The newest Fortune magazine features Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, as the 2012 businessperson of the year. Jeff, it turns out, has built his business by being customer oriented. “We innovate,” he says, “by starting with the customer and working backwards.” In this way he has revolutionized the book publishing business. His board meetings are legendary. Before discussions can begin, the executive team takes as long as 30 minutes to read a six-page printed memo in silence.
I like Amazon. As a Prime member, I take advantage of free shipping, quick service, and low prices. So, when I completed my true crime book, Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, it was a no brainer to publish it with Amazon as an ebook. That was in October. The process of putting it on line was quick, and they promised it would be available within 48 hours. How modest of them! It was available in minutes.
That’s fine for people who have Kindles or tablets or smart phones—well, I guess that’s pretty much everyone—but many people still prefer to curl up with a paperback. I understand. I used to feel that way myself. So with Christmas season approaching, I knew I needed to get Tom Henry printed … uh, I mean on paper. Amazon owns a POD printer, so why not stay in the family? How far can the apple fall from the tree?
Turns out this apple never grew on that tree and it’s not in the same orchard. CreateSpace is Amazon’s POD printer. POD means publish on demand. It’s the direction printing is headed these days. In the case of book printing you send an electronic file to a machine, which it prints, trims, folds, collates and stacks. At the same time it prints and folds the book cover, then both cover and guts pass through a binding machine and you have a book. The beauty of the process is you can print 500 books, 25 books, or if you like, one book. That’s what they mean by “on demand.” It’s a green process. You print only the books you sell. No overruns, no remaindering—no waste.
Even better, the setup is electronic. I email them a manuscript and an art file and their computer formats it and, voilà, it’s ready to print. With an Amazon company, it should be a matter of hours, but with CreateSpace—not so much.
On October 29 I emailed them the manuscript. Three weeks later (November 20) they emailed me a “mock-up” of the first two chapters for me to verify the formatting. I returned it with minor changes. A week and a half later (November 30) I got it back. I was now frantic to get the book out for Christmas shopping, so I called CreateSpace.
“It’s not exactly what I want, but I can live with it,” I said. “I don’t want to waste any more time. How soon can I take Christmas orders?”
“Well, sir, now we need two to three weeks to format the rest of the book.”
“But it’s done by computer.” I said.
“Yes, and it takes two to three weeks,” they said.
I took a deep breath. “So what’s the next step?”
“When we finish formatting it, we’ll print one copy and mail it to you for final approval.”
“What about the cover?” I said.
“We need the artwork for that.”
“I have the artwork,” I said. “I just need to know the spine width. When will you know that?”
“When the book is fully formatted,” they said.
“But your computer does that. Don’t you have a formula based on the number of pages?”
“Sir, your book is not the only one we’re doing. We’re busy.”
“OK,” I said. “I get the first printed copy a few days before Christmas. If I approve it, then how much longer before someone can order it?”
“It takes a week to put it on Amazon.”
“But that’ll be too late to order it for Christmas!”
In fact, it will have taken them all of November and all of December to prepare to print a book from two files—a Word file and a PDF.
I think perhaps Jeff Bezos needs to call an emergency six-page-memo board meeting at CreateSpace. The memo will be on customer service. And I have a tip for Mr. Bezos.
Don’t let CreateSpace print it.
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