Books on Demand
I was in the mood for buying some new books last week – a few Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Award winning books that I missed reading when they first came out. After making a comprehensive list of titles from 2000-2015, I decided to visit my not-so-local local bookshop, where I wanted to see physical copies of the books before buying them. I looked for the books on the shelves – but I could not find any of them. Not one. Dismayed, I queued up to speak with an assistant.
ME: Hi. I’d like to order some books, please.
ASSISTANT: Yes, sir. What are the titles?
ME: I’d like BLANK by BLANK.
ASSISTANT: I’ll look it up on the computer. Just a sec. Yes – that’s a great book. It won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel. A great read.
ME: Yes. That’s why I want to read it.
ASSISTANT: Oh. That’s odd. It’s out of print.
ME: It only came out five years ago.
ASSISTANT: I know – but the publisher only printed one edition, which sold out. They didn’t reprint it. We could order a second-hand copy for £99.
ME: What? How much?
ME: Uh – that’s a bit out of my budget. Besides, I wanted a new copy. And I didn’t want to pay that much for a used one. Are you sure you typed it in correctly?
ASSISTANT (stone-faced): Yes, sir. Anything else?
ME: Well, you must have BLANK by BLANK. It was last year’s winner of three prizes.
ASSISTANT: Sorry, sir. Out of print.
ME: It’s the first book in a series. You have the other parts on a shelf over there!
ASSISTANT: Most people have already read the first part. You could buy the second part.
ME: That makes no sense. I want to read it from the beginning.
ASSISTANT: We could order you it from our specialist online bookshop for out of print titles.
ME: And how much would that cost?
ASSISTANT: £4000 plus delivery.
ME: No, thanks. Why is that so expensive, anyway?
ASSISTANT: Well, I suppose it’s because it’s rare. Blank’s fans will pay a lot for a copy of his book because there aren’t many.
ME: So, there is a demand for that book?
ASSISTANT: Yes. We get asked about it every week. We get loads of disappointed customers in here.
ME: Why doesn’t the publisher reprint it?
ASSISTANT: It’s not a new title. They like new titles.
ME: But it’s a classic!!!
ASSISTANT: Don’t use three exclamation marks on me, sir.
ME: Sorry. Uh – do you have any of these titles?
(The assistant studies my list and types each into a computer, shaking his head as each one flashes up OUT OF PRINT.)
ME: Don’t you have any of them?
ASSISTANT: No, sir. But we do have sixty-thousand copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.
ME: Yes, I noticed that. I waded through them to get into the shop. It looks like there are copies of it on every shelf. There are even copies balanced on your head.
ASSISTANT: Well, it is a popular title. It sells like crazy.
ME: It doesn’t leave much space for other books, does it? What do you do if someone comes in looking for a book that isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey?
ASSISTANT: We tell them to go somewhere else.
Exasperated, I flee the shop with none of the books I wanted to buy.
It made no sense for those award-winning books to be unavailable to buy new – but traditional publishers have not adapted the evolution of the book industry with Print On Demand publishing. If those titles had been POD titles, I could have ordered them all, had them printed in the shop, then gone home happy.
If a reader can’t buy a book because it is no longer available, the publisher makes no profit on the writer’s work.
I think traditionally publishers have to rethink their business model. They must keep all books by their authors available for the length of their contract. If Amazon can print individual copies of a book and make a profit, I’m sure traditional publishers could do it, too.
No books should be unavailable to read when we have the technology to reprint them.
The phrase “OUT OF PRINT” needs to be consigned to history.
Related article: Using Create Space to Publish.