The Death of Out-of-Print Titles Is Near

You’ve been hearing it a lot lately: Print-on-demand is changing publishing. Advances in technologies have brought reduced turnaround times, lower costs, higher quality, and less risk. As a result, businesses focused on print-on-demand are emerging, including independent, on-demand-focused publishers that serve both traditional book models and a changing vanity publishing marketplace. One group that’s often left out of discussions around the changing marketplace: established publishers.

Monetizing the Backlist & Out-of-Print Titles
However, print-on-demand capabilities are a positive development established publishers. Publishers often have large, slow-moving backlists and many out of print titles that have strong, if small, followings. In the past, this has proven an obstacle to customers buying books they want, except at secondhand shops, whose revenue the publisher never sees. Short-run production of out-of-print and backlist titles for customers adds a revenue stream and can build author and customer good will.

It has been hard for publishers to justify the cost of a short run, especially of four-color trade books, whose runs are often completed in Asian countries and generally need to print 1,500 copies to make up their costs. While book manufacturers such as Amazon and Lightning Source have been producing black-and-white trade books on-demand to address similar issues, the four-color trade market’s backlists and out-of-print books have largely remained untouched – and unavailable to consumers. But the rise of a higher quality level of inkjet capabilities has empowered these established publishers to produce high-quality short runs cost-effectively, putting treasured books back in the hands of their audiences.

Opportunity to Sell Direct
The cost-effectiveness of this approach doesn’t end with the technology. Due to the unique nature of these types of short runs, they are good candidates for direct sales, which avoid distribution costs. However, to pursue that avenue, your printer has to have a shipping mechanism to fulfill demands and track and report shipments. Also, be sure to review your distributor agreements before pursuing this approach, as they may preclude making direct sales from the printer.

The first thing a publisher has to realize when deciding whether to go forward with on-demand, direct sales is that, while printing on-demand to fulfill backlist and out-of-print book orders is a new revenue source, it is also an entirely new program. Just asking your production department to add running backlist and out-of-print jobs to their usual tasks isn’t going to cut it — they won’t have the time or the resources to make it work. This is the kind of decision that has to come from the top, because it involves putting resources into the addition of print-on-demand capabilities, which involves adding print-on-demand capable technologies, as well as implementing workflows for tracking, invoicing and royalty reporting — and creating and rolling out a marketing strategy for the new department, if you so choose.

Of course, there are other decisions to make, as well — for instance, will on-demand-printed out-of-print books have the same kind of finishing as initial runs, or will you cut costs and employ simpler finishing options? — but once you have taken the above into account and made your decision to make the investment, you are well on your way.
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