A quick check indicates not only a bias against Print on Demand (POD) publishing, there may even be active attempts to undermine it — and from some pretty big challengers — namely Borders, Baker and Taylor, some traditional publishers, and maybe even Romance Writers of America (RWA). Although to the latter, I have to say, “Please say it ain’t so.”
Traditional publishing is hurting. Fewer people read, and of those who do, there is a steady trend toward electronic formats. It seems to me that big publishers and many bookstores may have reason to fear POD publishers who primarily release e-books.
I think Ellora’s Cave made enemies in high places with its impressive sales and unexpected successes. Ellora’s Cave hit the big time in 2004 with over 2 million dollars in sales. It was featured on the cover of Romantic Times Magazine and has close ties with the magazine according to several online sources. According to a post at Absolute Write, Ellora’s Cave had the distinction of being the first e-book publisher to be listed by RWA as a RITA eligible publisher. At the time, a RITA eligible publisher was defined as a “non-subsidy, non-vanity publisher that has released books on a regular basis via national distribution for a minimum of one year and has sold a minimum of 1,500 hardcover/trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies of any other format of a single fiction book or a novella or collection of novellas in book form.”
RWA has since changed its guidelines, and the changes appear suspicious to me. It may not be accurate or fair, but I can’t help but wonder if they were deliberately designed to make it harder for POD and e-book publishers to succeed and thereby challenge the traditional publishing model.
These are the current definitions of a RWA Eligible Publisher, Subsidy Publisher, and Vanity Publisher according to their website:
“Eligible Publisher” means a romance publisher that has verified to RWA in a form acceptable to RWA, that it: (1) is not a Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher; (2) has been releasing romance novels via national distribution for no fewer than three years, with no fewer than two full-length romance novels or novel-length romance anthologies published in each of three consecutive years; (3) provides advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays all authors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500.
“Subsidy Publisher” means any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs of production in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishers who withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs.
“Vanity Publisher” means any publisher whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing and distribution are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and/or associates.
According to elements within the last definition, most POD publishers could be considered a ‘vanity publisher’ and not a RWA eligible publisher. Also, because these are small publishing houses, most are not able to pay those types of advances.
It’s obvious that the industry equates POD with self-publishing, and that’s simply inaccurate. It certainly shows a bias, mixed with an agenda — namely an attempt to dissuade readers from turning away from big publishing houses and struggling bookstores like Borders to these upstart POD publishers. We’ve seen that big money is involved. Tiny little Ellora’s Cave carved off a $2 million chunk of change in one year alone. Money that most likely would have gone to the big publishing houses and traditional bookstores. I don’t imagine that went over well behind closed doors inside the industry.
According to Publishers Weekly and numerous online articles, Jasmine-Jade Enterprises, which is the parent company of Ellora’s Cave, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Borders and Baker & Taylor approximately one year ago, alleging that “churning,” or “ordering more books than one plans to sell in order to create a credit balance when those books are returned” is crippling not only them but the publishing industry as a whole. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract and fraud. Jasmine-Jade Enterprises had complained to Borders that the number of returns they were receiving was overwhelming them. Borders said it would no longer receive returns from them after the complaint, and Border’s promised to only order enough of Jasmine’s titles to meet demand. The suit maintains that Borders misled them. According to the lawsuit, Borders then “conspired” with the wholesaler, Baker and Taylor, to defraud Jasmine by routing returns through them instead. Jasmine no longer does business with Borders or B&T and claims that both companies owe them money.
Jasmine’s claims may seem conspiratorial to some, but they seem credible to me in light of what happened at Triskelion. Triskelion, a POD and e-book publisher, cited Borders as one of the main reasons they filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors. Rumor has it they were never paid money owed them by Borders for sales. I can imagine the nightmare that closure created for the writers.
Even though Border’s stocked Ellora’s Cave paperbacks on their shelves at one time. Now, according to the clerks I spoke with, they won’t even order a book if it’s from a POD publisher — any POD publisher. It appears that this fiasco with Borders is responsible for Ellora’s cave severely cutting back their print section. Even if it does sound a bit conspiratorial, I’m on EC’s side in this matter, and I wish them luck with their lawsuit. I know Borders motioned to have the suit dismissed, but I have not seen if that motion was successful. I certainly hope it wasn’t.
This lawsuit is not new, but it only came to my attention recently after I visited my nearby Borders to order my novel, Sleeping With Skeletons. The clerks informed me that they don’t carry POD books. They weren’t even able to order it for me. There were some sellers who were offering it on Border’s website, but those independent sellers were asking outrageous prices for it — around $32.00. I can’t imagine anyone paying that, especially since it’s available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble for under $12.00.
After leaving Borders, I traveled across town to Barnes and Noble — which is my favorite bookstore — especially since I’m boycotting Borders — and they were able to order the book. However, the clerk made a point of informing me that it was a Print on Demand book — as if I should be aware of that in case I wanted to change my mind about ordering it. So, even though they carried it — thankfully — I couldn’t help but notice the obvious bias the clerk had for my POD title.
Everyone who has attempted to find a publisher knows how difficult it is. Most big publishing houses won’t accept queries from unagented writers, and most agents I’ve contacted haven’t even answered my queries. As a result, many writers are turning to POD publishers because they accept queries from writers without agents. There are a lot of great books that never would have been published without the independent publishers. But this leads to a new problem for these writers. I have been looking for a publisher for my mystery and crime novel, SPIDERS. One of the publishers who accepted queries from unagented writers stated in their submission guidelines that they would not consider anyone who has self-published or been published by a POD publisher.
It seems to me that industry insiders have successfully cast POD in a disreputable light. The wagons are circling, trying to protect their territory. But to be fair and honest, I think many POD publishers are partly to blame for this. Many of them have published writers who never should have been published in the first place. Early on, I read some books from POD publishers that I couldn’t even finish because they were so poorly written and edited. The cringe factor on those novels was so high it was staggering. But many POD publishers have become more selective. They certainly have a talented pool to fish from. As POD publishers continue improving the quality of their product, that should help remove some of the stigma. (At this point, since I am being forthcoming, many large publishing houses are guilty of this as well. I’ve read some atrocious books from big publishing houses. It seems the only reason those books were published was because the writer was well known and could produce sales.)
But publishing is changing, whether anyone likes it or not, and I think the ones who get in front of these changes will be the ones who survive and thrive. The ones who have been doing that are the POD publishers, but, so far, they’ve been getting slapped down pretty hard. Even if I weren’t published by a POD publisher, I would still be rooting for the underdog. I hope they continue to rise up and take big bites out of all their pretentious detractors and underhanded insiders. I want big publishers and bookstores to do well, but not by destroying POD publishers and their writers.