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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Author's Journey to Print On Demand

The article in today's Seattle Times about Matt Briggs' new book, The Strong Man was a publishing industry revelation for writers. His first book in 1999 was The Remains of River Names which got a half-page review in the New York Times, sold out its initial 600 copy print run, and was not reprinted. You've got to read about his other stories of near-misses in order to understand why he's gone to a brown-paper model for publishing his new book, The Strong Man.

Publication Studio in Portland Oregon is pushing this new publishing model, printing off books as they are ordered, bound in plain manilla folders with the title and author rubber stamped on the cover. Publisher Matthew Stadler has been active in small press work for some time, but if the Web site at Publication Studio is any indication, he's decided that profitability and good design are incompatible. Fortunately, a scan through Briggs' new work (available for on-line reading at no charge) shows that some thought went into the design of the text. It simply has no cover art. And the price is definitely a consideration. The book is 264 pages and costs $20 in paper or $10 if you want to download the DRM-free PDF eBook. The big question in my mind is whether I would pay that much for something that looks (from the outside) so terrible?

Personally, I doubt it. At least when the books are printed on demand at Third Place Books on their Espresso book machine, there is cover art and the title is on the spine. But if I am going to pay for a paper book, I have a higher expectation for something that will look good on my shelf or have some resale value at Half-Price Books when I've finished with it.

I wish Briggs had come to Long Tale Press with his new book. He has shown that he is a respectable author and that he is willing to take a big risk on new technology. Those are good things. But no author deserves to have his work sold looking like Mesopotamia. This is barely a step up from stapling your manuscript together and sending it out. In fact, my submission to a publishing house this week will look better than the cover of his new book.

I believe that Print on Demand is a viable publishing alternative. I believe that small presses can help market an author's work effectively. But I don't believe that any print or eBook should visually assault the reader. Covers sell.