We’ve done it. Maybe a bit late, but we’ve reached another milestone. 

First we got Lost Ottawa 3 out. Now we have all three Lost Ottawa books for sale on Amazon.ca as ebooks and paperbacks. It’s been a bit of a slog, but people have been asking us if print versions of Books 1 and Book 2 were available. Now they are.

Several people have also asked why we went the indie publishing route this year. Why are we doing it ourselves, and why through Amazon?

There are multiple reasons, some having to do with Lost Ottawa as a social enterprise, and others with Lost Ottawa as an ongoing experiment in local history. Those are egghead reason that I will address in a future post.

In this post I just want to focus on the practical issues, starting with a question — what does it take to get a traditional book into bookstores? 

Well, it takes a print run costing somewhere upwards of $5,000 or more (the more you spend the lower your unit costs). In my case, three books would be $15,000. Next, you need a warehouse or some other place to store the books. Then you need orders, which really means going around to all the bookstores asking if they will take your book on consignment. Then you have to drive around to deliver the books. To manage all that you need an accounting system to tracks the orders, payments and taxes. Don’t forget that you also need to have a website to promote the book, and probably an online store with a payment gateway, which also means daily trips to the post office to drop off the online orders.

The point? Getting a book into the stores the traditional way is quite a bit more complicated than paying $20 at the cash register. It requires a risk of capital, a lot of legwork, plus a lot of time and organization. This is what publishers are for.

This year I don’t have a publisher. So the first question I had to myself was whether it made any sense to invest $5,000 or $15,000 in books during a Covid pandemic? At the time the decision had to be made it wasn’t at all clear if the bookstores would be open, or if anyone would would go to the stores to buy anything, so my answer was no.

Next I asked myself if I had somewhere to warehouse 500, or 1000, or 2000 books. The answer is no.

Then I asked if I really wanted to set myself up as a traditional publisher and spend my time going around getting orders and delivering books, tracking shipments and payments. The answer to that is again no. I’m sixty-five years old and already spend anywhere from one to five hours every day curating posts on Lost Ottawa. I’ve done that every day since 2013 as my main service to the community. The books have taken hundreds of hours more. That’s enough time on Lost Ottawa!

On the other hand, I had already written Lost Ottawa 3. I think it’s a good book, and a fun book, even a feel-good book that people might want to read in our dismal Covid times. So I wanted to get this book out somehow, but in a safe and reliable way, taking into account that the average age of a person in the Lost Ottawa community is over 50 years old.

So that’s where Amazon comes in from the point of view of this local historian. No investment in a print run. The only investment is the time needed to get the books ready. No need for a warehouse. They print the book when you order it. No need for a distribution network. They deliver the book in a few days more efficiently than I ever could. No trudging through the snow to the post office, resulting in a massive savings in time that I can spend on … more Lost Ottawa!