I’m Bruce Batchelor, the guy credited with inventing on-demand book publishing, also called print-on-demand or POD publishing. That’s the business process behind the services offered by AuthorHouse, BookSurge, Lulu, Xlibris, Spire, Agio Publishing House, Trafford and other ‘author services’ companies. “Invent” is an odd term, since I didn’t design any particular machine or gizmo, but rather I took existing devices and processes, and recognized how they could be combined into a viable business. That portion of the book industry now generates about $200 million per year in sales volume, and has enabled about 100,000 authors to be published since its inception back in the mid-1990s.
Here’s a bit of background to that invention …
Probably just like you, I have had a lifelong love of books. From following along as my mother read to me as a toddler, through my pre-teen years captivated by the Biggles and Hardy Boys books, I was mightily impressed with the printed word. Then, while working on my high school’s yearbook, I discovered that one could create books simply by being so bold as to typeset the words and pay a printer to make bound copies! After that, there was no stopping me.
In the 1970s, I wrote, self-published and successfully marketed two bestselling books, doing so independent of any conventional publishing house, somewhat oblivious to how selling books was supposed to be so terribly difficult. The marketing for those two titles was so obvious and straightforward that I thought marketing for all books would be as simple. I no longer believe that!
For the past 30 years, I’ve worked at editing, ghost-writing, publishing and marketing, sometimes with conventional publishing houses and more often assisting the self-publishing authors who bravely live on the fringes of the book industry.
During these three decades, my wife Marsha and I also operated a communications consultancy. We created marketing programs for business, non-profit and government clients. We designed, typeset and pasted-up literally thousands of books, magazine issues, brochures, technical manuals, reports, newsletters and ad campaigns. Generally, I was involved in the writing and editing of each job to some extent and Marsha was the graphic designer. We won numerous awards – the most gratifying ones were for the effectiveness of campaigns, rather than prettiness. I’ve taught marketing at the college level, and also worked as a newspaper journalist and magazine editor. When writing work was scarce I worked as a surveyor, fisherman and parks patrolman. Going way back, I was a computer programmer/analyst, and earned an honors degree in pure mathematical problem-solving. In the mid-1970s, I lived in a log cabin in the Yukon, sometimes going on long winter camping trips with a team of sled dogs, and often just sitting and thinking.
That eclectic background provided me with a unique vantage point in 1994 to foresee an amazing opportunity emerging from the convergence of certain technologies and trends. Print-on-Demand (POD) equipment + the Internet information super-highway + Internet search engines + credit cards + e-commerce + desktop publishing + email + Adobe PostScript(tm) + authors anxious to be published … I envisioned a book publishing service that would help independent (or ‘indie’) authors everywhere. It would conform with the conventional publishing industry by having ISBNs and copyright registration and library cataloging, yet it would be different in a very important way. It would conduct most of its business over the new Internet, and would use print-on-demand manufacturing to produce only as many books as needed. To keep costs to the absolute minimum, we would go one step beyond ‘just-in-time’ inventory to be totally ‘on-demand’, printing the books only after an order came in. Most people thought I was nuts.
Within a year, Trafford Publishing had been formed in Victoria, BC, and we had our first paying clients. These were pioneering authors who were departing from the book industry’s old distribution model (of having preprinted books sitting in warehouses and on bookstore shelves on a consignment basis), for the novel concept of promoting and selling books largely over the Internet.
By 1996, Amazon.com had begun to popularize the notion of buying books over the Internet. As well, Baker & Taylor, one of the USA’s largest book distributors, had set up POD equipment to print back-list titles for publishing houses, calling their service Replica Books. Then Ingram Book, the USA’s largest distributor, built a monster POD printing factory in Tennessee beside their largest warehouse, so POD books could flow into Ingram’s distribution system and out to bookstores and online retailers. Initially called Lightning Print, this print service later became Lightning Source Inc. (LSI). Soon other companies opened and adopted Trafford’s POD business model of serving independent authors: Xlibris, iUniverse, AuthorHouse and dozens of others. Now some newer publishing services, such as Lulu.com and Blurb.com, offer on-demand book printing without book trade distribution.
During my 11 years as Trafford’s founding publisher and CEO, it grew to become one of the world’s most prolific publishing houses with more than 10,000 active titles from indie authors living in more than 100 countries. Currently, thanks to Trafford and similar POD publishing services, over 30,000 new authors are published every year.
Now we authors are entering a wonderful new chapter in indie publishing, highlighted by ever-expanding distribution using eBook editions, audio books and truly global POD production. I call this coming phase the multiple long tails era and predict that greater awareness and availability of indie books will significantly boost the average number of copies authors sell, and quadruple the count of new indie titles by 2010.
Helping authors realize their dreams is magical for me. In July of 2006, I left my leadership position at Trafford to return to working personally with authors, their manuscripts and those dreams. Once again, as we did before launching the POD revolution, my wife and I are operating a small publishing company – Agio Publishing House (www.agiopublishing.com). I feel very fortunate and privileged to be editing and advising creative people. I recently interviewed top executives in the largest POD author service companies and dozens of indie authors. The result is my new book, Book Marketing DeMystified [Agio, ISBN 978-1-897435-00-7].
A big thank you to all the authors who embrace print-on-demand publishing and who continuously amaze the world with your writings and thoughts.
Bruce Batchelor is the inventor of print-on-demand publishing (POD publishing) and author of Book Marketing DeMystified: Enjoy Discovering the Optimal Way to Sell Your Self-Published Book [ISBN 978-1-897435-00-7]. He is the CEO at Agio Publishing House (http://www.agiopublishing.com) and a presenter at writers conferences.