Monthly Archives: November 2009

Moving Toward a New Phase

Today I took a concrete step toward the transition from home-based printing to using a print-on-demand company, Lightning Source. I signed up with a consultant who has considerable expertise in that area, and I will be bouncing questions off of her for the next several days. I expect to convert the book to having all black-and-white photos in the interior to cut down on production costs, and let Lightning Source take care of distributing the book to Amazon and other sellers. The book may not get into bookstores this way, but it isn’t in stores now and is selling fairly well through online channels.

Today we received our new blade for the Martin-Yale cutter accompanied by a set of instructions that would make the standard knockdown furniture instructions look like a simple nursery rhyme. To be fair, the instructions had an introduction saying the blade should be installed only by a qualified field service person. Clenise made a valiant effort to install it, but soon realized she needed professional help. Remarkably, she called the company and they directed her to a local service man, who came right out to our house and installed it! I was amazed, and now the cutter cuts like a blazing sword through melting butter; an incredible difference.

The laser printers are a different story. We received another shipment of refilled toner cartridges, and they are not doing so well, though we switched them into the other printer and now we are able to print some good copies.

Today we received an order for 21 more books from camerabooks.com, and we’ll ship those tomorrow. I think I’m going to have to cancel all outstanding orders from Amazon Advantage, because it’s too costly and difficult to produce enough books to fill those orders. Once we’re up and running with Lightning Source, Amazon will get books through that channel.

Coming to a Major Decision Point

Writing the book about the D-Lux 4 was a challenge, but I have to say that the publishing, printing, and distribution have presented more challenges. Every day I learn something, though, which is great. This experiment has not been financially profitable as of yet, but I think the amount of knowledge Clenise and I have gained has made it all worthwhile.

Today I learned more about how Amazon Advantage works. I had read the help files Amazon has available, as well as the instructions it sends when it orders books through the Advantage program, but those files did not explain everything, and some of the instructions were inconsistent with each other, at least as I read them. Anyway, about a week ago they ordered 265 books from us, and we scrambled for a while trying to figure out whether we could produce that many books. I contacted a print-on-demand operation to check on the possibility of getting them to print the books, and considered other options as well. Eventually, Clenise and I decided we could not fill that full order, so I replied to the order by saying we will ship 32 books by December 7.

I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next, but I found out today. This morning Amazon again sent an order for more books — this time for 239 books. I then read some more help files, and I found a statement saying that, if we can’t fill the entire order, we should declare the title “suspended” because it’s temporarily unavailable. If we don’t do that, Amazon will continue to order books, because we have the title listed as “active.”

Okay, so now I think I understand better how Amazon Advantage works. Either we declare the title suspended, or we find a way to fill the complete orders for hundreds of books. We really can’t do the latter, at least under present conditions. So we need to find a new approach to distributing this book.

Basically, it does not seem to be economically feasible to produce a book like this one, with numerous color photographs on its interior pages, with a list price of $19.95. So something has to give — we need to either raise the price or convert the book to all black-and-white pages.

I don’t really like the idea of raising the price to $24.95, as someone suggested to us, and that wouldn’t solve the problem that well, because producing the book in color would still be expensive enough to cut the potential profit to a bare minimum.

That leaves converting the book to black-and-white pages. That really isn’t too much of a problem. I liked having the color pages, partly because they look nice, partly because it was interesting to see if color laser printers could produce adequate quality (they could, in my opinion, but not cost-effectively), and partly because I like to reproduce the pictures as the camera actually took them.

But, for the purpose of illustrating how the camera works, most of the functions don’t really need color illustrations. Some of the images are easier to see in detail with color, which gives more definition to the pictures, but I don’t think the reader will miss too much with black-and-white illustrations.

So, after discussing the options with Clenise today, I think it’s likely that we will switch gears and shut down our home-based printing operation within the next week or so. Instead of printing at home on color laser printers, I’m tentatively planning to look into getting the books printed in black-and-white by Lightning Source, the large print-on-demand company that is used by numerous publishers for books that don’t need to be printed in huge amounts. That way, we can have as many books printed as needed; they will be printed quickly; and they will automatically be available through the large distributors, including Baker & Taylor and Ingram, so, if Barnes & Noble or another retailer wants to order a book for a customer, they can do so (which they can’t as of now). Also, the books will be available to Amazon, but through the print-on-demand channel, and not through the Amazon Advantage program. I think this system will work better for us, and will take the pressure off us to produce dozens of books on short notice.

We will still keep printing for a week or two until we can get the new system started, assuming that’s the route we take. I plan to talk to a consultant about helping make this transition, which may require getting a new ISBN for the book, etc. Also, I will make a further effort to get the book formatted for Amazon’s Kindle and made available for sale for that electronic device.

On the individual ordering front, I still am receiving orders, though there has not been any new publicity lately, so there have been only about five or six orders per day. Today we had an order from Malaysia, our first order from that country.

I have to say that, although Clenise and I have both enjoyed the experience of printing and binding books, it was beginning to wear us out with the long hours and stress of dealing with printers that wouldn’t print, or printed badly, a cutter whose blade was wearing out, and other issues. We both can use some rest, which may be coming in the near future, if things work out along the new lines we envision.

Two Printers Printing Again – After a Battle

The battle was strictly a technical one, but a draining and protracted one. As of yesterday, I was about ready to throw both printers out a window. Clenise had pretty well solved the print-quality issues by cleaning the printers’ components, installing new drum units and belt units and toner cartridges, and other actions. But then the printers would print a few pages, then “pause.” I have no idea why they would pause, but once they did, even if they resumed the print job was ruined. Sometimes I could get maybe 20 or so pages printed, and then I would coax the rest of the book’s pages out of a printer, but it took me all day to get about three full copies of the book.

I reinstalled the printer drivers and reset the printers to factory settings, but nothing worked. I finally decided the problem must somehow be related to the fact that both printers were on our home ethernet network, along with several computers, and somehow the data streams going to the printers were getting confused or interrupted by data going elsewhere. Or something like that. I don’t know much about the technical aspects of networking.

So today I finally decided to switch one of the printers to a USB connection directly to the computer. That seems to be working. Right now that printer is happily cranking out clean pages. I left the other printer on the network to see if the problem has cleared up, and so far it seems to be okay. The other printer also is printing continuously. I guess two identical printers on the same network caused confusion, though that system had worked quite well previously. Anyway, once I make sure this system works, I’m not going to change it one bit.

We haven’t received our new cutter blade yet; I think it will arrive Monday, and by then we should have enough copies printed that we can concentrate on cutting and binding. So things are looking up. Of course, we still haven’t found a way to control the high cost of color toner, but we’re taking things one step at a time.

Looking for New Approaches

I need to find a way to cut down on the costs of production, or else turn over production to someone else, because the costs of color toner, along with printer parts and other items, are eating away at any potential profits. Yesterday I contacted someone with a company that prints color books. He was glad to take on the job, but his company would charge $14.52 per book, which is more than I get paid for most sales. So I would still be losing money if I tried that option. Another option is to switch to a version of the book with all black-and-white photographs. I may have to make that change eventually, but not yet. However, I have started to offer a black-and-white version as an option through my web site, at a reduced price of $15.95. That just started today, and no one has purchased that version yet. We’ll see how that develops.

The next issue that started causing problems today is the condition of the Martin-Yale 7000e paper cutter. It’s getting noticeably harder to trim the bound books now, because the blade is getting dull. I have ordered a replacement blade, and hopefully it will arrive in time to avoid a shut-down of production for lack of a cutting capability.

I replied to Amazon’s order department about their order for 265 copies of the book; I said we will ship them 32. There’s no way we can produce 265 copies in the near future, and 32 is the amount we have shipped the last two times, so that seemed like a reasonable amount. Maybe Amazon’s pace of sales will slow down and things will become less hectic.

Right now we have one printer printing very nice copies, using new toner cartridges that arrived by UPS this morning. The only problem is that the printer pauses from time to time for no discernible reason. Clenise just got the other printer working after a couple of days when it wouldn’t print at all. I’ll try printing to it soon.

Happy Thanksgiving; Trying Not to get Bogged Down with Book Issues

At first I thought I wouldn’t post anything today, because the kids are home from out of town and we’re having our Thanksgiving dinner and trying to relax. But, a short update is probably in order. I did receive some helpful feedback from a publishers’ group I joined, and I have sent a message to a print-on-demand company to see if they can start producing the book in greater volume than we can with our laser printers. Both of our printers are down now, for lack of toner for both printers, and for one printer, for lack of working. Our cutter’s blade is getting dull, so I ordered a new blade. More toner should be arriving over the weekend, but we really need to get someone else involved in the printing if we’re going to keep up with the orders.

I heard back from a customer who had ordered the book from Barnes and Noble’s web site. I had written him to say I didn’t think they would be able to get him the book, and, sure enough, he replied today, telling me they had cancelled the order and said they couldn’t get him the book. I had suggested he order it instead from camerabooks.com. He said he did so, and was pleased with their service. I thought that was interesting that Barnes & Noble had even listed the book on its site. And I was glad that camerabooks.com got the sale.

Things Are Getting a Little Intense; Comments and Suggestions are Welcome

Clenise and I have been very busy all through our project to publish the book about the Leica D-Lux 4 camera. Keeping enough paper, toner, printer components and other supplies at hand and keeping the printers going with good copies of the book have been challenges all along. Filling the orders from individuals and the few larger orders from Amazon.com presented other hurdles to get over.

But today we were presented with a new order from Amazon that has clearly put us on the brink of a fairly major decision. This morning I received an e-mail from Amazon Advantage with an order for 265 more books. That’s in addition to the 32 I just shipped to them today, and the 32 that we shipped a week or so ago. As with other orders, 265 doesn’t sound at first blush like a large number. But to small publishers like us, it is really huge, since we have to create each book from scratch in our home office. We have to get the paper, the toner, get the printer to cooperate, then cut the printed pages in half to book-sized pages, bind the books, trim them, shrink-wrap them, and ship them. I figure that printing 265 books would take roughly 32 reams of printer paper, and would take about eight heavy cartons to ship them in.

So now we have to decide whether to accept this order and start printing all day, every day. We would need a new blade for the cutter, new drum units for the printers, and a host of other supplies. We don’t make any money on books sold to Amazon at their standard heavy discount. But it is good to see the book in stock and available there; it gives it exposure and credibility, I think, and the chance for more reviews by readers.

On the other hand, I never envisioned the book selling this many copies this quickly, and we aren’t really set up to print and ship in that sort of volume.

So, what do we do now? I haven’t received many comments on this blog, but if anyone has any realistic ideas, I would love to hear from you. If you don’t want to comment publicly, you can reach me through the web site at www. whiteknightpress.com.

Here are some of my thoughts and questions:

1. What would be the implications if we decline to fill the latest Amazon Advantage order, or fill it only partly? Would that have any negative consequences, or would Amazon just then order some more books later on and see if we can fill a later order? The book would not get listed as “in stock” at Amazon, presumably, unless we can completely fill the order. But is that a bad thing?

2. What are the best other options? Should we try to find a short-run printer who can print this book with its color photos through conventional printing in a lot of 500 or 1,000, to take the pressure off of our self-printing operation?

3. Is there an established publisher somewhere that would be interested in working with us or taking over the book? A little while ago on Amazon its sales rank was 1,194, though that may just be a temporary spurt because of some publicity or other factor I’m not aware of.

4. Any other ideas that could keep the book selling without our being swamped in actual toner and figurative red ink would be welcomed.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

I didn’t get a chance to write this entry until almost 11:00 p.m., pretty late for me. That’s because things are so busy. Ten individual orders today, including one from a new country — Portugal. Also orders from Spain, Canada, and the Netherlands, as well as the U.S. I cut the Google AdWords budget to $10.00 today, because we really have about all the orders we can handle at the moment. I was going to delay filling the latest Amazon order for a while until we could build the inventory back up, but they e-mailed me this morning with a reminder, saying they would like to have the Amazon Advantage orders confirmed within 24 hours. So I confirmed the latest order, and we will try to ship them 32 books within the next few days. Our production is doing better; today Clenise bound 26 books in one session, a new record. Then we had to trim them, inspect them, and shrink-wrap them, while constantly printing new ones. Both printers were working today, but we’re waiting for a new shipment of toner before we can print many more copies.

No real problems today; by now we’ve experienced just about every problem, so we’re more ready to deal with issues as they arise. The cutter’s blade is starting to get a bit dull, so soon we’ll be faced with ordering a new blade to use while we get that one sharpened. That will run us around $300. There are plenty of expenses, and it’s not yet clear that we’ll be able to make any profit. But things are busy and interesting, and that’s not so bad. Clenise and I are learning something useful every day, and maybe we can put the information to good use for future projects, or for later stages of this one.

Keeping Up with Orders

Individual orders have been coming in fairly steadily; I would say the average lately is about five per day. Someone e-mailed me today to say he was having trouble ordering through PayPal on my web site, whiteknightpress.com. I suggested he try Amazon Marketplace or eBay. Later he replied, saying he had worked it out by ordering through Barnes & Noble, whose online site says the D-Lux 4 book will be available on November 28. I e-mailed back, saying that’s not a great option, because Barnes & Noble has never requested any books from me, and I have not sent them any books, so it’s unlikely they have any! I hope he ends up getting the book one way or another.

We’ve been printing books pretty steadily lately, with an eye to filling Amazon’s latest order for 32 books, and still keeping up with individual orders. There haven’t been any new reviews on Amazon lately, though I’ve gotten nice feedback from two recent buyers on Amazon Marketplace and eBay.

One area that I haven’t mentioned in a while is the book’s cover. In my opinion, the cover has been one of the more successful aspects of this whole project. For one thing, it has been easy to print, since it’s a single-sided document. Also, I was lucky in choosing what turned out to be a very good coated stock for printing the cover. It looks nice, and holds the printer’s colors very well. The design looks pretty good to me, and that is largely because of the helpful suggestions I received from a person who did not want to be named. That person contacted me through dpreview.com and gave me some very helpful tips about design of the book and cover, but did not want any public acknowledgment.

Amazon Orders Yet Again

Well, I guess a small publisher is supposed to be glad when a big company orders more of his books, but I’m actually getting to the point of slightly dreading the appearance in my e-mail inbox of “You have an Amazon.com Advantage order.” I prefer seeing the messages about payments received through PayPal, or sales through Amazon Marketplace. This morning I saw all three types of message. I read some more about Amazon’s Advantage program, and I think I understand it better now. They just keep placing orders as they run out of books, though they still don’t seem to ever place orders large enough to ever actually be able to list the book as “in stock.” This time they ordered 32 books. I guess that may be their maximum order from a small publisher like me, because that’s the largest number they have ordered previously. Anyway, now I am faced with deciding whether to try to fill this order or tell Amazon I don’t have enough books available.

Right now, we have nine books bound, shrink-wrapped, and ready to ship. Six others are already packed up and ready to go the post office tomorrow, mostly heading outside of the U.S., to Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. So, in order to fill the new Amazon order, we would need to produce 23 books in a short amount of time, and that’s not accounting for other books that would be needed for other orders as they come in. I have a little time, because Amazon’s materials say I can take up to seven days before confirming that I will fill the order.

Otherwise, today I printed a sample black-and-white version of the book to see how it looks. It looks quite good; the color photographs look nice, but the book is really just as useful with black-and-white photos. So I’m considering offering that version through my web site at a reduced price, to cut down on the difficulty of dealing with color toner for the laser printers.

Today I had an interesting message from a fellow in California who also decided to publish his own guidebook about a technical topic — in his case, software. He had some interesting points about what he did and how he did it, including switching to a PDF after he became bogged down with filling orders, going to the post office, and generally dealing with printed copies. (Though he had the books printed somewhere else; he didn’t print them himself.) It’s very interesting to hear the stories of other people who are going the individual-publisher route, and I learn something new every time I hear one of those stories. I hope I’ll hear others.

Right now Clenise has got one printer running smoothly with clean copies flowing out. But it will quite a while before we get 32 books ready to ship. We may not ever fill that order; I’m just not sure right now.

Ups and Downs of the Publishing Project

My book about the Leica D-Lux 4 has been available to the public for about four weeks now, so it’s time for an update and evaluation of how things are going. We have sold 205 books, including 89 books shipped to Amazon.com to be sold by them. Ten books have gone to Camerabooks.com to be sold by that retailer. I don’t know yet how those books will sell. The majority of the sales have been through my own web site, whiteknightpress.com, or to individuals through Amazon Marketplace and eBay.

Today we added one more country to the list of locations of purchasers — Ireland, bringing the total to 13. That is one of the pleasures of this endeavor — knowing that my book is going to readers in various parts of the world, and hopefully helping them use their cameras for better results. I also have enjoyed interacting with purchasers who have special requests, such as needing the book quickly before going on a trip, or needing two copies. It’s always nice to know that someone’s needs are being met efficiently. One customer e-mailed to say his book had been mangled in shipment (even though I ship them in sturdy mailers), so I sent him a replacement book and he was very appreciative. One thing I always try to do is to ship the books quickly. I buy a good number of books and other items online myself, and having them shipped quickly is very important to me. Today I made three separate trips to the local post office after orders came in, so I could get the books in the mail today, rather than wait until Monday. (Two of the books were going to Japan and Ireland, and I have to take those to the post office; for domestic shipments I use online postage, and can drop the books in a collection box, so I don’t need to go into the post office.)

Right now everything is going fairly well except that the printers develop print-quality problems about once a day. We keep replacing drum units and waste toner boxes and Clenise constantly cleans the printers’ interiors, but problems persist. I think there also may be a problem stemming from some of the lower-quality replacement toner cartridges we’ve used. We’ll keep searching for a better supply of decent-quality toner.

Also, orders have tapered off. I have no idea what the overall demand for this book is. As far as I can tell, the Leica D-Lux 4 camera itself is still very popular and selling well. I would hope some of the new buyers would want this book to help them take advantage of the camera’s features. I guess the next two months will tell that story.

The giveaway contest on Leicarumors.com ended within the past couple of days, and the site’s administrator e-mailed me today with the address of the lucky winner in Hoboken, New Jersey. His book was mailed this morning, Priority Mail, and is on its way. Leicarumors has been possibly the best source of publicity for the book. I guess I need to figure out where else to spread the word so that people who might be interested in the book will find out about it.

I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to start a Facebook page for your business, so I did that. It was quite easy, but I have to confess that I know very little about Facebook; I don’t have a personal Facebook account. So, I started a page today, but I guess I need to learn more about how to take fuller advantage of that means of communication.