First of all, I misspoke.
A PIE Blog reader just brought to my attention that the price Politics and Prose charges for a single print book produced on Opus, their Espresso book printing machine, is not, as I had noted, $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred or fewer pages. This is just for “public domain” titles.
Public domain refers to works for which the copyright has expired, such as the works of Shakespeare. Such works are available to the general public for use without regard to ownership.
Politics and Prose goes on to say in another part of its description of Opus that custom titles one might upload to their Espresso book printing machine incur other charges. While these charges are quite reasonable, they point toward the variety of skills, techniques, and arenas of knowledge involved in print book publishing.
Here’s a list:
- Art Production and Art File Review: Politics and Prose will review the art files and PDFs for your print book. This assumes that you have hired a graphic artist to create a design and lay out the book, then distill the document into a press-ready PDF. Politics and Prose will provide design services if you so desire. The process of book design alone encompasses skills in layout, photo manipulation, illustration, type usage, color usage, art production within InDesign or Quark, prepress knowledge related to distilling press-ready PDFs, and an overall awareness of custom printing paper specification and book printing and binding.
- Copyright: Politics and Prose will provide a copyright page, if requested. This ties into the whole area of copyright, or intellectual property rights management, which is an aspect of common law that bears study and perhaps even advice from counsel. Information is readily available, but one’s rights and responsibilities shouldn’t be taken lightly. One should familiarize oneself with the laws and make informed decisions.
- ISBN: These numeric codes reflect a print book’s edition and publisher, plus qualities such as trim size, page count, and binding. Booksellers and libraries identify print books by their ISBNs. I’m not absolutely sure whether Politics and Prose addresses the issue of ISBNs, but this is a realm of expertise that must be considered.
- Promotion: Politics and Prose will put your books on their shelves and display them on their website. If your books sell, the bookstore will take a 20 percent commission. This is very reasonable given the amount many other self-publishing venues will take. That said, you might want to promote your print book yourself. You may want to send out press releases, postcards, or promotional bookmarks. You may want to hold a book launch. Your goal will be to generate buzz, to make it known to potential buyers that your book is available and to get them to want it. Public relations, promotion, marketing–in most for-profit businesses, these comprise one or more discrete departments. There are many skills to acquire, many choices to be made, to effectively promote your book.
- Distribution: My guess is that output from the Espresso book printing machine goes to the bookshelf, it is sold, and you get your portion of the proceeds. But there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. In most cases you would print and store the books, pay someone to warehouse them, keep track of how many you have, and collect and send them out as needed to those who submit book orders. Warehousing, inventory control, and and order fulfillment in most businesses also comprise an entire business department. Fortunately, at Politics and Prose you produce a book, it goes on the shelf, and someone buys it. Then Politics and Prose prints another copy (or a few more). That said, it’s still useful to understand the process of storage and distribution. After all, what if you want to give a handful of books as a gift or a donation to charity. How would you do so? Or what if you become a popular author and you want to sell your book at multiple bookstores. What distribution rights do you have?
This Is Nothing New
The same sort of thing happened when typesetting, paste-up, and prepress (assembly of negatives onto goldenrod sheets at printers and prepress houses in preparation for platemaking) were folded up into the Macintosh. Multiple disciplines pursued by skilled professionals collapsed into a single machine, and it became conventional wisdom that anyone with a computer could produce a publication. Only gradually did it become evident that the process encompassed multiple disciplines that had to be mastered.
I’m sure Politics and Prose does a great job for a reasonable price. I personally like the idea that independent authors can get their books printed and distributed when they might otherwise not have had this opportunity.
I even understand the criticism that not every one of the explosion of book titles will be worth reading, that the democratization of publishing will have its down side. Perhaps we need “curators” to help steer interested parties toward better book purchases.
But I do like the idea that more people will publish and more people will read.
While it may look like Opus is a giant vending machine, that you can insert a few dollars and a bound book will drop into the hopper a few minutes later ready to hand off to a willing buyer, just is not the case. It’s more complex and nuanced than that, and it bears thought, reflection, and study.