Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 6: Availability

Of all the posts in this interminable series, I suspect this one has the most potential to wind someone, somewhere up.  Not, I hasten to add, that that's my intention.  Really.  It isn't. But there are certain subjects that tend to make almost everyone a little edgy - and none more so than money.

But what the hell!  Let's just come out and say it.  Just because your independent science-fiction magazine is independent, that doesn't mean I should have to hock my kidneys to be able to afford a copy.  Just because your anthology of vegetable-themed horror stories is coming from a small press, that doesn't excuse it costing three times as much as the average book.  Small Press does not equate to "license to print money" - let alone "license to print money in a horribly inefficient fashion that involves pre-schoolers, potato halves and poster paint."

Part of the problem here, undoubtedly, is Print on Demand.  POD is the Pandora's Box of independent publishing - for while there's definitely hope at the bottom of it, you have to be willing to wade through a fair degree of horror to get there.  I've seen POD-printed magazines retail for more than I'd expect to pay for a new book, and POD paperback anthologies go for more than I'd consider forking over for a deluxe hardback.

I've not doubt that if I were to mention said preposterous costs to said publishers, they would fall back, in  hugely offended fashion, on the in-turn horrendously unrealistic costs charged by organisations like Lulu and CreateSpace.

To which I'd say, "Rubbish.  You're just doing in wrong."

Then we'd probably have one of those fights that only two people with absolutely no degree of martial prowess can have - likely there's be hand-waving and arm-flapping, and maybe someone would end up with a slightly bloodied nose.  But throughout it all, I'd know I had the moral high ground.  Because I've been taking a serious interest in POD these last couple of years.  I've worked out, for example that - if you do it right - it's cheaper to run off proofreader copies of your latest novel by POD than it is to churn them out through the average home printer.  If you do it right.  Heck, get it really right, and you can run off a novel length book for about the price of ... well, a novel length book.  Or an anthology for only a little more than what the average punter would expect to pay for an anthology.

Lest I cause unnecessary irritation - and I think this is a topic where there may be such a thing as necessary irritation - I should probably say here that, yes, I do totally get that there are constraints on the small press that drum prices up in a way that larger publishers can sidestep.  What I'm saying is, that isn't an excuse to charge the first (or for that matter, the biggest) number that comes into your head.  A few overheads are unavoidable.  Many aren't.  If you prep your Lulu-published anthology by merrily accepting the default options then sure, the resulting tome will cost about the same as a black-market Kalashnikov.  But take the time to test out different combinations of format and paper stock, have a look at the handful of markets that have managed to really make POD work to their advantage, and you might just find you've shaved 50% or more off that first, preposterous price.  To tie this back to the alleged theme of this series: POD has the scope to be the great leveller between small and professional press - if it's done right.

This is a theme I'll come back to in other posts - because it really is an area in which the small press can meet or even beat the pros - but it all starts here, with putting out a product that people can a) afford and b) actually get their hands on.  Cost plays a huge part in that, but these days, there are plenty of other factors too.  It's fine and commendable to put out a Kindle version of your magazine, but what about the many other file formats out there?  Sure, conversion can be a hassle, but cover all bases and you automatically double or even triple your potential readership.  Or, to put it another way, confine yourself to .pdf, say, and you immediately - and needlessly - lose countless readers who would be jumping at your product if they could only read it in a fashion that suited them on their device of choice.

One of the absolute best things any editor can do for a writer is to make their work as available as possible to as many people as possible.  For that matter, of course, it's also one of the best things they can do for themselves.  When it comes to electronic publication, that's an absolutely level playing field; for print, the steadily-declining costs of POD are going a long way to changing the game in favour of the small press.  But that only works if you're willing to delve into its intricacies, rather than blundering into its many pitfalls.

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