Wagging the backlist

Jeff Jarvis, a couple of days ago, offered some ideas to publishers about how to make money from their long tail — i.e., their backlists. The basic idea is to offset the cost of storing all those books by charging a premium for them–while simultaneously offering a discount on electronic/PDF versions.

Must be in the air, because Booksquare has forayed into the same territory, while raising an option (in the comments) that Jarvis omitted: POD — specifically, the capability to produce one-off print copies of backlist titles.

Booksquare thinks that’s what’s coming — it’s just not quite there today.

POD technology isn’t geared toward mass production yet. It’s getting there. Until then, it’s not cost effective to print very small runs of books to meet demand . . . there might a reluctance to use this technology due to pricing as well — a POD book will likely be at a higher price point than the original version. As I think about it, pricing POD books in general might be something that publishers are just now starting to think about seriously.

Amazon’s acquisition of BookSurge will certainly change the dynamics of POD (and I think that Amazon is the dark horse in the book digitization race for this very reason), and as they develop their market there, you’ll likely be seeing more publishers embracing POD as a way to regain control of their backlist. Of course, as I noted in my article, you’re also going to see authors who realize they can simply go it alone. BookSurge’s product is produced much faster than other POD suppliers and is excellent quality (I have a sample on my desk).

Okay, if I were running a publishing company from my armchair, I’d be obsessed with POD. I’d be chewing on it 24/7.

I’d be looking for partners who might be able to do it more cheaply than I could.

I’d be thinking about offering my backlist at a loss if it meant I could establish relationships with prospective customers. Why not offer an author’s backlist titles as incentives to get people to purchase his/her latest book, for example? It wouldn’t even have to be by author — you could use your backlist to get people reading other authors, too, or to get them to explore other, related lines of books.

There’s no reason publishers couldn’t add public domain books to their POD offerings as well. Anything to get people collecting books and to expose them to other portions of a list.

I’d also be asking how price-sensitive people are when it comes to backlist books. Anyone who has shopped for an out-of-print book online knows their prices can soar pretty high. So, identify out-of-print books as just that. “Xxx by yyy is out of print. However, we can create a printed, bound copy from our electronic files if you’d like. Here’s the price . . .”

I’m just sayin . . .

[tags] book publishing, the long tail, backlist books [/tags]

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