08 April 2010

Are Used Copies the Biggest Competition for POD Reprints?

Last month Mike Shatzkin mused on the life of In Cold Type, by his father, Leonard Shatzkin—a high-level dissection of trade publishing issued in 1982. In particular, he noted Houghton Mifflin’s curious disclaimer (PDF) that, although the company found the ideas in the book interesting, it did not share or endorse them.

Shatzkin noted that after In Cold Type went out of print, his father quickly got it into a print-on-demand system. But that prompts a new observation:

While Dad’s book is in Lightning [Source], there’s hardly any reason for somebody to buy the POD version anymore. The combination of the ones we’ve sold over the past 10 or 12 years and the relentlessly-increasing efficiency of the online used book supply system means there are probably enough copies in circulation to require bulk demand — for, say, 25 or more copies — for it make sense to do anything but shop the net for used. This is happening book by book. It would mean that the valuable shelf life of many scans for POD purposes might be considerably shorter than forever and that some books probably sell their very last newly-printed copy every day.
Of course, the digital file used to create the print-on-demand In Cold Type might become the viable version now that so many people in the book’s small but dedicated target audience are using electronic readers.

By the by, I own a copy of In Cold Type in case anyone wants to make an offer.

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