Jaid Black, owner of Ellora’s Cave, mentioned in her previous interview that she thought the NY move into e-publishing would have difficulties because authors want to see themselves in print. In the Triskelion drama of the past week, one thing was clear and that was Triskelion appeared to over extend itself in attempting to get ebooks into print.
Patty Marks, CEO of Ellora’s Cave, shared with me some changes that are going on at Ellora’s Cave which are addressing the increasing economic difficulties for small print presses, particularly epublishers, finding their way into bookstores. I think the story can be illustrative beyond epublishing and maybe even highlights an issue of internet bookstores because right now, getting in a brick and mortar store is still important. It’s important to note that while much of the discussion centers around Borders Group Inc., it is because Borders was the first national bookstore to really believe that there was a print readership for erotic romance.
Per Patty Marks:
Here’s how Borders’ purchasing and return procedure works:
Borders orders are shipped to one of their distribution centers. It, in turn, distributes X number of books to each store. The stores that do not sell the books or choose not to carry the books (for whatever reason) return the books, not to the distribution center for redistribution, but to the return center. The return center returns the books to the vendor (the distributor, wholesaler, or publisher). The stores that need additional copies reorder through the distribution center, thus the vendor is receiving returns from the return center while the same books are being reordered by the distribution center. More often than not, the books being returned are not in resellable shape (trade paperback books are returned whole, while mass market is stripped and only covers returned), so those same books cannot be redistributed and more need to be printed.
Note from Jane: When a book is returned, the wholesale price is charged back to the vendor (publisher or distributor). When Borders restructured and closed the Waldenbookstores, that meant a number of books were charged back to the publisher. I suspect that in Triskelion’s case, it was not able to absorb such a loss.
More from Patty Marks:
As EC was the first epublisher gone print to acquire a major deal with Borders, we started seeing the indications toward the middle of 2005 and beginning of 2006 – in the form of increased returns and from watching financial indicators. At the same time, NY was getting into erotic romance and Borders began accepting more epubs' print titles. At that time, we began doing some restructuring in the area of print, including limiting the number of titles that we printed, reducing Borders's orders and once again, lengthening the time between ebook and print book. We also began focusing on other means of increasing our print distribution and visibility – while paying our printer vendors and royalties — so as to not have to depend on Borders checks to pay the bills.
Spin it how one will, this is obviously affecting everyone in the book industry — from Borders planning a .com store, to NY publishers pushing ebook lines, to Ingram and Baker & Taylor, to LightningSource, to offset printers competing with digital print. And of course it affects the authors whose promises of print are being put on hold and the readers who are waiting for the books.
We at EC have tried to look at all involved and come up with a solution that will be beneficial in the long run for our company, our employees, our authors, our booksellers and our print readers. So, earlier this year, we decided to invest in our own high quality print equipment. Our first official print title was Maiden and the Monster by Michelle M. Pillow.
The company’s decision to make this investment was based on a lot of very positive factors: 1) Much faster turnaround for getting a book into print, 2) we can “right size” the quantity printed, 3) because we can push books into print on shorter notice, we can get new books available for conventions and booksignings, 4) we can alter priorities easily and quickly, 5) because we can print small quantities and can print quickly, we have the option of printing special or customized editions for special events and such, 6) we can alter books easily, 7) we can alter books easily, 8) books need never go out of print and 9) the operation is expandable and 10) we will be able to print ARCs and catalogs for our print vendors.
Being nosy, I asked Patty to clarify some issues:
Jane: What about Barnes and Noble?
Patty Marks: I just had lunch today with a person who works at B&N here in San Antonio. She said that they have some of our titles, but the LSI titles still show up in their system as POD and non-returnable and thus not orderable by B&N, except I believe as special orders by the customer. All of our books have always been returnable (we get charge backs from LSI on returned books). I know B&N has recently picked up some of our newer titles from Baker and Taylor and our VP of Sales is communicating with B&N corporate to see what we need to do in order to have all of our titles available in the stores that want to stock them.
Jane: Do you have to have print success to be a viable company? I was under the impression that EC was successful primarily at the epublishing level and that print was secondary.
Marks: Jane, this is a question you should probably put out to the authors. As far as the bottom line is concerned, the answer is no. Both EC and our authors make a hell of a lot more money from ebooks than from print. There is much lower overhead which equates to higher royalty percentages. However, the print is another venue to get our authors out to the readers and I believe that right now the answer is yes — if a company wants to attract authors.
Jane: It sounds like the print success was largely because Borders was willing to take stock and other larger bookstores are not. Is that accurate?
Marks: Borders (through Sue Grimshaw) was the first to jump in feet first. Due to the erotic content of our titles, I think many of the romance buyers had been apprehensive to carry them. The independents have also been big supporters of our Romantica. We are seeing increased sales through Baker and Taylor and I know that some B&N stores are ordering some titles. I look for this to increase as erotic romance has become more generally accepted
Jane: Is Borders treating small press publishers, such as yourself, differently than the big 6? (I.e., the return nature of the books in mass market form has always been to strip the covers or at least in recent years).
Marks: I don't think so. I believe that all trade paperbacks and hardcovers are returned intact. This was from our original standard contract with Borders. Trade paperback is also a standard size for digital printing and a lot of niche markets use digital printing.
Jane: You said: “At the same time, NY was getting into erotic romance and Borders began accepting more epubs' print titles–?. I wasn't sure what this sentence meant. Are you saying that Borders is accepting more epublisher's print titles? Or are they accepting more NY erotic romance titles at the expense of small presses like yourself?
Marks: Both, sort of. When we started seeing the onslaught of the returns, both of these other phenomena were taking place. At the time Borders had not announced their strategic plan for restructuring, but we were getting indicators from financial reporting agencies. So, we weren't quite sure if the returns were due to it the increased competition for shelf space or changes at Borders. What we saw was that we were getting more and more returns and that we needed to rethink our print operation. We were already in the process of receiving and setting up our equipment when the news release came from Borders. Now we know it was more from the changes than from the competition, but I am sure that both contributed to an extent. We are sure that being able to print according to our customers needs will be much more efficient and beneficial to all involved, including our authors, booksellers and readers. After Borders completes its restructuring, the competition will still be there, which is okay. We'll still find space on their shelves and will be honored to do so.
We also continue to look at other ventures, such as our mainstream Cerridwen Press (with Cerridwen Cotillion for the Regency niche), Ellora's Cave Exotika and our new age imprint The Lotus Circle (which includes our first venture into non-fiction).
Jane: Does every title with the appropriate length get put into print?
Angela James: Yes, every title with the appropriate length goes to print. As an easy answer, we say approximately 50,000 words, but it actually has to do with the page count of the book when it's formatted. It's easiest just to say 50,000 words to avoid confusion and long, complicated answers.
Jane: Are you a POD or do you do print runs?
James: We do both POD and print runs, though the books that get the print runs are based on ebook sales and name recognition for the author. However, changing to this new print format (ebook to print in 10 months) will allow us to do print runs on more books thanks to advance orders.
Jane: I assume all your titles are returnable (as BN only accepts books that are returnable).
James: Yes, our books are returnable. Print on Demand does not necessarily mean “non-returnable” though the definition has morphed in the popular conscience to mean that. Our books are now and have always been fully returnable.
Jane: Is it important for your authors to be in print?
James: I can't speak directly for the authors but yes, I believe it's important to many of them to be in print. For one thing, though ebooks are a valid market, there's also a large number of readers who haven't discovered ebooks yet or who don't care to read the ebook format (someday we'll get them to drink the kool-aid!) and print allows the authors to reach those readers. Also, print allows the authors to have a physical book to sign at book signings, donate to their local library, and stock in their hometown bookstore. I believe that both formats, electronic and print, hold their own advantages and so it's natural for an author to wish to see their book both in ebook and print, though it is not always possible.
Jane: Can you be a profitable company without print titles?
James: Yes, I believe a company can absolutely be profitable without print titles. Adding a print program provides another source of revenue and, as I said, access to a new market of readers and buyers, but it also adds another layer of cost, commitment and responsibility that a company might not have the time or the resources for.
I asked recently recognized RWA publisher, Loose ID, about its print publishing plans. Loose ID puts only a limited number of books in print and its selection criteria is confidential according to co-owner Treva Harte. Ms. Harte wasn’t as forthcoming as James or Marks but did share the following:
Harte: [R]ather than “limited” titles, Loose Id selects titles we think readers will buy in print and that will expand our e-book market instead of throwing every e-book we have on the wall as some publishers do. We’d like for all our print titles to stick.
We do accept returns. When determining which books to print, we use a variety of criteria to determine the marketability of the book. The specific criteria are confidential.
We’re carried in Borders and other large bookselling chains as well as independent bookstores.
The question I have for authors and readers would be the importance of print. Is an author not a “real” author unless they are in print? Do you readers find any of this interesting at all or would you like me to stop with the business of publishing already! Let us know.