Since the American Booksellers Association first mentioned at its February Winter Institute that it might offer a POD option, it has received dozens of inquiries from interested members, and later this month the organization will go live with its new Print-to-Order program. Under the initiative, booksellers can republish out-of-print books or self-published authors through a copublishing arrangement with Carlisle, Mass.—based Applewood Books, which will handle the back end, from assigning an ISBN to digitizing the book and creating a cover design. Printing will be handled by Ingram's Lightning Source. The minimum fee will be $250 per title plus printing costs. Booksellers can opt to have their books distributed by Applewood, which works with Ingram Publisher Services. Applewood will pay a royalty of 10% net for any sales made: 7.5% goes to the store, while the other 2.5% goes to ABA for administering the program. Booksellers can register to participate in PTO through booksellerpto.com, which will be up and running in a few weeks, said Len Vlahos, ABA chief program officer.
Applewood president and founder Phil Zuckerman estimates that he's been contacted by about 20 booksellers since news of the program broke at BookExpo America. Many of the projects, he said, fall into two categories: reprints of books about the specific geographical region where the store is located, and books for university professors for their courses.
Although a handful of booksellers have set up POD programs on their own—most recently Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., which installed an Espresso Book Machine in February—Applewood is an alternative for booksellers who would like to offer customers a publishing service, but don't want to devote a lot of resources to the project. Since its founding in 1976, Applewood has shifted its frontlist-driven publishing program into one that is about 95% backlist. It currently publishes hundreds of titles using POD, which enables it to print small runs, even single copies. Through an arrangement with Hewlett-Packard, Applewood can produce facsimile editions without harming the binding of the original book.
“It takes us about two hours to publish a book,” said Zuckerman. The company, which has eight employees, currently has 3,000 titles in print and is adding to that at the rate of about 100 books a month. By the end of the year, Zuckerman plans to ratchet up its publishing schedule to 200 books a week. Approximately 75% of its books sell outside the book trade, primarily through historical organizations, parks and gift shops.
Many of Applewood's books are primary-source materials in the public domain, like Lydia Maria Child's The American Frugal Housewife, which went through 32 editions between 1832 and 1845. Since Applewood published its hardcover edition in 1981, the title consistently remains among its top sellers. Other strong titles published by Applewood include a pamphlet inspired by Disney's Sketchbook of Bambi, which sold more than 11 million copies, and a reprint of the 1939 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies.
While working through the ABA with an experienced publisher like Applewood, which will walk booksellers through each step, may be especially appealing to first-time bookseller/publishers, there are other publishing options, including working directly with BookSurge or another POD company. And some booksellers have begun working together.
Three years ago, Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y., and Eric Wilska, owner of the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., started a joint POD business, Troy Book Makers in Troy, N.Y., and leased an InstaBook machine developed by Victor Celorio. Because many of their customers want hundreds of copies of finished books, the pair have since added other machinery and occasionally subcontract to larger POD facilities. “We're taking on more and more business. But it's turning into a very competitive market,” said Novotny. As a result, Troy Book Makers moved into a larger space last week, tripling its size from 300 square feet to close to 1,000. The increased space will enable the company to host writers' workshops and workshops on formatting books for publication—to encourage authors to sign with Troy Book Makers.
Although 11 locations in North America, the U.K., Egypt and Australia are now using Espresso Book Machines, which are leased and sold through On Demand Books, that company is hoping that its next generation will attract even more users. CEO Dane Neller is cautiously optimistic that the company's 2.0 machine will be ready in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair and will start shipping at the end of the first quarter in 2009. The finishing unit, which is considerably smaller than in previous models, will be 3½'×2¾'. The cost to operate is just under a penny a page.