Tradpubs are doing digital only imprints

Tradpubs are doing digital only imprints

Paperbooks are still largely done by tradpubs (traditional publishers). If you are an author and are going to be your own publisher, you are likely going to go with an e-book. Yes, you can use print-on-demand options, like Amazon’s


However, if you walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore, the vast majority of the p-books you see will have been published by tradpubs.

If newly published p-books are going to be mass-produced, it’s likely going to depend on those traditional publishers.

That’s part of why it’s very interesting to see those tradpubs moving into e-book only imprints.

If that works really well, we could see the end of 100,000 print runs…maybe even 10,000.

That has all sorts of implications.

What does it do to brick-and-mortar stores?

What does it do to the used book market?

What does it do to p-book prices?

If very few books have large runs, it means that most bookstores won’t be able to have thousands of titles. It may make competition between stores just to be able to carry titles higher, and may make the “destination” bookstore the one that survives.

It might also mean that p-books are only a small feature in another kind of store…and that they could be a lot more expensive.


Publishers Weekly article

by Jim Milliot, Calvin Reid, Gabe Habash, and Rachel Deahl is a good survey of what tradpubs are doing with digital imprints.

An imprint, by the way, is a specialized line of books within a publisher.

Publishers are doing e-books only both not only for original books, but also for the “long tail” of older books.

I’m going to suggest you check out the article, but I do want to call out one interesting strategy.

F+W Media is doing an “all you can plan” for e-romances:

Crimson Romance

You can subscribe to the site for either $12.99 a month or $59.99 a year.

For that amount, you get online access to all of the books at the site…no restrictions.

New books are added each week.

While it’s not entirely clear to me, it appears that you can only read them online for that price, although they do talk about downloading.

I’ve talked about subscription services as a possibility before, but this is one way to put it into practice. You don’t own the books, by the way…if you stop subscribing, you don’t have access to them.

I’ve been careful in this post to talk about “mass-produced” p-books. The PW  article gives you details about when there might be print runs (and what the royalties for authors are…sell more, get more, for one thing), but it also talks about print-on-demand.

Print-on-demand doesn’t have the economy of scale of a full print run though. Oh, I probably should define those terms. When a publisher does a “print run”, a certain number of copies are printed, basically at the same time. They do that before they know how many will actually sell…and they do end up buying back copies (usually for store credit…at least, that’s how it worked when I managed a bookstore) that don’t sell.

Print-on-demand doesn’t print a book until you know there is a sale. Less economy of csale…but less waste as well.

Does that balance out?

Not at all! CreateSpace p-books are much more expensive, from what I’ve seen, than their e-book counterparts.

Here are a few examples for you:

The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series Book 1) $0.99 as an e-book, $14.99 p-book

Informed Consent $0.99 as an e-book, $11.99 p-book

Out of the Black $4.95 as an e-book, $17.99 p-book

I just looked at the most popular Kindle store books “published by CreateSpace”, and pulled out a few.

As you can see, a POD book, at least in this case, is typically ten dollars or more than the e-book.

I’ve shared with you before my reader Roger Knights’ ideas on print-on-demand machines in stores.

If those could be done profitably (which both requires them to be able to produce the books inexpensively enough and have the books and the experience that shoppers want), that would be another challenge to traditional large print runs.

I think if I worked in a giant “book factory”, I’d be a bit concerned.

What do you think? Are the days of the traditional publisher doing huge print runs on the way out? Would you pay for an all-you-can-read program? What if  the books were only available for you to read online? Will e-publishing imprints bring back out-of-print books…could someone revive the Ace Doubles that way, for example? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

18 Responses to “Tradpubs are doing digital only imprints”

  1. Jason Cox Says:

    It may just be me, but I noticed some significant changes to the physical bookstore last week when I visited B&N. I’ve always loved that store and on any given visit usually would purchase 2-3 books and place 4-6 books on my “pick these up on kindle” list. Which would constitute 1/2 of my “book” reading per year or so.

    Those visits were always cherished time spent, though. Just the sights and smells of a bookstore are so highly associated with positive memories that I just love being in them. But this time it seemed a little different.

    The B&N had such an… odd… selection. They only seemed to carry the latest book in any given series (excluding NYT top-sellers). The arrangement of the books seemed less organized. Though I still saw 2-3 books I would have missed through the “online perusal” of Amazon (and who can beat the smell of new-book paper and coffee?), it made for something of a “sad” moment for me. Like the beginning of the end.

    There was so much space devoted to nicknacks and then vast amounts of space devoted to “bargain books.” The periodical selection was still amazing (and very active).

    Now that I’m writing this, I think I’m going to write a blog post about it on my site as this turns out to be a pretty emotionally charged subject. I love my Kindle, and better eReaders than that are sure to come, but I had always hoped that the physical bookstore will always survive. I hope they do.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason!

      That sort of thing happened to a Borders near me a few years ago…of course, it is gone altogether now. One of my regular Borders is a Golfsmith, and one of them is a Guitar Center.

      I have loved time I have spent in bookstores, and am a former bookstore manager…but what is out there now is not like what it was then. Fewer books, as you note, fewer, less interactive employees, and a lot more other items (non-books have helped B&N’s bottom line).

      You might enjoy this story of mine:

      If you do blog about this, feel free to comment with a link…

      • Jason Cox Says:

        We lost two Borders in Knoxville, and that was a sad experience to me as well. The Borders were laid out differently and had a large section for music. And I didn’t like the coffee as well, either, so I visited them less often. But they still had their moments.

        I remember that story you linked. Along with the series of stories as your Borders closed. (I’ve been reading ILMK for a while, just recently decided to start posting after reading Michael Hyatt’s book Platform, which has me jazzed-up for being more active on the blogs I read regularly.) Good stuff. I especially like the characterization of the kids & grandpa. Heheh.

        Working on my more in-depth blog “comment/post” as we speak –

  2. The Inevitable Decline of the Brick & Mortar Bookstore | Jason's Blog Says:

    […] — Leave a comment I’ve come back to write a post on my website after reading this insightful article on the I Love My Kindle blog. During the writing of the comment on that, I realized the strong […]

  3. Jason Cox Says:

    Just finished the blog post:

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason!

      I enjoyed the article! I was going to comment there, but I didn’t want to create an account or use Twitter.

      It’s well-written and evocative, and I understand about having p-books in every room…despite the fact that we have a floor to ceiling library as well. 🙂

      As a former bookstore manager, I’m not sure that I see the economic viability of the model you propose. There are a couple of challenges to it (although I do like the idea of having a physical bookstore and then buying an e-copy).

      First, there is the issue of rent. Outside of salaries, bookstores are always fighting rent. Let’s say you are paying a dollar a square foot (just to keep it simple). Every day, a book that sits on a shelf makes you less money, because you’ve been paying rent on that space. That’s part of why you have turnover of titles…and why higher sales titles command more space.

      A second one, which may not be as obvious, is “shrinkage”. That’s made up of shoplifting, damage, and employee theft. Bookstores are very highly shoplifted, since it’s fairly easy to turn the books into cash (at a used bookstore). If you only have one copy of a book and it gets shoplifted, or someone spills that coffee on it, do you have another in a back room or do people need to wait for it until you can get another one? If you have it in the back room…more rent.

      Oh, and that’s something else: what if two people want to look at the same book at the same time? 🙂

      I did find it interesting that your sense of the bookstore experience is quite a bit different from mine. I still think of a bookstore as pretty much just bookshelves. A coffee shop? To me, that’s as foreign to a bookstore as Settlers of Catan is to you. It was part of the “dinostore”, the giant generic stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Those did have a run of a few decades, but I guess I still picture the Mom & Pop.

      I do, though, think that bookstores can make it. I see three types:

      * The luxury store, where new novels cost fifty dollars, and of much higher physical quality than they tend to be now. The Customer Service would also be higher

      * The used bookstore. I think the price will inevitably rise as supply declines (due to books not being printed in paper). Used bookstores are often not profit-making entities now, I think…they often seem to be run by hobbyists who love books

      * The destination store. This is likely to be themed, such as a science fiction store or a mystery store. Books would only be part of it, and that would include author talks and other events

      Again, well-written piece…thanks!

      • Jason Cox Says:

        Did you ever read Julian May’s Intervention & Galactic Milieu books? Unlikely, I would imagine, but might as well ask. One of the main characters is something of an old-timer who runs a science fiction used-book store in an age when bookstores are unheard-of.

        I totally see your 3 scenarios playing out. Was hoping for another, though.

        My thought was that the bookstore I mentioned might be somewhat like a furniture store is currently. A display show-room. People could browse the shelves of paperbacks, but the reading of samples would be on your eReader. The books would have to be affixed to prevent shoplifting. I know there are difficulties with that, though. In the meantime, the extra boost of revenue (which could probably be started in a matter of weeks) might keep the bookstores currently out there afloat.

        Think about the used bookstore, for instance. What if they had an Amazon seller account and got 2-3% of sales on Amazon items purchased on their store wifi? No additional cost to the customer for the final product. They could be selling the 3rd volume of a series not even in stock, but that was browsed to in the store. Something like that.

        Just as an additional afterthought… what of society that books become an “elitist” item that only the wealthy can afford. The very items that equalized society in the past through education for the masses become once again primarily the property of the wealthy. Ironic, eh?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Jason!

        I do have Julian May books on my shelves (yes, p-books) 😉 but I don’t think I’ve read it. I think I’d remember that. 🙂

        Physical books could certainly return to being a one percenter item, as they were before paperbacks. Yes, there were dime novels and penny dreadfuls before paperbacks got going in the 1930s (not even a century ago), but those weren’t generally “respectable” titles (but were genre works, like many inexpensive e-books are now).

        Books, however…the words that the author writes, are going to be available worldwide to all social strata in ways never seen before.

        Look at as an example. They can get books into disadvantaged areas with e-books (it takes a generator and satellite internet) much more cost effectively than organizations can get paperbooks there.

        As free municipal wi-fi becomes more common, you could get an inner city child the world’s great literature for $79 currently…imagine what it would cost to get that child 1,000 paperbooks?

        By the way, I think on your fourth point in your article, about governmental censorship, that it is much more difficult to do with e-books than with p-books. i don’t know if you’re familiar with Samizdat under the Soviet Union, but you can picture the difficulty of secretly printing and distributing one hundred copies of a paperbook. With an e-book, evidence can be deleted rapidly, and the actual distribution can be done pretty invisibly. Governments can’t shut down the internet, because it is needed for business. Distribution doesn’t need to be done over the public internet, of course, but even China can’t stop electronic distribution.

        Picture this: I want you to get a ten page article to everybody in your company. Your boss has one person who is going to try to prevent it, and you have 25 people to reach. Is that going to be easier electronically or physically? You can certainly use your own cellphones and non-work networks to do the distribution…that’s how an underground communication community works.

        Could a government wipe out a popular novel more easily with e-books? Possibly. Could they wipe out an anti-government work that’s trying to hide? I think that would be harder…

  4. rogerknights Says:

    Print-on-demand doesn’t print a book until you know there is a sale. Less economy of csale…but less waste as well.

    Does that balance out?

    Not at all! CreateSpace p-books are much more expensive, from what I’ve seen, than their e-book counterparts.

    There will always be a price gap. But it could be narrowed if the POD machines were in-store and running 24/7, wholly replacing the shipping and shelving overhead of tradpub.

    From the paragraph in the article, the publishers’ moves toward POD seem pretty tentative and small-scale so far. It’s a break from their current boycott of their technology, but they have a long way to go. Nevertheless, go they must. PODlish or Perish!

    It’s funny, for the past three days I’ve been thinking that ILMK was going to publish an item about publishers’ getting into POD and maybe mention me in it–but I couldn’t imagine why, because it seemed to me it’s going to take at least a year for tradpubs to get their ducks in a row on this matter. (They SHOULD have had a detailed contingency plan drawn up long ago.) This is just a straw in the wind. What I’m looking forward to are the leaks about tradpubs seriously considering a tectonic shift to POD and abandoning centralized printing except in exceptional cases.

  5. Edward Boyhan Says:

    As I’ve said many times before, the e-books transition leads to radically changed business models — mostly threatening to the tradpubs’ models. So what you are describing are to my mind to be expected changes/experiments with treadpub business models.

    These seem to me to be a bit analogous to ones tipping a toe in a cold swimming pool to judge the temperature. I have no sense at all whether any of these make sense or could be successful.

    My own personal mass market reading in the past couple of years has skewed heavily towards indies and away from tradpub fare. When looking at some mindless entertainment at $2.99 or $3.99 as opposed to $12.99 (or higher), it’s an easy choice: quality doesn’t enter into it much — the entertainment value (for me) is about the same, and the (relatively few) copy editing mishaps just don’t register all that much.

    The real question is how many other readers out there are like me? 😀

    I think it’s a no-brainer: as ebook volumes ramp up; pbook print runs will ramp down; the only uncertainty here is at what rate?

    POD technology has been around for almost 10 years now. For reasons you’ve stated (cost) and others (speed, complexity) I don’t think POD is going anywhere. After 10 years, if there was a way to make it work, I would have thought someone would have figured out a viable business model. Count me as dubious: a niche offering at best.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      You know, that’s an interesting point. For me, I don’t need all of my entertainments to be great. That goes for books, TV, movies…you name it. I love a great book, of course, but I still like mediocre ones…and even “bad” books have their points of interest.

    • Jason Cox Says:

      So I’m wondering what effect the move towards ePubs from books will have on the “culture of reading?” You mentioned that for you the entertainment value of a cheaper indie is as high as a tradpub book at 4x the price. That obviously would have huge effects on publishers (and indie publishers or self-published authors).

      But also, I would expect it will have effects on the reader-culture. Bufo Calvin, as a former bookstore manager, probably knows what drives actual book sales more. Is it the positioning in the store? The cover appearance (yes, we’ve all bought books based on that, just admit it)? The fact that it’s on a top-seler list? Word of mouth? Book clubs? I know people who will buy a book just to read it on a trip to start conversation because it’s a “popular book.”

      What will happen to all of that when we get a much more fragmented and potentially disconnected reader culture? If 50% of all books sold are currently best sellers, and that number goes down to 20%, how are we going to even know what to read? That’s one of the most frustrating things about the online experience. There is SO much out there. How do you sort it all out so you don’t waste your time (and money) reading dreck?

      I suppose someone will come along and invent a FaceBook for book readers wherein you select friends with similar tastes (and distastes) and who will actually write something negative about junk/bad books so you can avoid it. (Yes, I’m aware of Shelfari and Goodreads… maybe I just don’t have them tuned in, but I’ve found both nearly useless for this so far. Just about the same as Amazon reviews which tend to over-rate everything)

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Jason!

        One little note before I dive into your interesting comment: EPUB is a specific format, but I’m assuming you mean “e-publications” generally. 🙂

        We clearly have some different approaches here. For me, there are no dreck books. I’ve never regretting reading a book…as I’ve said before, that’s an advantage of being a geek: low threshold of entertainment. 🙂

        With Amazon, you don’t have to worry about your money…it sounds like you might want to return a book just because you don’t like it. You can do that: you can “return” any Kindle store book within seven days of purchase for refund. You can even do it yourself at

        Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be returning everything…the privilege could be abused. If you make a reasonable guess that a book is good, though, and it isn’t…you are safe.

        The price doesn’t really impact me on whether I like the book or not. I’ve read some great free books…especially, but not limited to, public domain classics. I don’t say, “This one is $12.99, this one is $3.99, I’ll buy the $3.99 one.” I could go either way, although I tend to try to get a lot of low cost ones.

        What sells books in bricks-and-mortars is not going to be the same thing online, although some of the drivers will be the same.

        When I had a brick-and-mortar store, the number one factor was local radio talk shows. That was probably followed by Oprah. I’d say that having a book on the bestseller list was a factor, but the fact that a book was a Harlequin or Silhouette romance had a huge impact…we had people who would buy every one of those.

        Having a book in the “impulse shelves” (at the counter) was good, and an end cap sold more than in the aisles.

        Online? I think bestseller lists have more of an impact. What I call “word of mouse” is important: I can tell you that I can affect the sales of a book. I don’t, by the way, sell advertising. Some places do, and it can make you some nice money (I could probably charge $25 to feature a book for a day). I don’t need to do that at this point, and I’d rather not…my paid subscribers enable that (thanks, subscribers!). People do care about the star average that a book has gotten.

        Barnes & Noble has NOOK Friends, and I do think Amazon will develop a social “reading circle” feature…

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        Part and parcel of the new business models will be (I think) new kinds of reviewing services to help us sort through the new cornucopia of titles.

        I for one am not disheartened by this. I find the current situation where the tradpub content is chosen by a relatively few elitist “editors” (mostly in NYC) to be somewhat distasteful — a small minority is “deciding” cultural values. I look forward to a wider choice enabled by new business models.

        As for myself, right now, I find price (not too high not too low), and ratings by other consumers to be helpful. I look at the one star reviews; I ignore those concerned about copy editing issues. I try and get a sense of the genre/story approaches. If I buy, and I like the experience (especially if the title is a part of a series) then I’ll buy again. Mostly I read scifi, mysteries, and suspense — I’ve had little trouble finding enjoyable stuff in the $2.99-3.99 range.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        The idea of “review services” is an interesting one.

        I like to say, “Old media sells paperbooks, new media sells e-books.”

        The key thing about new media is that it isn’t perceived as a “service” (it often isn’t even paid for). We see it as friends and people we know…even if, in reality, we’d have to go through an entourage of bodyguards to actually shake the hand of one of these “friends”.

        Twitter sells e-books. Facebook sells e-books.

        Even when somebody reads a celebrity in the Huffington Post, there isn’t that distancing that you have in, say, the New York Times book review.

        That’s why I think Amazon needs to get “book circles” going in a real way.

    • Jason Cox Says:

      This is in reply to BC but I had to go out a level to reply. Sorry.

      I was trying to “generify” the ePub, not specifying the format. Probably not a good idea here.

      Regarding the “dreck” topic, for me, the main issue is time, not price. I don’t have enough time to read 1/10 of what I want to read, not to mention any particular mood I might be in at the moment. So picking the right book is pretty important. I generally find myself “reading” from about 4-5 different reading lists: Audiobooks (from my Audible subscription), Fiction, Personal Enrichment, Christian-Living, and Business books (in no particular order). Never having developed the skills of a speed-reader, it takes me several weeks to months to read an average book, or a couple weeks for the audiobook which gets “read” during mindless activities like mowing, driving, cleaning/organizing. And Podcasts sometimes cut into that.

      Not taking retirement into account, I probably already own 2x the number of books than I’ll ever be able to read. And there are some that I really want to read over again (Ender’s Game & the rest of that series to name one). Giving that time to something in particular is a pretty intentional process.

      This wouldn’t be the first time I was just a little bit on the odd or unusual side, though. 🙂

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Jason!

        If you ever do want to reply to me privately, feel free to let me know that in your comment. In that case, i won’t publish the comment, but will contact you separately. When someone posts, I have their e-mail address, but it is not published and I do not use it except for private communications.

        The issue with “EPUB” is that it is a term that already has a specific meaning. When I taught people who were creating things like spreadsheets for people to use, I would recommend that they never had two buttons that said the same thing but did different things on the same page. Amazon has been bad at that: “Not that OK button, the other one.” 🙂

        I’m sure neither of likes to be thought of as mainstream…there’s nothing the average person hates more than being told they are average. 😉 I suspect, though, that your desire to only read “worthwhile” books is more typical. That’s suggested by the ongoing existence of the “filter industry” (I just made that one up, but I think I’ll use it again). 😉 For me, I like pretty much all input. Every book is a mental connection to at least one person…are there any people in the world who aren’t interesting? 🙂

        “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe. ”
        –Lex Luthor (played by Gene Hackman)
        screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton
        based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

        Notice that I’m not saying that’s it’s better or worse to be more indiscriminate in your reading. 🙂

        I always find it fascinating when people say they want to read a specific list of books before they die…say, all the Pulitzer winners or Nobel winners or Hugo winners…or Remo Williams novels.

        My thought is, “So, what do you do when you accomplish that? Do you stop reading?” It seems to me that it is statistically impossible to read all of the great books in the world…they are publishing them faster than you can read them, not to mention the thousands that already exist. The trick, then, is to get value out of anything you read.

        My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised…I really love reading something I like that I didn’t know ahead of time I would like.

        I have to say, you certainly write things that get me thinking…and blathering on, as we can see. 🙂 One last comment about your last comment. My Significant Other did get me a t-shirt that says, “Nobody’s target market”…I have worn it proudly. 🙂

  6. Books in 2011: more sales, lower gross, profit… « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Publishers likely do, though, pay more to authors for e-books than they do for p-books (especially for ones that sell over 10,000 copies…see […]

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