By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
Thor Distribution… Thor was started almost ten years ago as an entry level POD distribution method to pick up an odd sale or two that the author might not otherwise make out of his own inventory. Over time, it has grown from a few nickels and dimes to a great percentage of our authors being issued 1099’s, meaning they earned over $600 for the year with a very low out of pocket investment. The top author this year earned over $4000 on a $149 investment.
Print on Demand is not some magical new technology. It has been around since the days of Guttenberg. Print buyers demand and printers print. What has changed since Guttenberg, is the time it takes from “Demand” to finished “Print” product. The printing industry has come a long way since Guttenberg. While I’m not old enough to remember Guttenberg, I am old enough to remember letterpress and linotype. I worked on one of the first web offset presses in the whole Middle Atlantic. As one of the few manufacturing industries in this country that has never gotten as much as a “sniff” of help from the Government it’s been up to the creativeness and ingenuity of the industry itself to exist and compete. Each new trend has involved, better, quicker and less expensive ways to produce the printed product. The most recent in this evolution has been the rise of digital printing.
The beauty of digital printing is that the press does not know if it is printing 100 copies of one title or 1 copy each of 100 titles. While this sounds good, in theory, practice is a completely different story. Once you’ve printed one copy each of 100 books, then what do you do? Most printers are still trying to figure this out so they are primarily short run printers, mimicking their offset counterparts, only smaller equipment and shorter print runs. A great “first step”.
A notable exception to this was a printer named Lightning Print (Now Lightning Source) in Tennessee. Owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the country, Lightning provided major New York City Publishers, a viable solution to backlist titles where there was still a “demand” but not in the quantities to warrant an offset reprint. It was the perfect solution to extending the life of a book title. The original Beta test was completed in May of 1998 and earned Lightning Print “Innovator of the Year” later that year. By the end of 1999, over 200 major publishers were using this “backlist life extender”. NOTE: I continue to emphasize “backlist” because there are no marketing expenses associated with backlist titles. The “demand” is already there… just not in quantities to make offset printing worthwhile. The demand of hundreds of copies per year times thousands of titles equaled real money to these publishers… not “per book” but as a total, and it was money that didn’t previously exist, because these low demand titles before this technology would have simply been “Out of Print”.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for this backlist miracle to be latched onto by a resurrected Vanity Press industry starting with Xlibris and later iUniverse, AuthorHouse(or whatever they were called back then) followed by a herd of others. Rather than utilizing the technology in the manner it was intended, where there were no marketing expenses, the Vanity presses convinced unsuspecting authors that this was the perfect “frontlist” printing method. Unfortunately with front list, there is no demand… it has to be created through marketing. Virtually no traditional publisher used this printing method for front list production because the math didn’t work … still doesn’t. The math worked just fine for the vanity presses because they simply charged the authors … still do. The vanity presses make their money going and coming… it’s the author who is left scratching their heads when they find their pockets empty, no matter how many books they sell through a vanity press. The deck is stacked against the author from the day they answer that first slick advertisement. If it’s too good to be true… it is…. certainly holds true with virtually all of these modern day bandits, but if you are reading this, you have probably already figured that out and are looking to truly self-publish a book, so… read on.
POD works out financially with backlist titles (a la Random House, Simon & Shuster). It does not work with new titles (ala Author House or any other publisher with a Bloomington, Indiana address). But, how about a hybrid of frontlist and backlist … ENTER THOR DISTRIBUTION.
With Thor, POD is sold strictly as a “Pennies from Heaven” concept. In addition to the printing technology, Lightning is tied in, electronically to pretty much every bookseller out there, including Amazon. The system is perfect for picking up dribs and drabs sales that the author/publisher would not otherwise make. It is selling front list and back list at the same time. An author is strongly encouraged to not sign up for the Thor program until after they have printed real books, that come in real cartons and are delivered to a real address. The quantity an author/publisher prints is up to them. The minimum is 100 but the average is several thousand. Sales and marketing expenses are figured into the cost of these printed books. These copies are sold through various traditional and non-traditional channels.
At the same time the author/publisher is promoting and selling these printed copies, the printing file is loaded into the Thor (POD) system. Within a short period of time, links to purchase this product are scattered throughout the Internet. There are only minor upfront costs to become part of the Thor program and a small yearly fee. It is strictly a lay back and relax program where you check your PayPal account monthly for profits earned.
I don’t believe I issued a 1099 (profit paid to author over $600 in one year) the first several years of the program and I personally wrote and signed all the profit checks until a few short years ago. But all that has changed to the point that it took me half a day to prepare all the 1099’s for 2013 sales the other day. The system works…. as long as your main marketing efforts are directed towards selling books from your inventory. Thor is still “pennies from heaven,” but there are a lot more pennies and they come via PayPal.
Late in 2011 Thor added two additional services. The first is THOR PRINTING, the ability to order any Thor title in quantities as low as 2, with the click of a few buttons, at the 100 copy printing price with no administrative fee and a very reasonable shipping and handling fee.
The second is THOR WEBSITES. Every participant in the Thor program receives a single title website where the content is author controlled and sales tied into Amazon. An example of one of these sites is located at www.askronaboutpublishing.com. This basic website is provided at no charge to the author. The author is free to use the URL supplied or purchase a custom URL, like I did with the Ask Ron about publishing domain.
Last, but certainly not least… every Thor participant automatically becomes a SelfPublishing.com affiliate which qualifies you to earn income from any friends you refer to us through the link on the basic website. Unlike other affiliate programs, this one lasts forever. It doesn’t matter how soon the person buys, as long as the original contact came through your affiliate link (automatically added to your Thor website)… you get the affiliate fee.