Is it a harbinger of publishing’s future, or just a publicity stunt?
Tor, the publisher perhaps best known for its catalog of science fiction and fantasy staples, will release Year’s Best Fantasy 9 as a print-on-demand title only.
In case you are unfamiliar POD, as the technology is commonly abbreviated, print-on-demand spans the divide between print and electronic books. With POD, a book is stored on a server as an electronic file, to be printed not by the thousands or tens of thousands, but one copy at a time, when ordered. Self-published authors have used POD services for years, but mainstream publishing has largely pooh-poohed the idea thus far.
Writes Pablo Defendini on the Tor.com website, “Similar to the launch of the Tor.com Store, this title is one of our various publishing projects that seek to experiment with the available alternatives to publishing’s traditional sales, distribution, and delivery mechanisms.”
Year’s Best Fantasy 9 is actually a sensible choice for such experimentation. Though editors David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have a strong following within the SF and fantasy community, anthologies are typically slow sellers that often cost more to produce than they are worth in sales. As the publishing industry bows under the pressures of falling revenues, POD is one way to give life to a valued, if not hot, seller.
As it stands, the main problem with POD is that the books have to be ordered online. They aren’t stocked in bookstores, which cuts out impulse purchases by buyers browsing the shelves at the local B&N. This could lead to much lower sales figures for any publisher who takes on the format.
Still, I’m not surprised to discover Tor as an early adopter of a technology SF writers have been yammering on about for more than a decade. Forward thinkers have long envisioned the bookstore of the future as one in which books are produced via in-store POD printers while a customer waits, sipping a latte from the coffee bar.
What will the success or failure of Tor’s experiment with POD mean to publishing at large, or more specifically the romance genre? My guess is not much, at least not for now. Romance eBooks haven’t quite made the leap to legitimacy with romance’s old guard. They are also still finding their footing with readers more accustomed to buying books from WalMart than through an eBook retailer. Given the self-published label so often attached to POD books, championing the cause for one-at-a-time romance novels will be an uphill battle.
That said, science fiction and fantasy readers tend to hover at the vanguard of new technologies. It may take the rest of the world a few years, but it usually does catch up. Ten years from now you may just be buying the latest Sherrilyn Kenyon from a fancy version of a vending machine.