Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Future of POD

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.

12 comments:

Olman Feelyus said...

Oh that's very interesting news. I heard Sean Patrick Fannon on The Game's the Thing (talking about the pdf controversy; it's an interesting discussion) hinting at some big news coming from RPGNow. I guess doing POD was probably it. It would be great that move give small publishers another option to get their games in stores or even in print.

Do you have any insight into Lulu's recent shipping price hike? It seems like it must be killing their business. Rates to Canada are at least double what one should expect.

Dan of Earth said...

I have no idea on the shipping issue. Lulu is far from transparent. Since they don't actually print or ship anything, I assume there must be increased costs at the printer, and I wouldn't be surprised if Lulu marks that up a bit more.

Kevin Brennan said...

If Lulu uses Lightning Source it's not exclusive. There are some major differences between how they operate (and I mean on a technical level). LS requires books print pages in multiples of 4 and have a LS barcode on the last page. Lulu doesn't. Also, they offer different book sizes.

Dan of Earth said...

That's because only books enrolled in the "global distribution" through Lulu have those requirements. In other words, you are paying Lulu to represent you through LS. So in that case the books do have to conform to those standards. But you're right about other books, so the ones shipped direct may or may not be with different printers. I honestly don't know, or for that matter who does the hard covers.

Geoffrey said...

Dan, this is very interesting. Where did you read that about RPGNow? I'm not seening anything about it on their website. :)

Dan of Earth said...

Geoffrey, this is news that's been leaked here and there, not sure where I first picked up on it. I think they'll make a larger announcement by GenCon.

Dan of Earth said...

Here is a snippet...

http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/14795.html

James V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James V said...

And two days later, Wil Wheaton's blog posts a story about the Espresso Book Machine, an all-in-one POD machine. Now this sounds like it may be the type of game changer you're talking about:

http://www.ondemandbooks.com/the_ebm.htm

There aren't a lot of locations that have one yet, but the idea of going around POD sites completely and just stopping at the library with the PDF is pretty cool to me. You also have the the option of registering your title with the company so customers can order the book on site. It's an idea with a lot of promise.

I also think this may be of benefit to small publishers who want to try distribution. At this time, owning this machine is not very cheap, sites quoting prices around $100,000, but it may be a reasonable investment if time lowers the price.

Dan of Earth said...

Pretty cool. I'd hope to see these machines go down to the price of a good copy machine (or 2x that), but not for a long time.

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