Quite a while back I was discussing various challenges I think the OSR faces in terms of reaching a wider audience.
To quote myself...
"Print on demand technology makes it easy to create books, and if there becomes a cheaper and more effective way to get these books into distribution then I think all bets are off on what might happen."
It looks like we might see something like this sooner than I thought. Apparently RPGnow will be starting a program later this year where customers can buy POD books from their website. This alone isn't much of an innovation, but RPGnow will also start a distribution plan and will be selling direct to retailers.
The details of the program have yet to be revealed, but this looks like a very easy and inexpensive way to reach stores. The challenge with most other distribution plans to date is that a publisher must of course buy a print run and have it shipped to the distribution warehouse.
So you have the upfront investment in the print run and shipping costs, and the risk that your stock will not sell. The big question will be what is the fee structure? I imagine that whatever the fee structure is, it will be at least as good or close to other distribution plans out there. What a lot of people don't realize is that through distribution there are so many people inbetween the publisher and the customer that the publisher makes a very small amount. From that small amount one has to buy another print run, pay for more shipping, etc. For a small publisher selling a small volume, this is a big deal.
So, this is an interesting development. It doesn't solve the issue some people will have, which is that many retro-clone books are not priced to get into distribution, so those won't be able to go this way, though they could still sell direct from RPGnow. Another thing that will be interesting to see is whether the POD price structure is competetive with Lulu. Lulu never has had a good price structure, and part of this is that, contrary to what many people think, Lulu themselves don't print anything. Lulu itself is a middle man, and Lightning Source does the printing. So Lulu marks up the actual printing costs so that they can get a decent cut in addition to charging a fee for selling on their website. But again, the reason Lulu can get away with this is that for most of us the only solution is to buy a larger print run at a better price from someone else...but this can be difficult to afford.
Times are changing, and it will interesting to see how publishing evolves.