Used to be, the notion of a book with a print-run of 500 or less must be a vanity press release and thus not deserving of serious attention. The paper was inferior, the covers would eventually fall apart and the color separations left a little to be desired. Print-on-demand books were earning a bad rap, but everyone saw the potential; a great title need never go out of print, a niche market title can be sold before the physical book even exists and the cost of warehousing or returning and remaindering books might be eliminated.
Circuit Bending: Build Your Own Alien Instruments is a book on my half.com wishlist. I’m in to that sort of thing, OK? It’s list price is list price $29.99 and on Feb. 10, 2009 copies were available for between $11.04 – 40.30. What? An obscure paperback with a VERY specific audience and no critical acclaim has multiple listings from online vendors selling it ABOVE list price? Curious. Or is it?
How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater is another title which immediately caught my attention. Portland author, pithy humor, larger audience and arguably more demand. Great reviews from credible sources, hardback first edition, 288 pages. But scarcity? The book’s list price is $19.95, but countless copies are available for $0.75. Perhaps a calculated injection into the market, in stages, or “on-demand,” you might say, would have served Broadway Publishing very well. The perceived value to the consumer plummeted. Now, thousands of copies may flow through the mail system at $0.75 apiece, making Mark Acito’s College seem a more viable entry in the annals of book business, but an interesting capitalist phenomenon called first-sale doctrine secures that Broadway will never see a dime from such book trafficking. Once a book becomes a remainder, it has been sold and subsequent resales at deep discounts cement the price customers are EVER willing to pay for that title.