Vanity Publishing

I just bought Ted Nelson’s Geeks Bearing Gifts. From what I wrote previously, you may know that I’d like to make the process of book purchasing as debated and savored an act as possible. In this case, however, the book is for a class slated to start in about a week, so there was less nail-biting than usual on my part over becoming Geeks‘ owner.

Nonetheless, I found a couple of really interesting things in buying this book: 1) the book sold for its retail price on Amazon and 2) there was no significantly cheaper used version, even when trawling all the usual suspects (Half.com & its ilk). This is quite an amazing feat for a paperback, general interest book that was published in the US recently (2008). I don’t know anything about the contract that Mr. Nelson signed with his publisher, but in general, any author and publisher who manage to deny retailers discounts and keep their books from being resold are earning more from their books (per unit) than those who don’t.

Naturally, I wonder how Mr. Nelson did it. His publisher, Mindful Press, may offer a clue. I wasn’t able to to dig up any information on Mindful Press from a quick web search. Nevertheless, as its name is not Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, or any of their imprints, I believe that Mindful Press is probably a vanity press/independent publisher. As such, Mr. Nelson’s book probably had quite a limited print run. This explains both the dearth of used books and the relatively high price of Geeks Bearing Gifts, $20 for a 200-page paperback. (Smaller print runs mean that each book has to cover a larger portion of any fixed costs associated with publishing it.) I guessing that this means Mr. Nelson traded greater revenue per book sold for a smaller number of overall units sold. In the end, I don’t think that he made a tremendous amount of profit from Geeks since in terms of absolute profitability, the traditional publishers probably have an edge over all other forms of publishing, be they self-, independent, or vanity.

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