Is it possible for an independent press to not be at odds with a print-on-demand (POD) book publisher? Yes.
A deficit-based model says, “When one gains, another loses.” With the growing digitization of the publishing industry and the democratization of publishing services, work with rather than against the tide is a better strategy. Embracing hybridity creates a win-win situation. It is part of being asset-based in approach. An asset-based model says, “How can the unique strengths of all parties involved be utilized to benefit a larger aim.” That larger aim is a stronger publishing industry.
Believe it or not, one way to strengthen an industry is for companies within it to gather closer together. In the digital age, that means working together since side-by-side, brick-and-mortar groupings might be harder to achieve. There is an economic term for this kind of gathering. It is called clustering.
Firms “in close proximity to a significant number of its competitors,” according to The Economist, benefit from sticking together in a “pool of expertise” . Clusters such as Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Gallery Row in Philadelphia assist companies in the same field in attracting talent and clientele as well as helping customers know where to shop.
Another way to think of clustering in a digital environment is to think about link referencing in the blogosphere. When blogs link back to one another, they are mapping relationship, tracing a grouping for their readers to follow. Each blog has a particular focus and a niche readership. By creating linkages back to one another, there is a clustering of references. Many small presses have blogs in addition to the print and/or digital publications they offer. They are part this clustering effect already in a digital environment, one that references to literary content.
I have a small publishing company, Plurality Press. I publish other people’s awesome poetry and curate a scholarly journal. I, myself, am also a poet and budding scholar, who just released a collection of poems. I did so using a print-on-demand publisher--a competitor.
For my newest poetry collection, The Forest She Traveled (2018), I used Xlibris.com. I have been working with the POD company since the publication of my first book of poetry, Just-Is: A Story (2010). When I started on my journey as an author, Xlibris.com provided me access to professional design staff and author services representatives as a recent college grad without the connections and sufficient financial resources to get my foot through the door in the publishing industry.
Yes, I had prior experience putting together “kitchen table publications” and sat on the editorial staff of my college’s arts and literary magazine, Kaleidoscope. However, navigating the broader publishing world is far more complex and not for the faint of heart. Xlibris gave me an opportunity to experiment and develop sensibilities that helped to shape my current work as a publisher.
Many indie presses outsource printing or use POD features to publisher their books. This is because the print-on-demand industry, in many cases, allows you to use their services without their branding attached (there is occasionally an additional fee for this). It is also can be more cost effective in that the design, curation and marketing team is already gathered and readily accessible, plus the publication packages can also be a la carte.
Wouldn’t stating all of this threaten my business as an indie publisher? No, not if you use an asset-based, cluster model framework.
Print-on-demand publishers do not do what indie publishers do. The benefits that indie publishers offer is having a publishing house feel, flexible enough to tap into market trends and saavy enough to use the latest technological advances to bring exciting and innovative authors to the public.
Our value is in our discretion, in our tastes. It is our pallette and our willingness to put our name behind an author’s work that sets us apart--even from competitors within our specific fields.
The other distinction between an indie press and a POD publisher is that due to the nature of their industry, POD companies only can make the corrections you tell them to make. Meaning, that they do not make content suggestions. That means no assistance with organization items or increased readability or grammatical suggestions or style. These things increase the value of a manuscript on its way to becoming a book.
Why then, would I now use a POD publisher?
This has to do with my forthcoming blog post about the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality in what it means to be an author and publisher in contemporary American society. My book of poetry, once you get into the poems, is markedly from a black literary tradition in vernacular and subject matter.
It, at the same time, pulls from a larger multiplicity of poetic verse traditions that would be a beautiful challenge for some publishing houses to market. One of the first things I’d probably hear in pitching The Forest She Traveled would be, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” Seeing how The New York TImes Book Review only has section listings for bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction, I could see how anyone, on face value, might come to that conclusion.
Yet, one differentiating feature that an indie press like Plurality has that POD publishers do not is that--we have folks on the ground, at local bookstores and universities where there is poetry being sold. There is a demand. It just may not be as visible and offered the same platform fiction and non-fiction has.
How to argue that how we come to understand our society, humanity itself, comes from poetry? It is by a tradition of poetry making elegy to a life that the memoir borrows from. How to help translate that into sales is the question that small presses, I believe, can help solve.
So, why did a publisher of an indie press use a print-on-demand company to publisher her book of poetry? Instead of making an argument about why poetry, in this day and age, does sell, I’d rather prove it. Yes, it will be an uphill battle, but--more importantly--there is an appetite for poetry. I wanted to hurdle any barriers to publication that I’d encounter as a black woman poet writing from multiple poetic traditions. I wanted to hurdle any barriers to publication--especially if I had to encounter them in selling.