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The best ways to use Lightning are not widely employed yet 20 years in

29 November 2018

From The Shatzkin Files:

The 20th anniversary of Lightning Source, the digital service provided by Ingram that supplies both printed-on-demand books and ebook file distribution services for publishers, was recently noted in a tribute piece in Publishers Weekly. The growth of the file repository at Lightning was reported to have reached 15 million titles.

Those represent books that might not have copies for sale in anybody’s inventory but which can be delivered in the next 24-48 hours by Ingram to any bookstore, library, or consumer in the country (and many more around the world).

John Ingram was quoted suggesting that publishers would only get the full benefits that Lightning has to offer them if they have every title they own archived with the service and ready for delivery. The story doesn’t unpack that idea, but it is a very powerful one.

The value that almost all publishers now recognize in Lightning was summed up very well by Steve Zacharius of Kensington Books.

“We use it for short runs to cover books temporarily out of stock or to keep the book available when there’s not enough demand to do a full offset printing. We also, of course, use it for ARCs.” (ARCs are “advance reader copies”, sometimes called “bound galleys”, which are usually pre-publication samples of a printed book.)

But there is another way to use Lightning which only a few publishers have employed so far but which could become one of its most valuable capabilities in these times. Ingram now has what they estimate is “several tens of thousands” of titles within the catalog that sell thousands a year, so they wouldn’t be obvious candidates. But they are set up “Just in Case” (as opposed to for “Just in Time”) and they make use of Lightning in ways most publishers still don’t.

Because, more than ever before the Internet changed communication, our collective attention is briefly grabbed and we see a “spike”. A sudden and unpredicted surge in interest in a topic (which often means a book) is suddenly driven by an event in the news or public sphere. These surges can be extremely brief but the boost in demand they can deliver for any book can also be extremely powerful. And, of course, the body of thought contained in a book could actually further sustain the interest, if the book is available for media exposure and public consumption at the moment of opportunity.

. . . .

Because if there’s a news break on a Monday morning that could promote interest in a book, even a publisher with ample inventory in its own warehouse is unlikely to be able to get copies to Ingram to place on sale any earlier than Wednesday. Those two days could be two major days for sales, perpetuating a chain of interest into the book-buying public.

Turning on Lightning printing for that book could mean thousands of copies in stores and libraries by Wednesday. This is the potential magic of the Lightning-Ingram connection. Ingram is shipping books to just about every bookstore and library that matters just about every single day. The newly hot book could be in all the shipments to stores that want it almost from the moment of the news break by employing Lightning. In our times, delaying the book’s real distribution into the marketplace by even 48 hours could be the difference between a book that catches fire and one that misses its opportunity.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG will note that an agreement between a publisher and Ingram for Lightning service could arguably provide a basis for the publisher to claim none of its books would never go out of print. Under language commonly used in publishing contracts all rights revert to an author if the author’s book goes out of print, but most publishers don’t do much to clarify when a book will go out of print.

For those authors who wish to enter into publishing contracts with traditional publishers, PG suggests that out-of-print provisions be triggered at the author’s election whenever royalties paid to the author for a particular book drop below a specified dollar amount. For example, if the publisher fails to pay the author at least $1,000 in royalties for a book during any royalty reporting period, the author can cause rights to the book to be reverted because the book is selling so few copies, it is effectively out of print.

As far as the OP is concerned, it’s hard to believe that anyone with an internet connection will be interested in waiting two days to go to a bookstore to buy a hardcopy book instead of reviewing all the online information on the topic that would appear much sooner  (which online info could easily include excerpts from the book).

Much of the value of Lightning also assumes that the publisher doesn’t already have an ebook for sale on Amazon.

Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin

14 Comments to “The best ways to use Lightning are not widely employed yet 20 years in”

  1. Thanks, Mike, you give us yet another good reason to self publish! 😉

  2. if there’s a news break on a Monday morning that could promote interest in a book, even a publisher with ample inventory in its own warehouse is unlikely to be able to get copies to Ingram to place on sale any earlier than Wednesday.

    They can buy them on MONDAY at AMAZON if the book is for sale there, to be delivered asap, in paper. The ebook, of course, as PG notes, is instantaneously available.

    • You have to consider the source. This is ‘Mike’, the trad-pub’s friend. The fact that trad-pub doesn’t bother with Lightning after twenty years is lost on him – as is a properly priced ebook doesn’t have any need for Lightning either. But Mike can’t mention ebooks or any good things about Amazon without his trad-pub readers running to hide under their beds – the boggy monster isn’t as scary to them as Amazon and indies are … 😉

      MYMV

    • They can buy them from Amazon, which prints them by POD; the same as Lightning. And in fact, Lighting and other companies do much of the POD printing for Amazon.

      The ebook of course is available instantly and solves that quick desire as mentioned but there are still 65% of people who like to read print books.

      • They can only do this if the Publisher has set up the title that way. Which is the point of this article.

        Publishers may have thousands of offset printed copies in their warehouse. Amazon may have a dozen copies on hand in its warehouse, and each B&N may have one or two copies.

        A topic suddenly gets hot. Say, Paul McCartney dies. It would take weeks for the Publisher to get more copies of a five year old biography (full of wonderful photos) of McCartney to Ingram, and from Ingram to B&N and Amazon. This way, they can still use offset printing WHEN AVAILABLE to save money, but they can meet a sudden surge in increased demand by ALSO having set up POD services, and allowing Ingram to print them to meet a sudden demand.

        That’s all this article is saying.

  3. There’s going to be a Book Fair in our home town which is for all Indie Authors except those who have an Amazon ISBN on their books.

    I was told that only Indie books from Lightening Source were acceptable.

    I wanted to ask who is going to check the source of every ISBN on every book. But I decided to behave and merely bow out.

    • Ah, but it would’ve been so much fun! 🙂

      • There’s still time for me to pipe up. LOL

        It was just kinda sad – it was a library – I think – sponsoring this event.

        They are very anti-Amazon, which is a very big waste of energy. I guess if any place is going to be ‘Literary’ it would be library.

        Although, my hometown library was happy to take my books when I went back there. They wanted to do signings and things like that. Different folks.

  4. This is just… silly.

    For a publisher, an offset print run costs maybe ~$0.75 a paperback, ~$1.80 a hardcover.

    At $28 list price, the publisher gets $14 per sale and has to pay the author $2.25-$2.80 of that in royalties (remember, we’re talking about a book that is suddenly selling way more than expected, so the advance likely won’t cover *these* royalties).

    With offset-printed books, the publisher still ends up with a cool $10+/copy.

    Now LightningSource POD: cost to print a typical trade paperback: roughly $7, cost to print a typical hardcover: $12.

    Publisher gets $14 per sale, so ends up with maybe $2, but then has to turn around and pay the author $2.25 – $2.80 in royalties.

    Net to publisher: -$1 to -$2.

    Doesn’t sound real smart, does it there, Mikey?

    • It does not cost anything near 7.00 to print a trade paperback at LSI. It’s closer to the 4.00 range. But your point is correct that it is not nearly as profitable to do this if you’re going to be selling enough copies to justify an offset print run. But it certainly helps fill in that gap and keeps momentum going for a book. And if there isn’t enough demand for an offset printing it does satisfy the market demand for the book.

      • Smart Debut Author

        LSI cost goes up with page count.

        For 500-600 page SFF books, I have indeed paid LSI well north of $7 a copy, but I’m not interested in arguing about it.

        Point is, there’s a good economic reason publishers only use LSI to keep the tail rolling on low-demand books, but not to meet big surges in demand, as you acknowledge: after all, why throw money away?

        • Yes, it is priced per page and I was referring to a typical sized book and not a 500-600 page book. We are in agreement.

          There have been other companies that will use LSI to do a hardcover edition of a paperback book, but I haven’t found enough of a demand to justify doing that.

          • Smart Debut Author

            If anything, LSI’s hardcover prices are even more upside down.

            Good for author-signed holiday gifts, maybe, but LSI-printed hardcovers can’t be sold profitably in bookstores with REG wholesale discount and >5% returns.

            ETA: Which likely means using LSI to chase an unexpected surge in hardcover popularity makes even less economic sense than paperback. But I suppose YMMV.

  5. Generally publishers will sell pod books as non-returnable because of the higher cost. The only reason to do the hardcover is for people who collect books and prefer that format.

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