Sometimes I step away from my wheelhouse and write about things other than cybersecurity. This post is one of those times.

Because I write books I tend to spend at least as much time researching the publishing industry as I do cybersecurity topics. The publishing industry is primarily based on a model of backing a lot of books in the hope that one of them becomes a best seller. It is a numbers game. The components of the industry include:

Publishing brands (Wiley, Simon and Schuster, Routledge, Rowman&Littlefiled, etc.)

Book distributors

Printers and binders

Warehouses

Bookstores

Amazon completely disrupted the bookstores while holding on to the 55% retail discount it demands from publishers. It won the numbers game. It takes on zero risk for a new book and rakes in more profit from each sale than the publisher does. In the case of self publishers, sometimes all of the profit.

I recorded a short video of my publishing journey here.

Now I am exploring new models for my own books. Last year, for the first time, I contracted with a printer to produce Security Yearbook 2020. I live in Michigan within an hour of Ann Arbor, which, only a few years ago, was the capital of book printing in the United States. Edward Brothers Malloy was the most well known. There has been consolidation in the printing business around the world. But it is still a competitive market. In high volumes your typical paperback cost less than a dollar to print. If you get multiple quotes from printers the primary factor that determines your total investment is the shipping cost from the printer to your warehouse (or your garage if you are doing fulfillment yourself.)

We can thank China for keeping printing costs low. In my experience Chinese printers charge about 20% less than US printers, which is perplexing because they first have to import trees from the Pacific Northwest and then turn them into paper. But it takes five months to print and deliver books to a West Coast port. For a topical book, like Security Yearbook, that timing does not work.

Last year my printer delivered Security Yearbook 2020 to my fulfillment warehouse in Warren, Michigan, in five weeks, with one pallet being diverted to San Francisco so they would be on hand for the RSA Conference. (Note: build in an extra week to your process if you need books to cross the Rocky Mountains in the winter.)

In that five weeks the printer has about three weeks of “preflight” work to do. Then they create giant flexible aluminum plates each etched with an image of 16 pages of the book.

four color plates for printing
Aluminum plates for offset printing.

They load them in huge presses that put ink on the plates which transfer it to a rubber roller which in turn presses it onto a continuous sheet of paper. The paper is cut and collated into 16-page signatures which are then sewn down the middle. The signatures are folded, stacked, and compressed while the backs are glued into the spine. The covers are added and the books are put in boxes and transferred to a pallet. The actual printing and binding process takes about three hours for the several thousand books I order.

Last year I tried to figure out how to list my own book on Amazon. I failed. I know there is a way because every book publisher and distributor in the world does it. I eventually gave up and contracted with Ingram Spark, a giant distributor that also has a print-on-demand capability for hard cover books.

Let’s talk about print-on-demand because it has revolutionized self publishing. Of course Amazon dominates this industry too. It acquired an early print on demand company called CreateSpace and folded it into the Kindle Direct Platform (KDP). An author can upload the interior and cover of a book for free. It can be available on the Amazon site within 48 hours in both paperback and ebook versions. In addition to the 55% retail discount, Amazon charges for the printing and binding costs which are typically twice the cost of offset printing.

When a reader purchases a book from Amazon it is printed on a giant digital printer, bound, and slipped into a box with a label and delivered within 24 hours in the US.

In this way the self-published author has zero investment in printing and fulfillment. They can even purchase books at KDP’s cost. You can buy your own books for three or four dollars and sell them at book signings for $20. I purchased and distributed 22,000 copies of Secure Cloud Transformation at $3.40 each.

My team of editors, working with a designer, completed Security Yearbook 2021 just two weeks ago. Thanks to COVID-19, RSA had moved their conference to May 17, and I have been taking pre-orders for delivery the week after. We made the deadline to print the books in five weeks!

Just one problem. Printers are backlogged for eight weeks. What could I do?

Let’s talk about color printing for a second. In the offset printing world there are a few options. First of all you can print the entire book in color. This involves having four separate aluminum plates, three separate colors and black, just like your desktop laser printer. So the printing costs are roughly four times as much as B&W. Security Yearbook 2021 includes color ads in the Directory of 2,615 cybersecurity vendors.

Rather than print the entire book in color we opted to print the color ads separately and insert the color pages during the binding process. (The printing industry calls these tipins.)

But, the eight-week backlog means the books will not be printed until June 14. How to launch on the promised date of May 25?

Luckily, the backlog for digital color printing was three weeks shorter so I ordered enough copies to fulfill pre-orders. I estimate that 400 copies will cover any books ordered before June 14.

Even with this Plan B in place the books will not be printed until May 27, so I am going to miss the promised date by two days. To avoid any more delay I plan to pick the books up in Chelsea, Michigan, on the 27th and deliver them to the warehouse the same day for immediate fulfillment. Road trip!

Note that Security Yearbook 2021 will not be available on Amazon. When you have a unique book people don’t search for your topic. Who goes to Amazon looking for a complete history of the IT security industry? Amazon encourages you to run ads for your book at a cost that usually allows you to break even. In other words, they make 100% of the profits for your book.

I have noticed over the last ten years that 90% of my book sales come from my own promotion. Twitter, LinkedIn, and posts like this one, generate my sales. I also sell bulk orders to companies and events that want to use the book in their own promotions. In other words, what do I need Amazon for?

Pre-order Security Yearbook 2021 to get one of the first books hot off the press.