by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh
They surged onto the scene displacing the established regime and disrupting the system. They toppled well-known icons and touched the lives of nearly every reader on the planet. It was sudden, swift, and scary, and things will never be the same again.
No, I’m not talking about an alien invasion or a zombie attack. I’m talking about POD—print on demand technology.
In the past, I’ve written about the changing face of publishing and the impact it has for writers, publishers, and readers. Certainly, the advent of e-books has transformed the industry more than any single technology in many decades, but current technology goes even further than that. Stealthily, POD has taken over much of the small press and independent authors' publishing choices, and it has even infiltrated large presses which, until recently, seemed immune to the changing tide.
Defined, print on demand is the technology in which instead of books being typeset and having runs of hundreds or thousands of copies, they can be efficiently and inexpensively printed one at a time. Sometimes there is a nominal setup fee, but often if the publisher does the formatting itself, there is no cost to get started. This makes it feasible for self-publishers and small presses to compete at a level that they never have been able to before.
The advantages of POD are numerous. The obvious, of course, is the ability to order small amounts of books instead of risking a large upfront investment. Word Branch has only been able to work with new and emerging authors because of this. Not only is this a huge advantage for micro-publishers like WBP, but for readers as well. Never before have readers been offered such a huge selection and from so many different writers. Finding that gem of an emerging author is an exciting and rewarding experience.
There are hidden advantages too. Shipping costs are cut in half. Ordered books can be dropped shipped directly from the printer avoiding not only the extra shipping costs but packing material and work hours as well. It also eliminates the need for warehouse space, extra employees, transportation, and pest control. Word Branch, as a company and we as individuals, has a strong commitment to a clean and healthy planet, and POD markedly lessons our carbon footprint and the impact on the environment.
Taking the POD idea even further, the Espresso Book Machine can print library quality books in about five minutes on site. Books-a-Million will soon be incorporating Espresso into their 200+ bookstores so that readers can have even out of stock books in their hands in minutes.
Even large publishers are taking advantage of the technology. University presses and textbook publisher especially benefit because of the smaller print runs and the ability to keep older titles in their catalogues. Book distributors have also discovered the advantages of POD. One of the largest, Ingram, has partnered with Lighting Source, and Baker and Taylor uses TextStream.
Despite the advantages, there are those who see POD as an unwanted fad or an unwelcome intrusion on traditional publishing. A February 2013 Library Journal article makes the point that POD allows a flood of poorly researched and non-peer edited ‘academic’ books on the market. In a time when fact and opinion are often blurred, this is a real concern for students, libraries, and academic institutions. Another area of concern is the possible damage to authors. Some people are concerned that without a publisher’s economic risk of keeping a book in print, they will hold onto rights longer preventing the author from reclaiming his or her copyrights. Frankly, I don’t see this as a problem. Most authors I know would like a publishing company to hold onto their books as long as possible.
Whether you mourn the passing, or at least serious illness, of the time-honored tradition of publishing houses or you applaud the new technology and the advances in the industry, no doubt print on demand is here to stay and will continue to evolve. Much like the 3-D printer, price, size, and ease of use is making the technology more accessible, and it is certainly feasible that soon micro-presses, like WBP, and even self-publishers will be able to afford their own hardware. Whether this is a positive change for the industry as a whole remains to be seen, but one thing is certain—POD has attacked and isn’t going away.
Print-on-Demand and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Espresso Book Machine
Print-on-demand may be coming soon to a Books-A-Million near you
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