Adventures in eBooks and POD

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G Sakamoto

Last October, at a delegates meeting of the Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations, I challenged the participants in a workshop to rethink how we produce materials and share the Buddhadharma.

We no longer need to be tied to the model of printing materials that we’ve followed in the past. That model required a specific number of books to be ordered and printed by a publisher. The cost of each book often is related to the number of copies to be printed. That number is a balance between production costs and an estimate of sales. If the estimate is incorrect more books would need to be printed or stacks of inventory would need to stored somewhere. A decision to reprint books is also difficult because copy orders are related to production costs. The cost of setup by the publisher remains fairly constant as a base cost regardless of whether one book or a thousand books are ordered.

The challenges we have faced producing and distributing books have been met remarkably well. It was the only way to produce books. The problems of production costs, inventory and distribution were solved with varying degrees of success. Some books were printed once, others were reprinted many times. Some books have disappeared into the hands of eager readers, no longer available to new readers who have only heard of a wonderful book that was once available. Other books languish on temple shelves or are saved for the right moment to be distributed.

As Buddhists we understand that all things are impermanent. The means of sharing the Buddhadharma has also changed. In 1987 a digital version the Pali Tripitaka, the complete teaching and discipline of the Buddha, was produced by the Mahidol University of Thailand. In 1989 a Romanized version of the Tripitaka was made available. The project has continue to develop over the years providing access to primary source material to libraries and schools around the world. Where the study of original material was once restricted to a few locations, the transformation of the Tripitaka to digital content broadened access considerably. Now, access to the Tripitaka is available online.

After strongly suggesting to the workshop that we rethink how we publish material I thought I should verify what I suggested. Sometimes I get caught up in the moment, not fully comprehending the details of what I might be talking about. Yikes. Although, digital content was something I was familiar with, self-publishing was something of which I had only a peripheral understanding. I began looking for information, as I often do, on the Internet. After a few false starts, recommendations from the family, head scratching conundrums, I published “Broken Tile: Essays of a Shinshu Priest” as an eBook through Amazon. I used the same data file to release the eBook through Barnes and Noble. Eventually, I formatted the book and made it available in print through CreateSpace a print on demand (POD) business connected to Amazon.

As of today, February 2012, if you search Amazon for Jodo Shinshu eBooks there is unfortunately only one. At the Barnes and Noble site you have to look specifically for the title “Broken Tile” to find it. The printed version is only available through the Buddhist Bookstore. The sale of the book through the bookstore will help support booksellers. They order as needed, keeping inventory costs down. Since I earn seven cents a copy I will not plan to retire on book sales anytime soon. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on income from book sales. Your support provides me with the opportunity to share the dharma.

Our organization is also about sharing the dharma. The plaque above our onaijin reads, “Kai Ho Zo”, Open up the Dharma storehouse. We should use every opportunity to share the dharma. The material in books like the Collected Works of Shinran or Jodo Shinshu – A Guide belong to the Hongwanji. There are no royalties to pay. An eBook would cost a fraction of a printed version and there would be no inventory to maintain. EBooks and POD provide the opportunity, not necessarily to raise money or increase membership, but to share the Buddhadharma with anyone who is interested.