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DIY books turn a page in publishing

Crowd at 2008 Book Expo

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:


Cash Peters: Now, call me crazy, but I thought the book industry was doomed. But then along came this thing called "print on demand." David Taylor is the head sales guy for a company called Lightning Source, which does just that.

David Taylor: The fundamental thing this does is it means that publishers don't have to guess any more how many books to print, and print them speculatively. What they do is they get the order first and then they print it.

Wow, that's revolutionary. And it means, thanks to new technology, the playing field has been leveled suddenly. It's no longer just the big boys putting out books nobody in their right mind would ever want to read. Now anyone can.

Taylor: Yes, there will always be rubbish published. You know, some of the best known names in publishing have foisted on the world some of the worst content ever.

Peters: I would say anything by Tolkein, personally. But that's just me. That guy will never make a penny.

Taylor: But, you know, it's enabling publishers to completely re-engineer their business.

I know, it's genius. In the old days, authors faced constant rejection from major publishers. Example: I had a great idea for a kids' book. During the Book Expo, I pitched it to a woman at Penguin Books.

Peters: It's called "Trevor the Travel Iron."

Woman from Penguin Books: The travel iron?

Peters: Yeah. Yeah. Right? And it's like a travel book for kids, and it's like full of lots of adventure, but meanwhile he's always ironing. Psssssssssssssss.

Woman: Well, first of all, kids will not know what a travel iron is. Where do you stay that doesn't have an iron? What kind of places are you staying in?

See? She just picked holes in it. But now the rules are changing. Now anyone can with a great idea like that can just go ahead and publish it themselves really cheaply. Take David Ash of Basho Books. Basho Books being David Ash.

Peters: So, what kind of books do you sell?

David Ash: Humorous haiku gift books. Haiku is a three-line, 17-syllable poem that the Japanese invented about 400 years ago, and I can tell you quite distinctively that no one has considered doing a series of Haiku gift books before. But who knows, it might work.

Peters: [long pause] Right.

Ash: [laughs] You don't remain convinced, but that's OK.

Peters: Of course, it's not enough to just print books. You also have to: a) get them into stores, which can be a real headache for small publishers.

Ash: I know how to make a book and print 1,500 of them and get them into my basement. It's getting them out of my basement before my wife divorces me that is the key.

Peters: Or getting book-buyers into your basement to buy them.

Ash: Yes, that would be fine too.

Oh, I have such great ideas. Also, and this is b), whether you're a big or small publisher, your book still has to have some gimmick or angle to attract customers.

Jedi Warrior: We're here representing Star Wars and I, of course, am Master Obi Wan and this is Master Yoda.

Peters: How come you got the short straw and had to hold Yoda all afternoon?

Jedi Warrior: Well, he's an awful lot shorter. [in Yoda voice) Hm, and he is an awful lot stronger.

Peters: No, he an awful lot stronger is.

Jedi Warrior: Hm, too true. Impressed I am with you.

Peters [speaking to girl writer]: What are you giving out?

Girl writer: "Time Flies When You're In a Coma. The Wisdom of the Metal Gods."

Peters: Time flies when you're in a coma?

Girl writer: Yes. It's a compilation of affirmations, meditations and mantras.

Peters: It's a self-help book for people in a coma?

Girl: Yeah.

Peters [speaking to a woman in a monkey suit]: Who are you?

Woman in monkey suit: I'm Marley the Monkey.

Peters: Marley the Monkey.

Woman: I teach youngsters how to share.

Peters How many hours a day d'you spend in this costume?

Woman: Right now about four.

Peters: And are you really tired of doing this?

Woman: Do I really sound that bored? [in super-bright tone] I'm excited! I'm promoting a book about monkeys and sharing.

And, who can say no to that? Oddly, the feeling you get from the show is one of optimism and excitement, almost as though books won't be crushed by the onslaught of technology, after all, like we were all expecting. Lance Fensterman is a big cheese at the Book Expo.

Lance Fensterman: The perfect piece of technology has already been invented, and it is the book.

Peters: So will there be a Book Expo 2030?

Fensterman: [laughs] Uh, it will be a floating book expo. We'll all be wearing jet packs, and the Martians will be amongst us.

So, that's a no, then. In Los Angeles, I'm Cash Peters, author of the "Trevor the Travel Iron" books for kids.

Peters [to woman from Penguin]: "Trevor the Travel Iron Goes to Peru." And then the subtitle is "Pssssssssssst."

Woman: But if you're going to Peru, are you really worried about ironing your clothes?

Tsk, some people have no vision.

I'm Cash Peters for Marketplace.

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