Focus on Independent Publishers: PMA Executive Director Terry Nathan talks about challenges facing this segment, including Amazon’s new POD policy.
When Amazon.com issued a statement at the end of March to announce a new policy requiring all print-on-demand (POD) titles sold on its Web site to be printed through its BookSurge subsidiary, the industry reacted quickly.
PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, like several other industry trade associations, issued a statement last month condemning the action as one that hurts publishers by creating a monopoly for POD. The group represents more than 4,000 independent publishers.
PMA Executive Director Terry Nathan spoke with Book Business Extra about Amazon’s new policy, as well as other challenges facing independent publishers.
Book Business Extra: How much of a concern is Amazon’s new POD policy?
Nathan: … It’s more of a concern that Amazon is kind of strong-arming people into using it as the only POD option. … I read Amazon’s [press] release [dated March 31], and I can see their points in terms of wanting … the one-day turnaround for their customers. It does make sense, but it’s not right for them to only allow one POD company to provide books into that part of their system.
Extra: How will this affect independent publishers?
Nathan: … I don’t know if it’s going to affect them. They still have the ability to get into [Amazon’s] system. The people that are really going to be hurt by [it] are going to be [printers that specialize in POD, such as] the iUniverses and Lightning Sources. …
Extra: How important has the growth of POD been for this segment of the industry?
Nathan: The quality of POD has been improving, but I’m still a little hesitant to direct somebody [to POD who] would come to me asking, “What’s the best way to get my book printed?” A lot of POD books are still sub-par. … They’re leaving a bit to be desired. They’re a lot better than they were five years ago. POD is a wonderful technology, and if used correctly, I think it’s great for a lot of people that have backlist titles. It’s a perfect use of technology. It allows a lot of these books to stay alive [that] would have [otherwise] gone out of print.
I sit in on groups with buyers from Barnes & Noble and Borders, and they absolutely frown on any POD book. There’s sort of a stigma that the books are not returnable.
Extra: In general, what should independent publishers be focusing on today?
Nathan: I’m thinking maybe just putting more emphasis on selling outside the book trade—special sales possibly. You think about BookExpo America and what it was 10 or 15 years ago. It was a show alive with book buyers. The independent bookstores are [decreasing]. You have the big retail stores and Amazon. One of the big challenges [for independent publishers] is to target and identify, and then explore … new areas to sell their books.
Extra: The PMA will be hosting its Publishing University at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles, May 27–30. What are the independent publishers you work with interested in learning more about from the PMA?
Nathan: The different online opportunities—the viral marketing and blogs. … There’s always the nuts and bolts of publishing that people are interested in, too. The publicity, the marketing and the distribution challenges—that’s always an area [in which] people are interested. … The main area [of the Publishing University] is going to be the online options. … The one thing that smaller publishers have [as an advantage over] the larger houses is that they’re able to react quicker to changes and needs in the marketplace. If all of a sudden a book is needed on tsunamis, maybe there’s a smaller publisher that can quickly get that out. Smaller publishers do have that. The same is true about how they can react to the changes on the Internet. Larger publishers have a lot more red tape. Smaller and independent [publishers] can jump right on it. The smaller folks have an upper hand [and can] stay competitive with the rest of the industry.