Monday, August 16, 2010

Ink, Pulp, and Glue Are Harder To Move

Recently, Dorchester Publishing made the decision to make its titles available solely in digital and print-on-demand formats (read article here). Dorchester, a mass paperback publisher, operates one of my favorite imprints, Leisure Books, which puts out novels by guys like Brian Keene and Richard Laymon. So of course this change will affect me. But that’s not the point.

I love printed books as much as the next guy, the smell and the meat of them. But they’re right up there with couches on the list of things I’d rather not move. They’re heavy, they fill up way too many boxes, and because of varying sizes, they never stack right in alphabetical order (by author’s last name), so I always have to reorganize them after the move. Luckily, most people don’t move that often. But let’s not overlook the major disadvantage of printed books: cost.

Typically, ink, pulp and glue are heavier and more expensive than bytes on a server. At least the ink and pulp that I read is. So over time (a long, long period of time), an e-book reader might pay for itself. Maybe. Take into account, too, that printed books cost more for publishers. One reason Dorchester (Leisure) is digitizing and printing on demand is because their paperback sales dropped twenty-five percent last year. Think about it: publishers put up all of this money for traditional print runs with the hope that the book will at least recoup the cost of printing and the author’s advance. That’s a lot of money, especially to invest in first-time authors. And then people stop buying the product?! This is how publishers begin to build debt, usually to the author. No wonder publishers are starting to dread moving books as much as I do. Poor sales are bad for publishers, and therefore bad for authors--which, in turn, is bad for readers.

Honestly, I think the whole digital and POD model is built to put the cost of production on the reader. It's exactly as if publishers found a way to make us pay for printing. It's like their bailout.

But that's not really the point, either. Point is, the physical world is too heavy and dense. It takes a lot of power to move it. Much of the time, it takes a lot of money too. (Ever hired movers or rented a U-Haul? Ever paid for both?) Okay, so I'm stretching the metaphor. But maybe, just maybe, Dorchester is right to think that e-books make for a more lucrative business model. Maybe e-publishers will have more money to invest in marketing and in their authors, and still come out ahead. Maybe. And as a reader, I’d be willing to make the move to e-books--if someone can answer one burning question...

Which is more environmentally friendly? Printing books, or manufacturing, using, and maintaining servers and e-book readers? I’d really like to see a comprehensive study that takes into account everything from bleaching paper to recycling batteries.

If you know of such a report, or if you want to get all Neo-Luddite and smash someone’s Kindle, there’s this little space for comments down below. I welcome all rants.

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D.L. Snell writes with Permuted Press. He edited Dr. Kim Paffenroth twice, John Dies at the End once, and provided a constructive critique to Joe McKinney on his next major novel after Dead City. You can shoot D.L. Snell in the head at

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1 comment:

D.L. Snell said...

Forgot to mention the thread about Dorchester's decision over at the Permuted Press forum: read the thread