I saw this headline on a blog post tonight: Dymocks announces game-changing publishing operation set to benefit most writers.
Wow, I thought, can this mean that Dymocks has finally dropped its opposition to parallel import restrictions? Can I rejoin the ranks of Dymocks’ Booklovers?
No, and no. (Yes, those two things are related.)
The gushing headline in fact refers to the recent announcement that Dymocks is launching a printing service for print and e-books, called D Publishing. It’s due to start operation in October, which is probably when we’ll get a look at their cost scale.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like most every other print-on-demand printer in the market. You pay them money, they print your book (in paper and/or pixels). The more you pay, the more they do for you. I can only assume it’s being hailed as ‘game-changing’ because Dymocks already has its chain of stores dangling the carrot of possibly stocking books printed using their imprint. More on that later.
I’m not quite sure how another POD provider in the market is going to ‘benefit most writers’. It will certainly benefit the oodles of frustrated writers who are pursuing self-publishing, by giving them another choice of printer — note that, for example, Lightning Source has now opened an Australian office, offering easy access to UK and US markets. So maybe there’ll be some cost competition for the likes of Sid Harta and Zeus to consider.
Dymocks is also talking about opening up its Booklovers community as a kind of communal feedback service on works in progress: that’s a cool element for sparking ongoing discussion about the WIP. I’d advocate thick skin, as with any critique group, and a solid sense of self-belief before flinging the baby into what could be either a piranha pool or a flock of sheep, or simply a big puddle of meh.
Printing is probably the easiest part of publishing these days, whether on an order-by-order basis or a whole swag of copies for you to hock from your car boot.And we’re seeing a stack of niche small presses opening up, operating of a variety of models: advances, royalty share, sheer old-style vanity.
Dymocks is, like many existing printing firms, layering its services with editing and design services — presumably there’ll be a sliding scale there, too, and if it results in less hideous computer-generated, unreadable and plain ugly self-produced book covers, hooray. A text relatively free of typos and literals would be pleasant, too (this includes you, lazy and tight-fisted major publishers).
And for the self-publishing author, there’s the big hurdle — distribution — which is where Dymocks, with 17 per cent of the market, does carry a big carrot.
Dymocks is talking about, undoubtedly for a price, offering the option of using their imprint and accessing their sales channels. This is particularly good news for those who want paper copies, especially with Aussie distributors doing it tough.
There’s been something of a massive exhalation of relief thanks to e-publishing meaning no requirement to trudge satchels of books from book store to book store with a pleading expression and the incomprehension engendered by that bookselling chestnut, right of return. But e-publishing is only one segment, and it’s a growth industry: the interwebs are filled with e-chaff. Having product readily available is one thing; having people know that it’s available is another entirely. Convincing them to buy it, well, that’s the key, isn’t it.
Book buyers haven’t quite discarded their love of bricks and mortar shops just yet. And e-books still don’t have the cache of the printed product, especially when they’re marked at .99c.
Other advantages of going with an Australian-based company, rather than, say, lulu.com or Smashwords, are paperwork and postage. My understanding is that you can avoid a whole lot of, for example, American tax documentation by going local, and anything that makes it easier to set up the business and then run it must be a good thing. And having the books printed in Australia means domestic customers save cash and time on postage. Access to overseas outlets means saving for customers in those markets, too (cf the Lightning Source comment).
It’s an interesting move from Dymocks, now enjoying a Borders-less market, and a wise move to shore up that vertical integration thing they talk about in economics classes. The company has seen an opening that it’s well placed to exploit. The stats definitely show there are plenty of punters out there willing to throw their money at the great lottery of self-publishing.
It will be interesting to see how Dymocks structure their operation: will there be separate imprints reflecting the level of money spent, for instance — Dymocks Deluxe: guaranteed copy edited/proofread/structually sound?
The thing that struck me, back in the great PIR battle of 2009, was that Dymocks and their economic rationalist allies didn’t really care about books at all. They cared about product and price. Where that product came from didn’t matter a jot, as long as it could be obtained cheaply. There was a profound disrespect for Australian content and ignorance of the role of self-generated literature in a given society.
So the cynic in me takes claims of some kind of altruism towards Australian authors on Dymocks’ behalf with a grain of salt.
I hasten to add, however, that on an individual store basis, that does not necessarily hold true. I know of stores in Melbourne and Brisbane where the local managers have been extremely supportive of writers within their community.
The beauty of being the printer, regardless of the extra services offered, is that you take no risk. It is very much a service “driven by the author”, as Dymocks CEO Don Grover says. That means the author ponies up the money; the printer doesn’t have to filter a slush pile, pay for editing and design, whatever marketing they can find the spare change for. There’s no advance to pay, such as they are these days.
So, well played, Dymocks, and welcome to the new publishing landscape, where even the word “publisher” is up for grabs in these so-very interesting days.