The Troy Book Makers: Betting on the Market for POD

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In the three-plus years since Eric Wilska of The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and Susan Novotny of The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, New York, founded The Troy Book Makers, the print-on-demand service has "never not grown each month," said Wilska. And this year for the first time the business broke even. But more importantly -- and perhaps most telling about the potential for the POD business -- this summer the two bestsellers at The Book Loft were The Berkshires for Kids and Gibson's Grave -- both local history books published by The Troy Book Makers.

Clearly, being both publisher and bookseller of your store's two top-sellers is a very good thing, Wilska told BTW in a recent interview. "When you own the coal mines and steel mills ..." he said. "Well, it's the same thing if you own the printing press."

Wilska and Novotny founded Troy Book Makers because they wanted to be on the forefront, he said. "We saw the digital freight train coming at us ... we were paying attention."

As a store with a brisk summer tourist trade, The Book Loft has always sold local history titles. "I had an eye on public domain titles, such as The Ghost Stories of the Old Berkshires, which in the out-of-print market sold for between $30 and $100 depending on the dust jacket," Wilska explained. "I didn't want to take the risk of doing offset printing, and POD allowed us to do short runs.

"We sold 200 copies, and what did I pay? There were no royalties."

A "huge proponent" of Chris Anderson's long-tail theory, Wilska believes POD is a tremendous way to sell a diverse array of smaller titles that larger companies would not have the inclination to distribute, publish, or sell themselves. "Anybody with a keyboard is a writer," he said, so there's a big market out there for POD services.

Customers who publish their books with Troy Book Makers are offered the option of having their book sold at both The Book House and The Book Loft, Wilksa noted. "And, the more authors you publish, the more they market the Troy Book Makers" as well as the bookstores. It all adds up. Even though "half the time, we don't sell [a Troy Book Maker] book," little by little, with each Troy Book Maker-published book that the store does sell, "suddenly you're helping the bottom line."

Among the many services the Troy Book Makers offers are: manuscript formatting; custom book design; distribution in The Bookloft, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, and Market Block Books in Troy, New York, for six months on a consignment basis; marketing materials such as event posters and business cards; author websites; and book synopsis, author bios, and press releases.

While Wilska is pleased with the POD business thus far, he does provide a cautionary word to any bookseller looking to maximize profits by becoming a publisher. "It's a lot of work, and you have to have someone who knows what they're doing," he stressed. "People can be naive -- you need a good designer. You can't just pull someone off the floor. Don't [start your POD business] with your existing staff." --David Grogan