App of the Month: Serif PagePlus X5

One of the key tools in any independent publisher’s arsenal is a high-quality layout program for books, magazines, and the like. Though the “gold standard” of any designer’s toolkit remains Adobe InDesign and the other programs in the Adobe Creative Suite, the $699 price tag for InDesign ($1,899 for the full CS5) can be daunting for the start-up independent publisher. That’s where Serif PagePlus X5 and its free version — PagePlus SE — come into the mix. A classic desktop publishing offering, PagePlus allows the creation of books, magazines, and other ancillary materials through its easily understood interface. Priced at only $99, the full version of Serif PagePlus X5 works well with all major word processing programs, has thousands of templates, on-screen help manuals, and allows you to save documents as PDFs (as well as edit PDF documents).

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From the Tech Desk

This Month: Is Print-on-Demand really a game changer?
Only a few years ago, Print-on-Demand technology was touted as the next big thing in publishing that would revolutionize the industry and allow books not typically printed by established houses to find a home. POD, as it’s commonly called, was also seen as a way to save costs by allowing publishers to only print copies for those who ordered the books instead of having massive traditional offset print runs numbering in the thousands.

Prognosticators have been saying for a few years now that there will be POD machines in libraries and bookstores across the country. I know of precisely one such machine in the Boston area, and that’s the Harvard Book Store on Massachusetts Avenue. Paige M. Gutenborg, as the machine was dubbed after a naming contest, prints POD volumes of public-domain works from online databases including Google Books in a perfect-bound acid-free paperback style.

According to information on the Harvard Book Store website, the Paige M. Gutenborg (manufactured by Espresso Book Machine) can print a 300-page paperback in about four minutes. Forty-five such machines are currently in use around the world, with a majority in independent bookstores, universities, and libraries. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt in fact owns three of the Espresso machines.

POD machines are only part of the story though. There are also outlets like Lightning Source, a business unit of Ingram Content Group, and sister firm to one of the two largest book distributors in the world — Ingram Book Company. Lightning Source is a web-based POD service that allows registered users to list their POD titles through Ingram. Lightning Source, Amazon’s own CreateSpace POD service, and other programs use the power of the web to list books as Print-on-Demand. This isn’t the same thing as the Espresso Book Machine in stores and libraries, but having a book listed with these POD services (particular with Ingram’s Lightning Source) may allow your book to get into the hands of shoppers at Barnes & Noble or other major booksellers. So long as the store uses the Ingram database, consumers are able to special-order it for purchase; assuming of course that the book isn’t actually on the shelves.

Using POD, a small press such as Dagan Books has the opportunity to provide copies of its books to consumers the same way that Macmillan does via the internet and brick-and-mortar stores. This assumes of course that said POD house goes through Ingram’s Lightning Source for their publishing. If they go through CreateSpace, then the book is only listed on Amazon and so on.

POD has seen an explosive growth in recent years as more and more outlets arise that take advantage of the technology. A Bowker survey released May 18 showed print production of non-traditional presses (what the survey calls POD services) rose 169% between 2009 and 2010.

Many of these presses market almost exclusively on the web, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace POD service and LuLu Enterprises. Most intriguing is that a handful of the companies listed on the Bowker survey as the top POD presses are what could be considered “vanity presses” as opposed to a company that offers editorial control but chose to go the POD route instead of the traditional offset one. These “vanity presses” include Xlibris among others.

Whether the top POD printer is a vanity press or not isn’t the point, though. Rather let’s go back to the Bowker survey again. Looking at those numbers, you can fairly well see how much of an impact POD has had on the print marketplace. I’m well aware that 169% growth doesn’t mean all that much to the more hard-numbers folks among the readership, so here’s some raw figures: new titles printed by offset press rose from 302,410 in 2009 to 316,480 in 2010 compared to POD titles of 1,033,065 in 2009 to 2,776,260 in 2010. Mind you, this is based off Bowker’s “Books in Print®” database, so the data is only as accurate as that resource.

Regardless of that caveat though, you can easily see how much of a difference there is between offset press titles and POD ones. Another point of caution is that Bowker’s methodology only tracks ISBNs of books in print. It doesn’t even begin to ask the question of how many of those “titles” are making appreciable sales. By appreciable, I mean more than a copy or two a year. Sure, that’s an arbitrary requirement, but the simple fact that a title is offered via a POD services doesn’t mean anyone’s actually purchasing it.

Using my logic of “appreciable sales” one can perhaps reach the conclusion that the 2.8 million titles offered via POD services in 2010 is about as valuable an indicator as saying that M&M Mars shipped 3,000 crates of peanut M&Ms in 2010. (I honestly have no idea how many crates of M&Ms were shipped in 2010, but I needed a comparison so there you go.) However, before POD came around you’d have to spend thousands of dollars on printing costs to do an offset run, and I can almost guarantee that you’d be left with some extremely high number of copies of a book sitting somewhere in your garage. Unless of course you’re someone like Seth Godin or Stephen King, who I’ve said before can publish books written in green crayon on toilet paper and have it sell a million copies.

With POD today, you can upload your work to CreateSpace or any of the other services, such as Lightning Source, and be assured that you don’t have unsold inventory sitting around anywhere. More than anything, that’s how POD has changed the game of publishing: by saving warehousing costs for those companies and individuals who choose that route.


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Matthew Delman has ten years of experience editing and writing for newspapers. He has penned articles on travel, business, education, and health, which have appeared in publications such as The Gloucester Daily Times,(Gloucester, Mass.), The Salem News(Salem, Mass.), and websites owned by Hello Metro. Matthew’s short fiction has been published in FISSURE Magazine (November 2010) and by Nevermet Press (April 2011).

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