Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What is Print On Demand (POD)?

When the technology first came out it simply meant a machine that could produce as few as one single book at a time. It has come to mean something else. People have begun to think it is synonymous with self-publishing or vanity presses. It has acquired some sort of a stigma that is absolutely false. This confusion over the term is clouding the issue on the discussion on e-books and e-readers that seems to be going on all over the industry right now.

It's simple, Print On Demand (POD) is a method of printing. Period. Exclamation mark!

It is indeed what it started out to be, a method by which a book can be printed one at a time or in significantly larger orders. What is important is how that book is used once it has been produced in this manner. For most POD places the quality is as good as the products produced by other methods, better than some. And if there is a problem with a book, all the POD houses that I know of stand behind them and will replace immediately.

There are respected small and medium houses that use this technology to cut down on warehousing and often even have orders of size sent directly to customers which impacts shipping costs. Right now, as we speak, there are some large houses starting to utilize the technology as well. Many houses using the technology have significant distribution and marketing and take returns allowing the product to go to bookstores and into their usual distribution channels. Some that are going to traditionally print a product even use POD to produce early copies or review copies or maybe to extend a title at the end of a big press run. Chances are if the book has a known imprint on it identifying it as a product of a house people recognize they do not even know or care how the book was printed.

The Authors Guild has a "Back in Print" program for its members. The AG makes sure an author owns the rights to his or her book and then the author sends two copies to iUniverse and it is placed on their AG Back in print section. It costs the AG member nothing and the AG author gets one sample copy. Other authors are using POD through various avenues to keep books available after they have gone out of print.

As the quantum leap is occurring with e-books and e-readers POD will become even more significant as authors and readers continue to want a print alternative to these products. We can’t forget with the double digit gains that the e-book industry is making that the majority of books sold are still print copies. While we MUST get on line with the e-book surge and maximize our return from that growing market we have to be cognizant of the old phrase “always dance with the one that brung ya!”

Print books have always been the backbone of the industry and will continue to be for many years to come. But the method of printing those books? More and more are going to utilize this technology. To fully understand what is happening we have to separate the terms in our head. POD does not define the publishing house, it is simply the method they are using to produce their books.

It does tell us one thing about the publisher, however. It is not economical to produce a large quantity by POD. They are by necessity more expensive to produce and necessitate a higher retail price. A major publisher looking for a book to do very well will take the economy of scale and have it produced in a large run on the big presses. But maybe not in the United States.


Raquel Byrnes said...

Thanks for explaining, Terry. I too was under the impression that POD was the same as self-publishing.

Donn Taylor said...

Yes, Terry, I ran into that prejudice years ago with The Lazarus File. Panther Creek Press was a royalty-paying press that used POD as a printing method. In various interviews, agents and editors assumed the novel was self-published and raised eyebrows when I insisted it wasn't. Strange that supposedly knowledgeable professionals still hold that erroneous idea. Shame.

Terry Burns said...

This industry wide discussion, plus the major houses that are starting to use POD technology themselves, make this the perfect time to address that misconception and I intend to publish this message and make this comment as much as possible as part of the discussion.

Normandie Fischer said...

I appreciate your explanation, Terry. I know you wrote about this process when I originally questioned you, but this adds to what you said and clarifies it. Reza self-published the book I wrote for him, using a POD "publisher," which made the books, both in paperback and hardcover, more expensive than a lot of folk were willing to pay. As a self-published book it also had distribution issues. Until recently, that had been my only exposure to the process.

I can certainly see that it would make great sense for an author to keep his work available using this method.

Heidiwriter said...

Good post, Terry. It seems to me this should be the wave of the future for publishing print books. This way, publishers don't have to warehouse hundreds and thousands of books that may or may not be sold. The down side is that the per book price is more expensive

David Cranmer said...

A much needed and appreciated post. Thanks.

Lisa Lickel said...

Yahoo! Save the trees - also known as inventoryless, and I approve.