- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

NEW YORK - Vantage Press had a near monopoly on publishing print-on-demand books for nearly 50 years, but a new vanity press has sprung up in the form of publishers and booksellers who are making self-publishing easier than ever and sometimes more profitable.

The vanity-publishing industry has its roots in the frustrations of first-time authors in finding an agent or a publisher willing to look at their manuscripts. Vantage Press of New York and several other publishers offer the service of publishing such books for $7,500 to $10,000 and occasionally more — all copies to be owned outright by the author.

One of the traditional problems with Vantage and other such print-on-demand (POD) publishers was that their books carried a certain stigma in the book business so it was hard to place them in bookstores.

But in the past decade, the business of POD books has picked up steam and lost some of the stigma with entry into the field of Xlibris, 1stBooks and iUniverse. Most of their POD sales are online.

Xlibris of Philadelphia is partially owned by Random House Ventures publishing house; 1stBooks of Bloomington, Ind., is privately owned; and iUniverse of Lincoln, Neb., is partially owned by Barnes & Noble, the nationwide bookstore chain. They report having published nearly 50,000 POD titles to date for fees ranging from $459 (iUniverse) to $698 (1stBooks).

“Self-publishing, previously viewed as a means of last resort, is increasingly seen as a first step,” said Steve Riggio, chief executive officer of Barnes and Noble. “But writers should have no illusions. It’s still not a fast way to get into bookstores.”

Only recently the field got a new entry, the Borders Group booksellers, which is conducting an experiment in its Philadelphia-area bookstores. It is distributing leaflets reading “It’s easy to publish your own book,” and explaining that aspiring authors need to pay $4.99 for a do-it-yourself kit telling them how to submit a manuscript along with a check for $199 to Borders Personal Publishing.

Those participating in the experiment will receive 10 paperback copies of their book in about a month after submitting a manuscript, to do with what they will. But for $300 more, authors can get what is described as “professional publication,” including an international standard book number (ISBN), listing on Borders.com and placement of five copies on the shelves of a Philadelphia bookstore.

Sometimes, a POD memoir will strike a chord with the reading public, as in the case of “Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life,” published by Xlibris in 2000 for Philip Simmons, who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Several thousand copies of his inspirational book were sold, leading to the book’s publication two years later by Bantam Books.

POD companies report that on the average they sell 150 to 175 copies, some of them to the author to give to family and friends, and pay a royalty of up to 25 percent of list price. If a book sells more than 500 copies, the author has a chance of becoming a “star” and a company will consider investing in some marketing. The firm of iUniverse says it has found 84 star authors since it went into the POD business.

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