Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Book Publishing

As a lead in to next week's release of Forensic Photoshop, I wanted to post some thoughts in response to the feedback I've received from those that reviewed the book. To do this, I need to backtrack a bit and talk about the state of the publishing industry.

When I first considered writing the book, I knew that I had a lot to learn about the book business. I began to research the industry, checking out such things as royalties, schedules, rights, distribution networks, tax liability, and so much more. I was introduced via e-mail to Dan Poynter - a publishing expert - who proved to be a tremendous source of information about the process of writing and publishing a book.

What I learned shocked and angered me - and also answered a few nagging questions.
  • In 1947, there were less than 400 book publishers in the US. In 2004, there were over 85,000.
  • In 2006, 291,920 new titles appeared on the market, up 3% from the previous year.
  • 4,986 was the average first press run in 2002; second printings average 4,776.
  • A larger publisher must sell 10,000 books to break even. Larger publishers have shifted their philosophy from a humongous first print run to a market reality run.
  • POD Subsidy Publishers Xlibris published 10,269 titles through March 25, 2004. 352 or 3.4% had sold more than 500 copies. 1,463 or 14.3% had sold more than 200 copies. The average per-publication sale number of an Xlibris title is about 130 copies. To publish Forensic Photoshop with this company would have cost me over $6000 - which would have significantly increased the sale price.
  • Of iUnivers's 17,000 titles, only 84 have sold more than 500 copies. Only a half dozen of iUniverse's 17,000 titles made it to Barnes & Noble store shelves. This was mainly due to the unattractive pricing structure.
  • While accurate sales figures are impossible to get, the Author's Guild estimates that a successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.
Stop there for a moment. A successful non-fiction book sells about 7,500 copies, but a larger publisher must sell 10,000 books to break even. Print on Demand Subsidy Publishers charge authors up front to produce a set number of books, but only 3.4% of their customers sell more than 500 copies. What does this mean for an idea like Forensic Photoshop - an idea with a small audience (less than 15,000)?
  • Very few larger publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts.
  • Word of mouth top seller of books. According to The Independent, "Publishers can spend a fortune promoting their hottest literary discoveries. Bookshops can deploy all their marketing ingenuity to produce imaginative displays. But when the book-buying public comes to choose a new read, it is word of mouth that counts." Next comes author loyalty.
  • Amazon's rates and accounting methods make it close to impossible to get a small market book into their system at a reasonable price - unless you do one of two things: either use their POD system (Booksurge) which limits full colour books to 100 pages or deeply discount your title in hopes of making a few pennies on a lot of sales (see above for the averages).
Amazon makes it quite difficult to get a book into their system without the help of a larger publisher who does not generally accept unsolicited manuscripts. Amazon's biggest selling point is their reach in the market, but word of mouth sells more books than advertising.

When choosing a publishing company, you are also choosing an editor, a publicist, a distribution company, and a storage facility. All of these entities need to be paid - raising the price of the book. In small market books, this raises the per unit cost more than large market books. This is the reason, the publishing world tells us, that text books are $100 per unit and Harry Potter is available for $25.

Publishing companies also dictate the book's "cycle." There are 4 cycles per year and the author's book is released during one of them with great fan fare. If the author does well and sells out the first run, a second run is authorized. If the first run does not sell out during the first cycle, the books are held on the market for one more cycle, but not promoted actively (the author must hustle at this point to keep his/her books on the shelves). If there are still first run books available at the start of the third cycle, let the discounting begin. The books disappear from the major stores. Orders are limited to stock in the system. Once or if the stock is gone, that's it. Very rarely will there be a second printing at this point. The publisher is just counting themselves lucky to have recovered some money on the deal. If the book does not do well, the author will have trouble getting another book out on the market.

Coming from the design business, I was aware that direct to print technology had made its way into the printing industry. This technology allows for printing from computer file (eg. PDF), skipping the traditional 4 colour process and its associated costs of producing 4 plates for each page. I had begun to narrow down my choices on a publisher when a student in one of my classes suggested one of these types of publishers - Blurb. I was having trouble with a larger publisher understanding my desire for a full colour book. "How can I have a book about colour and light without full colour pages?" I asked. Getting frustrated with them, Blurb was a welcome experience.

With Blurb I can do a few things that I couldn't do with the larger publishers:
  • I can offer you the wholesale price - the price that Amazon would then mark up to their retail price. In this way, I cut out the middleman - allowing you to buy direct from the publisher.
  • I can print a full colour book at a reasonable price.
  • I can make style choices not generally available to authors.
  • I can have a book that won't go out of print or become unavailable.
  • I can update the book whenever the technology or case law changes - quickly and easily.
  • I can further reduce the cost of production by having a web site vs. a CD for the work files.
I also looked at the publisher's insistance that a book be over a certain page count. I've looked at the books on my shelf and they are all generally within a certain word count, but the page counts vary dramatically. This is done with charts, and images, and layout choices - choices that the consumer pays extra for (more paper, more ink, more $).

I made the decision to skip this marketing gimic and offer a book that takes the reader seriously. I respect the fact that you are busy, that you work hard for your money, and that you want the information - not the fluff. Therefore, Forensic Photoshop is not a "Photoshop Bible." It stays on topic and moves from point to point in a logical way. You'll get the information that you need to be effective and prepare you for the other books that are out there without confusion - utilizing a logical progression of steps within a workflow model. No matter your experience level, you'll appreciate the helpful tips on presenting your steps in court - telling your side of the story.

I really believe that the direct printing POD model is the wave of the future. There are so many of us who have a story to tell, who have a book just waiting to be written - who are intimidated or frustrated by the process of dealing with a publisher. The POD model puts you in control of the process. You write the book, you design it, you edit it, you decide on the price, you market it, the success or failure is yours. Along the way, you can choose to hire a professional editor, designer, marketer, and etc. You pay only for what you need - saving your customer's money in the process.

When I think of some of the topics that I've seen presented at NaTIA, LEVA, and so forth; many of them would make good books. Steve's DVD Authoring for Law Enforcement, Dorothy's Screen Capture with StarWitness, and a Guide to Computer Search and Seizure would be a great first step. Each would have a dedicated audience of 5-10k readers. Each could be reasonably priced. Who knows where this could lead.

All this being said, I've enjoyed the process of writing Forensic Photoshop and getting it to market. I hope that it will be a valuable addition to your library.

1 comment:

DanPoynter said...


Your post is a scholarly use of

Book Statistics. Fascinating numbers on book publishing.

Here are some more resources:
You can be a published author; you can share your knowledge and research with others with a book. Discover the shortcuts to getting that book out. Find out how to get an agent, find a publisher or publish yourself. Dan Poynter does not want you to die with a book still inside you.

The New Book Model, Text.

The New Book Model, Audio.
(Wait for the sound to load)

For writing resources, see:

F-R-E-E InfoKits. Detailed information on book writing, production and promotion.

You can make a difference
and make a living
with a book