Skip

Borders self-publishing and in-store distribution service
February 21, 2008 3:43 PM   Subscribe

Borders and Lulu.com have teamed up to create Border's Lifestyle, a new service allowing anyone to design and publish their own book and have it distributed through Borders stores, even including your own book tour and in-store readings. Is it, according to Ben Vershbow of if:book, "bringing vanity publishing to a whole new level of fantasy role-playing,"1 or a real innovation in book distribution, bypassing the professional gatekeepers?

If one reads Vershbow's piece (along with the many excellent comments therein with lots of great links), he is not actually saying it's vanity publishing, although it can be, the dialectic between traditional publishing and this new form inevitably brings up the comparison.
posted by stbalbach (35 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
related previously.
posted by stbalbach at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2008


how is this not vanity publishing?
posted by nitsuj at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2008


It's not vanity publishing in the pejorative sense if some new ad hoc meritocracy springs up out of this—if the pushback becomes social instead of institutional but remains at least a somewhat function barrier, doesn't dissolve entirely. In other words, the very real possibility that the vain might be discouraged by the very exposure they pay for, and leave the game to the folks whose stuff is worth reading—and worth showing up to a reading of.

Which is maybe a pretty hopeful way of looking at it; it might be more realistic to see it as an open mic with an entry fee.
posted by cortex at 3:58 PM on February 21, 2008


I thought mefi was open mic night with a $5 fee.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:02 PM on February 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Perhaps Borders reckoned, "Hardly anyone shows up for book-signings anyway; we might as well let authors be paying for the privilege of having them."
posted by jayder at 4:09 PM on February 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


I've never really understood the snobbery about self-publishing. Is there any other medium that thinks this way?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:12 PM on February 21, 2008


So basically, this is a print-on-demand service that can produce actual books. Cool. I look forward to the day when these things are pretty much vending machines, common in libraries, universities, shopping malls etc.

Something like this: Put your money or credit card in, it slides open a window to let you access a keyboard, trackball and USB port, plug in your USB disk or select one of the books available through the device's interface, select the PDFs etc to be printed, specify which pages are to be outer and inner cover, set up a spine (that's probably one of the more difficult parts of the process, since you need to know the thickness of the book first), select number of copies, and hit Print. Obvious vulnerabilities: messing with the physical device; plugging in something to the internet port; selecting a document (most likely with .doc format, obviously) that contains harmful code.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:17 PM on February 21, 2008


I was working on a post about self-publishing a great gift for Christmas and here were some of the links I found.

blurb.com

qoop.com

tastebook.com

cafepress.com

moo.com

Amazon's CreateSpace

It seems to me that the only thing this Borders announcement brings to the table is a bookstore to hold an event at that your family can attend, just like a real writer.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:17 PM on February 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


And there is such a "kiosk" printer at the New York Public Library. But so far it just cranks out public domain books for patrons. But the folks behind its development are promising to put it in a store near you real soon.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:27 PM on February 21, 2008


Pity the Lifestyles brand is already (ahem) used
posted by mattoxic at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2008


I'm happier than ever that I no longer work for Borders.
posted by malaprohibita at 4:50 PM on February 21, 2008


Toekneesan: "And there is such a "kiosk" printer at the New York Public Library. But so far it just cranks out public domain books for patrons. But the folks behind its development are promising to put it in a store near you real soon."

I was at the NYPL this weekend and saw that thing. Pretty cool looking, although I didn't make use of it. Part of me would love to see something like that on every streetcorner, but another part of me wonders if it would result in a ton of 'disposable books' being printed when the cost drops, sort of like how inexpensive office printers caused paper consumption to skyrocket.

The other weird thing I noticed at the NYPL is that they have a manned desk where you need to get 'copy approval' before you can take a book over to the 10¢ per page Xerox machines ... I don't know if it's just to keep people from photocopying books that will be damaged by the light/pressure or what, but it set off by creepy-fascist sense. I have faith in librarians so I'm hoping it's for good reasons and not some DMCA-esque bullshit.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:55 PM on February 21, 2008


This would almost be interesting if they didn't own the ISBNs associated with the book. I bought a block of ISBNs for my publishing venture and registered them in the normal, non-vanity-publishing way. I'm 99% certain I wouldn't publish through one of these Borders- or Lulu- owned services just because of the ISBN.

After all, it is NOT THAT HARD to get a proper distributor (I did it, after all), and these Borders-owned ISBNs are just going to kneecap you when it comes to credibility. Doesn't matter if your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2008


And there is such a "kiosk" printer

As proof of concept, it's very impressive. Some further info. The manufacturer's 1996-standard, content-free, information-free, nearly-useless website. I still want one, though. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2008


After all, it is NOT THAT HARD to get a proper distributor (I did it, after all), and these Borders-owned ISBNs are just going to kneecap you when it comes to credibility. Doesn't matter if your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I'm not sure what you mean by this... not that I disagree, just that I don't understand where you are coming from. How does publishing a book with a Borders-owned ISBN kneecap you?
posted by crossoverman at 5:40 PM on February 21, 2008


How does publishing a book with a Borders-owned ISBN kneecap you?

I don't know, but worse case, just re-publish a new edition with a new ISBN, should the handicap ever become a problem. I don't think it's possible to buy a single ISBN, they have to bought in blocks for a couple hundred dollars so for a single book it makes sense to use someone else's.
posted by stbalbach at 6:15 PM on February 21, 2008


I think this is fantastic. If this encourages legions of people to finally sit down and finish writing something and then allows them to be their own publishers and publicity agents, without fear of rejection, but for the reward of seeing something that they crafted in physical, tangible form, and also gives them a platform to actually talk to others about their work, I don't see how this could be that bad.

I've never really understood the snobbery about self-publishing. Is there any other medium that thinks this way?

Agreed. I thought we'd left that kind of thinking behind by now. Is the snobbery coming from the fact that it's from Borders? Is it more acceptable because he does it?

In any case, I certainly don't think setting the unwashed masses run loose will ruin a market already saturated with inexcusable crap.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 6:22 PM on February 21, 2008


And I'll also be able to publish my run-on sentences.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 6:23 PM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fuck Borders.
Fuck Borders, with passion.

They pulled their store out of our town and I will never, ever buy another thing from them and am directing all of my book buying busines to Barnes and Noble. May you rot in Hell Borders. I can't wait until you finally go bankrupt. It is only a matter of time. (childish sentiments, I know, but they just pulled out without asking for help, without forewarning, just poof - gone. Good riddance.)
posted by caddis at 6:29 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Toekneesan typed "And there is such a 'kiosk' printer at the New York Public Library. But so far it just cranks out public domain books for patrons. But the folks behind its development are promising to put it in a store near you real soon."

This is also what archive.org's Bookmobile does. Pretty cool stuff.

kittens for breakfast typed "I've never really understood the snobbery about self-publishing. Is there any other medium that thinks this way?"

Really? Don't all media think this way, to greater or lesser extents? Even in the age of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Afroman, most musicians I've met still see self-released albums as nice-looking demos. (I'm not saying that's a good thing.) Same with visual and performance art: renting a space for your own show is a step toward getting invited by a gallery, not an end in itself.

I realize that this is a touchy subject. A lot of very good writers have self-published very good books in the past few years. I've put out two chapbooks on my own, and these chapbooks have allowed me to make enough money to take the bus to the next reading. But now I'm trying to get a manuscript accepted by a legitimate small press.

Why? A lot of reasons, but what it really comes down to it, a publisher does a lot more than just make your book. The good small presses are like museums. They choose the releases for a year the same way that a curator might choose pieces for an exhibition or an artistic director might choose a season of operas. Press editors play a huge role in literary culture.

Is that role being taken over by new media? Yes, probably. But it'll be at least a generation before we see these changes really take shape in the literary world.
posted by roll truck roll at 6:30 PM on February 21, 2008


bitter-girl, I think the ISBNs that Borders is issuing are really no different than the ones you're using. The ISBNs Anezka Media (your press) are using actually come from the same pool that Borders is using. This one, ISBN-10: 0979201705, for example, that 9 at the beginning tells me that those are from the pool that is issued in small batches or one at a time. An ISBN is an ISBN. I think the ISBN is the least of these authors problems. The only issue I can see with Borders registering the ISBN is getting BOWKER, the folks who administrate the ISBNs, to change or correct bibliographic data (like the price or status). I'm hoping Borders will allow folks the opportunity to do that through the program.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:33 PM on February 21, 2008


stbalbach, you can buy and register a single ISBN. Bowker doesn't provide any documentation on it but for a description of the procedure, see this page on Kevin Kelly's site.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:38 PM on February 21, 2008


Really? Don't all media think this way, to greater or lesser extents? Even in the age of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Afroman, most musicians I've met still see self-released albums as nice-looking demos. (I'm not saying that's a good thing.) Same with visual and performance art: renting a space for your own show is a step toward getting invited by a gallery, not an end in itself.

Well, everyone wants to get paid, sure...but it doesn't seem to me that there's any great dishonor in making your own movie, or publishing your own comic book, or releasing your own album. Certainly in the last two instances there are a few very sound reasons why this might be preferable to going through more time-honored channels. But someone who publishes his or her own book is much more likely to be dismissed out of hand than not. Speaking, mind you, as something of a luddite, I have to say I strongly suspect this attitude has to do with publishing lagging well behind the curve.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:04 PM on February 21, 2008


But someone who publishes his or her own book is much more likely to be dismissed out of hand than not.

It's not so much the publishing, it's the editing, and the "peer review process". In many cases the self-published author has a perfectly good reason for doing it: the maximum possible interest in the book is well below commercial viability. A family history, for instance. A manual to an in-house computer program. A highly tailored course textbook or lab manual. A reference book for a narrow and rare hobby. A geography and history of a specific place, that there's really not much point trying to publish except through a gift shop. Even if it's a creative work, they might personally want to limit the audience for some reason. Maybe fear of legal liability, or public reprehension, especially if the author is not anonymous. Overwhelming dependence on in-jokes or similar insider information, such as a collected set of stories about people's experiences at a particular school. Maybe the book is a gift to a specific person, or small group such as attendees at a wedding or funeral. And so on.

The dismissal out of hand, IMO, falls on those authors who think their work is of commercial quality to a wide (millions of people) audience; they are unsatisfied with being one of the common run of fan fiction, writers' forum, or other internet-based writers whose work is basically available freely to anyone who cares to look for it (but free of charge); they cannot find an a commercial publisher willing to publish the work, at least not without unacceptable editing; and they nevertheless are insistent that the work should be published.

Now without some good reason, such as a strong recommendation or positive review, I personally would find that dismissal to be fair enough. It does happen, sometimes, as in the case of Peter Watts, that an author's work is really good, but publisher conservatism and concern for commercial considerations (hard to argue with those) lead to his/her work being rejected. In that case, he/she is far better off putting it up on the internet, under Creative Commons or similar licensing, than messing about with physical books, unless he/she really wants to give copies away. The same reasons Bell Books thinks copies printed by Bell Books won't sell, probably apply to self-published printed copies. Now in Watts' case, he did put his work on the net, his work did get widely read, and recommended around, and passed to friends, and once the market was provably there, he did get picked up for publication. Had he just printed out thirty copies and given them to his friends, probably none of us would ever have heard of him.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:31 PM on February 21, 2008


People should just self-publish online with PDFs. Make the reader print it out if they want.
posted by wastelands at 6:43 AM on February 22, 2008


I have an unpublished manuscript but personally I'd rather get it done through a "real" publisher than a vanity press. Something in self-publishing seems to be masturbatory to me. If I were self-published and I went up to any published author that went the regular route, at best I'd get a polite "well that's nice". It would be like going up to Tiger Woods and saying, "I shot a 68 at Augusta once, it's not so tough." And Tiger would say "try it in a four-day tournament with 15 million people watching on TV and a crowd of thousands crowding the green, with your peers hot on your heels, then I'll give you the time of day".
posted by Ber at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2008


Toekneesan: bitter-girl, I think the ISBNs that Borders is issuing are really no different than the ones you're using. The ISBNs Anezka Media (your press) are using actually come from the same pool that Borders is using. The only issue I can see with Borders registering the ISBN is getting BOWKER, the folks who administrate the ISBNs, to change or correct bibliographic data (like the price or status).

Of course an ISBN is an ISBN is an ISBN, but it's that element of control over correcting bibliographic data that's important to me. Hell, I have a hard enough time getting my "real" publishers to correct stuff like that on my wide-release books. And when someone from a non-Borders store tries to contact "the publisher" (one example here: a teensy bookstore in Vermont sent us a request to purchase a small number of copies, and they did it the old fashioned way -- by postcard!), what's going to happen?

Is Borders going to field all inquiries from other outlets that want to sell the book?
Is Borders going to direct any requests that might typically get sent to a publisher (for review copies, contacting the author, etc) to you?

I don't think so:

Who is the publisher — me or Borders Personal Publishing?

Borders Personal Publishing handles publishing and distribution outside of the Borders Personal Publishing and Lulu marketplaces on websites such as Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and other online retail sites. Your book’s ISBN will identify Borders Personal Publishing as the publisher of the work, but you will retain all of the rights to the content of your book.


So really, it is a kneecapped distribution, particularly if you're in a niche market like mine (craft-related titles). If a local yarn store wants to order copies, if a big chain store wants to order copies -- what then?

Oh, and to answer a question in the Borders FAQ: "Does my book need editing?"

YES

Dear god, yes.

I write such crazy clean copy that I've had a number of editors remark on how easy it is to go through...yet even I need that second pair of eyes. The reason self-publishing is looked down on is because 99% of it is such crap. (That's the short version of aeschenkarnos' very wise comments above).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2008


The reason self-publishing is looked down on is because 99% of it is such crap.

I'd buy that if so much "professionally" published work weren't crap, too (and often horribly edited crap, at that). It may be true that the "Tiger Woods of literature" (my God, that's awful, but I guess I'm stuck with it) would probably not be self-published, but being published by a major house is certainly no guarantee that one is Tiger Woods. I'm sorry, but I'm still not seeing a rational basis for this.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2008


Yes, my dear kittens for breakfast, but at least most of the professionally-published crap generally goes through the watchful eye of an editor at SOME point, making the text less like a crazy person's fevered ramblings (or so we hope). We're not talking content, here, we're talking style.

If you and I both wrote books about our cats, we'd bore the pants off of 99.9% of any potential readership who isn't related to us or dating us. I mean, yes, Mina, Spike and Giles are pretty freaking awesome when it comes to being cats, and you and I both have fairly reliable writing skills, but NO ONE WANTS TO READ ABOUT OUR CATS. I suspect that -- although content-poor, at least our books wouldn't be full of grammar errors -- unlike so much of what passes for self-publishing.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2008


NO ONE WANTS TO READ ABOUT OUR CATS

You are clearly missing the appeal of teh LiveJournal.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:47 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


bitter-girl, the only significant data attributed to the ISBN that might change is price and status. As there is an important incentive for Borders to have the information correct ($), I'm not sure how big a problem that might be. You make a good point about niche publications like yours, but if there really are additional non-book markets for a particular book, I would suspect you could find a publisher and might not need such a service. As I'm sure you know, niche is the rage in these long tail days.

And you're right about editing. The crap that fills the slush pile is atrocious. I love editors. I make sure to have at least one mistake in everything I right in an effort to keep them gainfully employed.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:05 PM on February 22, 2008


Yes, my dear kittens for breakfast, but at least most of the professionally-published crap generally goes through the watchful eye of an editor at SOME point, making the text less like a crazy person's fevered ramblings (or so we hope). We're not talking content, here, we're talking style.

That's nice in theory, but there are a good number of successful and/or "respected" authors who got that way at least partly by self-publishing in the traditional way--i.e., establishing an imprint of their own and publishing using the traditional technologies. Walt Whitman is sort of the penultimate example of the vanity publisher made good: "Whitman's major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money." And William Blake, similarly, self-published the hard way.

All that the new innovations in on-demand publishing do is make it more convenient and less expensive for the next Whitmans and Blakes of the world to do their stuff and get it out there to some appreciative audience that doesn't know what it's missing yet.

And in the bigger scheme of things, on-demand publishing of media could replace traditional manufacturing and distribution models completely.

Imagine if Amazon, for example, had small to mid-size on-demand fulfillment and manufacturing centers in every market and manufactured and shipped from these on-demand centers instead of the usual way. You could order a book from your favorite author or a CD from your favorite band on Amazon and potentially have it delivered to your door from a local on-demand shop the same day. Shipping costs could be reduced dramatically, and excess stock (which generates tons of waste, not to mention other costs associated with maintaining excess inventory) would be a thing of the past. Talk about an efficient product delivery system! Not to mention the potential for creating thousands of new, relatively safe and low-drudgery manufacturing jobs.

Thanks for this post. I'm a wholehearted believer in the future of on-demand business models, and positive developments like this make me very happy.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:52 PM on February 22, 2008


I've always thought the main reason "vanity" presses have such a bad rep is that most are simply scams. Paying to get your work onto the market in book form wasn't the issue, but rather the extremely shady nature of many of the companies doing it. Like charging an arm and a leg for editing, marketing, and other support that simply never happens. Preying on the naive, gullible, and vain.

So, remove the scams, and perhaps the stigma of vanity publishing goes away. If the costs are reasonable and Borders delivers on what limited promises it makes, then this sounds pretty cool. I could see a great impact on local authors who can combine the local Borders presence with their own self-promotion.
posted by HarshLanguage at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Too right on your first point, HarshLanguage. Speaking as an adept in the ways of booksellery, the other problem with vanity press books being sold at retail is the fact that the authors themselves typically end up running their own sub-scam within the publishers' scam, wherein the author discovers that they're now saddled with having to personally sell a whole bunch of copies of their book which they've just had printed at great expense.

Since these books aren't going to make their way to the major retail chains by being ordered and stocked by the stores' corporate book buyers, they have to get the things onto shelves somehow. This being the case, many authors will typically phone up the target store under an assumed name and place an order for multiple copies of their own book, which of course they won't be picking up. Normally in most bookstores after a certain amount of time elapses and nobody comes to pick up a non-stock special order, the books are sent back to the distributor/publisher for credit -- in the case of nigh-on to 100% of all vanity press books, the pubs won't take returns on their product, forcing the store to shelve it along with their other titles. And the vanity press books, being clearly of a lower quality (in terms of both writing and print quality) than the other shelf-stock, usually linger on the shelf without being bought for years, or until the store decides to take a loss and mark it down to almost nothing for an annual last-chance bargain blowout sale. Anything that doesn't sell at this point is usually dumpstered for a total loss to the store. And people wonder why books are have to be so expensive at retail...

Hopefully, this Borders program will at least streamline things and subsidize the cost to the stores by making it an in-house on-demand publishing deal made directly with the author, rather than a chain of predation going from the publisher to the author to the store.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2008


I've always thought the main reason "vanity" presses have such a bad rep is that most are simply scams. Paying to get your work onto the market in book form wasn't the issue, but rather the extremely shady nature of many of the companies doing it. Like charging an arm and a leg for editing, marketing, and other support that simply never happens. Preying on the naive, gullible, and vain.

The main character of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum is a vanity press publisher. That's another reason to read it, if you haven't. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:53 PM on February 24, 2008


« Older It's about a bike   |   Unflattering Photos From The Campaign Trail Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post