Outsourcing SpecFic Publishing Projects

Since all of the Java programming jobs have gone to India, I might as well try and make the most of it. The same economic conditions that have cut my pay by two thirds in 5 years can be used to make some money.

I am going to try to outsource some short run printing of Speculative Fiction to India.

There is a large demand for POD and Short Run printing. Small runs of books can be quite profitable. I am acutely aware of this because I have been published eleven times in short run books and magazines in the last two years. Speculative fiction, especially, appeals to a distributed audience. In SpecFic, either you are a best seller like King, or you are an occasional writer like myself with very little in between. The prozines, like Analog and Asimov’s, publish a few hundred stories per year. The not-so-pro zines publish thousands of stories a year, mostly on the internet.

Each story in AstoundingTales.com is read about 150 times on the average, most well over 200 times. I like to think this is above average. Since I have no other data, I will guess that stories in the 500 or so regular zines are read about 100 times each. Stories in the small SpecFic zines, by my guess (no data of course), get five million views per year. Online Magazines like Strange Horizons and the late Sci-Fi might total ten million views per year. Baen might do as well.

My point being that there may be as many as a million SpecFic readers out there, each reading dozens of stories.

There have been attempts to convert the freeloading surfers into cash customers. Selling subscriptions has worked in a few cases. Selling merchandizing and page ads have been tried. Some sites beg for donations. Unless a site has a sugar daddy, as I suspect some of the big sites do, the zines must operate in the red.

A more successful route has been to sell POD (Print-On-Demand) anthologies or short run magazines on paper based on the web zines. SamsDotPublishing.com claims some small success by selling hard copy versions of some of its zines, some chapbooks (short, magazine-like books) and even some stand-alone novels and collections.

The best POD publisher is LuLu.com, which does a good job and is somewhat cheaper than CafePress.com. Still a LuLu.com book usually goes for $10 or more. These are very high quality trade paperback style books, but they can’t compete with the 400 page novels that sell for $5 at the book store.

Short run book printing is not any better than POD, as far as price. I have received price quotes from some of the large and small “Vanity” publishers such as iUniverse and the price per book (including a little profit for the author) is hard to get below $10.

Enter my friend Kochumma from India. Koch is a fellow programmer. He has relatives in the printing business back in India.

At this point we are guessing that I can get a book printed that would cost $10 on LuLu.com for less than $2. The quality would not be as good (I don’t want heavy paper or thick covers). I would have to forgo proofing, as the turnaround would be too long. Shipping of the completed project would be six weeks. The minimum run might be 500 copies. This is all conjecture, though and I will hear some details in a week to ten days.

If the price is low, if the quality is good, if the minimum order is low, if there are no problems with customs… Lots of ifs. If this whole idea seems to work, I will go into the short run publishing business with my new Indian partners.

I think that POD sales are low due to the very high price of the product. I think that many more websites would produce anthologies and many more authors would self publish if the cost was lower. There is a pent up demand that can’t get over that elasticity hump occupied by LuLu.com. I think that I might be able to provide the next lower price level of short run publishing.

If this works out, my first book will be” how to create audio productions of creative writing”. I will be writing a 20 page booklet and I that will be my tryout of the Indian printing facilities. I will then set up a website and start a submission process. I will try to pick a few books that I think might sell. I will want anthologies of web zines. I would also like to try a few “How-to” type books.

I will set up a drop ship system where websites can sell the books in my catalog by putting a snippet of JavaScript on their pages and get a kickback on each of the books sold this way. The authors can also buy books at a discount and ship them out themselves. I am hoping that viral marketing might make this a success, without asking writers to buy their own books or be the only source of promotion.

I hope to be legit publisher in the long run. I don’t want to charge for publishing like iUniverse and I don’t want to have a marketing model that requires authors to buy their own books like Publish America, but I do want to create a system where small run “vanity” publishing can be made profitable. I can do this through outsourcing the printing and being creative with a web based support system.

So stay tune, boys and girls. There will be more on this. It may all come to nothing, or it might just turn into something interesting. Stay tuned.


  1. E.Jim Shannon wrote:

    Interesting Post. I investigated Lulu.com a year ago and I’m wondering just how many books in our genre they actually sell.

    PS. Still haven’t heard back yet about the story submission. I have two “out there” Right now, I’m rewriting “Underworld.”


    Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  2. Chris Bartholomew wrote:

    Keeping my fingers crossed that this goes perfect for you, it sounds outstanding.


    Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  3. Sonya M. Sipes wrote:

    Hi Keith,

    I read your post on Speculations / Rumor Mill in response to the ‘How to turn yourself into a publisher’ thread and I am excited to hear about your outsourcing idea! Like yourself, I would like to put out good books at a reasonable price and possibly make back some of the money I spend :-) I have a project now that is in the planning stages so you can bet I will keep up to date on what you are doing with your Indian partners!

    Thanks for the post!


    Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  4. Sonya M. Sipes wrote:

    Hi Keith, In my pursuit of finding a reasonable printer, I came across:
    http://www.whitehallprinting.com/pricing.html and while they won’t work for my current project I thought they might work for you. They specialize in traditional paperbacks and they advertise on their pricing page that they can do 5000 copies for as little as $.66 a book… so they are definitely going in my ‘contacts list’. Plus they are sending me free samples… Call Sandra at 800-321-9290 and tell her that Sonya from CatsCurious Press referred you :-)


    Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 10:53 am | Permalink