The Goopy Ghost at Thanksgiving
November 2018 by V. R. Duin


Once the Browns had left the field,
Towing home their tasty yield,
A sad and lonely goopy ghost
Went in search of a friendly host.
(“The Goopy Ghost at Thanksgiving”)

It may be a good thing for some ghosts to disappear and not reappear, but the holiday book jam created by self-publishing houses' inability to fill holiday book sales with POD books is not a good thing for readers or writers.

Print-on-demand freewheeling is not compatible with sound business inventory management practices. Independent readers in search of unique POD books may not find them. They are not held in stock.

Self-publishing companies get behind in production. Self-published books rarely are held in business inventory for sale and distribution. Purchasers have no patience for products that are not immediately available.

Some books become “ghosts” of themselves. In particular, independent publishing houses cannot keep up with the holiday demand for individual titles printed one volume at a time after they are ordered.

Avant-garde readers may have to wait for delivery. Unique and innovative ideas in the arts are buried under popular titles. New and struggling writers get few sales from word-of-mouth reviews.

Few self-publishing companies make money peddling books. They make money from packages: type formatting, composition and layout. Their job is to prepare print-ready work with which the creator can deal.

It is expensive to hold an inventory of products for resale. Few businesses accept the challenge to warehouse, market, advertise, promote, wholesale, retail or ship books.

Selling is a ghastly, not ghostly task. New and unknown titles by new and unknown originators require aggressive sales tactics. Readers shy away from pitches perceived as aggressive or desperate.

Self-publishing houses do not make money printing individual books for the open market. They do not anticipate much of this activity. Less than one percent of self-published books achieve significant market engagement.

People buy what is celebrated by others around them. Readers are not experimental, adventurous or forward-thinking with art or literature. Monopolies in mainstream keep unknown writers off book lists.

Selling is not in self-publishing companies' job descriptions. Writers must promote their own sales from their own inventories. Readers may not take chances on a writer's unsold stash in garages or attics.

Traditional readership is a collective mentality. Sellers control the market with price-cutting and generations of exposure. Sequels retain demand. A history of buying confidence means less promotion.

Self-published writers struggle for traction. Self-published materials rarely have a physical retail presence. Retailers, including Amazon, use non-compete contracts to limit where productions are merchandised.

Inventory management is based on what moves. Titles must have a stellar history of sales. Otherwise, they will not be shelved or warehoused by retailers. Rebellious readers are unlikely to find these unique gems.

Shelf space is claustrophobic. Attention creates value in products that are plentiful and known. Sales are critical to businesses. Retailers make money selling products, not storing them. They buy to meet demand.

The last thing retailers want is impenetrable jams. Slotting fees charged per item for bricks-and-mortar shelf space range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost is comfortable for top sellers.

Cost rises for better shelf positions. Stores charge promotion, advertising and stocking fees. The rapidly-shrinking number of stores puts fewer ideas on the market. Visibility matters to ghosts and writers.

Friendly merchants may provide temporary free space. Their loyalty is with large publishers. If customers buy sufficient quantities, independent titles may find a permanent home at a traditional publishing house.

Online is a major marketplace. As retail moves online, products and services may find better opportunities outside bricks and mortar. Fast inventory flow allows online retailers to strike better bargains.

The virtual world is akin the supernatural world. Ghosts have no mass. Virtual reality may not become physical. Advances and book sales are not guaranteed. There is no guarantee books will be printed.

Chains may fill special orders for customers with independent books. Titles may be added to their online catalog listings. Sales may be deterred by no-return policies, bulk-order incompatibilities and slow printing.

Nothing is solid about ghosts or unprinted books. Customers are likely to cancel special orders, printed one book at a time. Filling individual requests can take weeks. People expect instant gratitude.

POD orders rarely are filled in time for peak selling occasions. To keep sales in-house and prevent a holiday book jam of back orders, retailers encourage the purchase of best sellers printed and stocked in advance.

Holidays are a bad time for book launches. Self-publishing houses are overwhelmed with anxious writers. Everyone wants to release books in time for important selling seasons. Books often remain works-in-process.

The file may be ready for viewing, printing or electronic transmission. Beyond courtesy supplies for the writer, the process is incomplete. It takes longer to complete releases with holiday competition.

The rush for holiday book sales can be scarier than a ghost. Printing and proofing errors are more likely to happen during seasons of holiday chaos. Few people slog through hasty, error-riddled text.

Mainstream's bestselling authors may leave no room for the new and unknown on shopping lists. The emphasis is on popular titles. Few writers hang around long enough to achieve brand name status.

Traditional publishing houses anticipate demand. They print, stock and distribute in bulk to retailers. Product inventory is carefully managed to avoid frustrations with missing books or shelving errors.

Price-fixing further reduces competition for popular titles. A handful of publishers, distributors and book sellers may work in concert to protect books that have proven successful. This exerts a restraint on trade.

Surprising best sellers may surge to the forefront. Sales surge for mistaken purchases of books with titles and appearances of hot sellers. This intentional mimicry disrupts the market for less popular titles.

It may be a good thing for some ghosts to disappear and not reappear, whether by command or on demand. notes the Rise of the Machines: eBooks & POD may help tech-savvy upstarts.

Change offers hope for survival of new literary ideas. Recent trends are driven by e-commerce technologies, subscription services and format innovations. E-books stay in supply. Printed books may be a dying breed.