Saturday, August 07, 2010

Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All Digital

A friend forwarded an article from The Wall Street Journal, about a mass market paperback publisher Dorchester completely switching to e-books and print-on-demand books.

I was expecting this to happen. Though some authors will feel aggrieved, they will all come around. More publishers will move to this model of a cheap e-book and an expensive print-on-demand printed book. Those who don't like gadgets will have to pay a premium for the on-demand printed versions.

This is a bad news for the book shops. In all the developed countries, this will speed up the closure of book shops. We will still need the publishers for a while as they bring in the editorial capabilities. Online gatherers like Amazon will flourish. If this trend continues, even the Publishers will be history, as freelance editors can ply in their trade and authors can become self-publishers. However, in such a scenario I do not know how 'super-star' authors can be created. Probably through trending in twitter?

In India, print books will stay on for at least another decade (probably more). Devices take longer to spread across in India. Credit cards and other online payment mechanisms are still under-developed. Book reading habit itself has not spread widely. But if schools start adapting e-books and an ipad like device - books and notebooks rolled into one; the younger generation may jump to e-books straight away.

Today, the single biggest problem for a regional publisher like us is to manage our inventory and constantly reprint books that go out of stock. We need to be very careful about the number of copies printed. Too many and you lock in capital and you have the risk of unsold copies. Too little and you have rush for a reprint immediately. Cost of paper keeps going up. Warehouse cost and handling cost keep going up.

We don;t publish all the books we would like to, simply because we do not know whether the cost of printing them will be recouped back. We are unsure how we can distribute a book, at low print runs. E-books eliminate these risks. There is no need to stock anything and yet you have an unlimited stock. You can take up riskier books. You can crank up more titles.

Provided you have the readers who can access the books and pay for them.

We are working on our own E-book strategy, and may in the coming months release some new titles only in the E-book format. We may probably move a whole lot of our older books (which sell very little) into E-book and POD only model like Dorchester (the e-book version will be cheap, the POD version, expensive).


  1. I would be suprised if publishers disappeared that quickly because they also provide a filtering function, for reviewers as well as ordinary readers. Ebooks are going to take over, but partially print publishers will try to hold on by making books more interesting "objects", e.g. Anne Carson's Nox, popup books, oversize books etc. I do wonder how e-book publishers will cope with piracy, which is going to be much more of an issue with e-books than it is with print.

  2. Badri,

    Just saw this. I see there are issues in e-books even penetrating faster in US/UK. Unlike Music industry, there is no standard format for distribution (ePub is good, but there is lot more to be done in terms of DRM & protection mechanism)Also, there is a floodgate opened in terms of readers/tablets. Now the problem is what formats to support and how to protect your book.

    Unlike in the iTunes/iPod case, where Music companies agreed that they also know for every legal download there can be 5-10-20 illegal forwards / transfers / sharing will happen. Books are little tricky to handle in that sense.

    I certainly agree that the next gen students can be having a tablet (something like Kno)where the entire text-books & related things can be moved. I have almost figured out an Android Tablet with touch & basic multimedia capability for around $75. I hope with the proliferation of devices, price will come down by another 50% in the next 6 months.

    The shift is happening from manufacturers/producers to intermediaries which distributes lots of things. From Mobile Handsets the shift is already happened with Telco service providers and further that is getting distributed to App Stores. In books, More people know Amazon than the individual publishers. Its the same case with Music with Apple. For Videos /Films / Entertainment, again its either NetFlix or Hulu, which is a stronger brand than the countless content providers.

    I can see that trend happening in India too for books. Otherwise, i don't see any sane VC investing in excess of $15Mn on Flipkart :)

  3. Hi Badri,

    You have a very informative site and blog. I have expressed interest in writing for you some months back (12th August to be precise).And the interest stands.

    Wishing you all the very best in all your publishing ventures - e books or ordinary books.