01 June 2009

POD Overtakes Regular Printing

Last week was all about the comics, so this week I'm gonna try to make Oz and Ends all about book publishing.

The biggest news of last month was a milestone in how books are produced. Publishers Weekly had the accurate headline: "Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008."

(GalleyCat's "Self-Published Books Up 132 Percent" was off the mark since not all print-on-demand titles are self-published--though self-publishing has migrated to that technology. In fact, POD books will see grow most in unit sales as regular and specialty publishers take advantage of the technology.)

The spread between the two ways of printing books is only about 2% of the total:

The number of new and revised titles produced by traditional production methods fell 3% in 2008, to 275,232, but the number of on-demand and short run titles soared 132%, to 285,394.
And the spread will probably widen. Will on-demand sales revenue eventually top the corresponding number for printed books? How about on-demand units? I suspect not for a long time--not because printed books will come back but because sooner or later electronic formats will bite off some of the market now served by POD.

What frightens me about this news is that Bowker counted well over half a million "new and revised titles" coming out in 2008. I'll link those numbers with news from packager Michael Cader and industry consultant Mike Shatzkin about the industry in the past. As Shatzkin tells the tale:
Part of what I learned from Michael is that the annual output of new titles as measured by Bowker from the 1920s until the 1970s was about ten thousand titles per year.
To feel confident in that comparison, I'd like to be sure about how Bowker counts "new and revised titles" and how Cader's source did. Are they looking at the same swath of the industry? Are we comparing trade books to all books, including textbooks, specialty reports, etc.?

Furthermore, if Bowker now counts by ISBNs used, then there's a problem because publishers can assign ISBNs to special editions that never get into stores, to catalogues, even to the pieces of cardboard used to build special displays. By doing so, they can manage everything in their warehouses on one inventory system. But that would mean Bowker's count of "new titles" would be much too high.

Whatever the specifics are, the rise in titles issued is a clear sign we're moving closer to Authorgeddon. Sorry. Wish it were any other way.

No comments: