files uploaded by the author and customised with logos, images, titles, summaries in the colour and fonts of the authors choice ... in short, the author does all the work of formatting and designing his book and he does it happily since it is his, possibly, first book !
But creating the PDF is only half the story. The real value kicks in through the print-on-demand process where thanks to advances in (a) printing technology and (b) shared delivery business models, it is now possible to print & bind a single copy of the book at a price point that is comparable to the per-copy price of a book that is produced by the traditional offset printing process.
What this means is that the author/publisher need not fund a full print run and then have to bear the cost of carrying an inventory ! Instead, when a copy of the book is purchased -- most probably on an online store front -- the production process kicks in to create a copy of the book and dispatch it to the purchaser.
What are the commercial terms ? How do you price the book ? How is the income shared between the author and the platform provider ? Each OLPPOD service provider has its own business model but having had the pleasure of publishing my own first book through Lulu.com, I believe that they have one of the best business models in the industry. Please look up their model on their website, but in brief if you are not interested in having an ISBN number for your book, then there is absolutely NO CHARGES other than the base printing+binding+postage cost !
What is the quality of the book ? Does it compare with the books that one can buy in a bookshop ? Believe me, it does ! The quality is superb and if one was not told that the copy is a print-on-demand copy then there is no way that one can make out that it is so. These are not A4 sheets stapled together or ring bound ! This is a real book in every sense of the word -- in shape, size and texture ... No doubt about it.
This blog entry may seem to be a paid advertisement for Lulu.com but it is not. Instead it is clarion call to all prospective authors who are tired of running after arrogant publishers and wish to empower themselves with the latest technology. Going forward, I foresee a larger and larger share of the book publishing business going into this OLPPOD mode because the advantages offered by traditional publishers would erode rapidly.
As the world goes digital and online, it will be easier to search for and locate book on the web than it would be in a physical bookstore. Book launches, book reading sessions, wine and cheese parties while still somewhat important will become increasingly irrelevant in a world dominated by blogs, social networking sites, social tagging services like slashdot, digg and stumble upon ... and online search engines like Google Books. After all, the number of people who see and click on a slashdot post would be far larger than the number who would have the time to attend a book reading session !
Traditional publishers would of course be in denial mode and would stoutly denounce all such models that undermines their importance. But they should know that they cannot hold back the tide of new technology and ideas. Instead they would be better off if they were to embrace this new paradigm and work out a hybrid model that will ensure that they remain relevant in the future.
Otherwise, like Encyclopedia Britannica that was swallowed up Wikipedia they will be relegated to the footnotes of history.