Sunday, 23 September 2007

Print on demand

Print_on_demand_2 Perhaps it's because of the weird way my brain works (or doesn't work) that I've come to associate, at some point in the past, the term 'Print on Demand' with daylight robbery. In terms of the structure of the phrase, it seems closely related to such strings of words as 'Stand and Deliver' and 'Your Money or Your Life.' Whether it's simply the result of such word association or because I misunderstood something about it the first time I heard it mentioned, I've come to think of 'Print on Demand' as a Bad Thing.

I assumed the notion of being able to print off a single copy of a book was part of some dastardly plot hatched by computer nerds to undermine the time-honoured traditions of the publishing industry and, consequently, would make the industry even less interested in investing in new writers. I imagined that instead of having a print run of 2,000 or 5,000 or whatever, the idea was that a slice of a book could be accessed via the internet and, if someone wanted to read it, then they'd type in their credit card details and would have access to printing off a single copy through their own printer. The ideal solution for those heretics who refuse to embrace e-books! And if not exactly this, then I imagined it was something to do with bookshops no longer carrying stock as such and having a hole-in-the-wall ATM (or ABM) instead: swipe your card, choose your title, and wait for your book to be dispensed.

However, it seems that this is not the case and that I need to curb my imagination and that Print on Demand is in fact a Good Thing.

I was reading a back issue (spring 2007) of The Author recently and came across an illuminating article ('One small step') by Linda Bennett, who knows a good deal about the topic. Through this I learned that POD allows books to be printed (at printing houses) in small numbers amongst batches of other titles, and that most of the ramifications of this are positive:

  • allows publishers to run specialist titles because they don't have to invest in large print runs, which is good news for publishers and good news for specialist authors;
  • keeps titles in print because small orders can be more easily filled;
  • more rapidly responds to customer demand (if the warehouse is empty, it's not a matter of having to wait for enough backorders to justify a large print run) so fewer sales are lost;
  • may create efficiences that allow publishers to invest in additional titles and new authors.
It's been an interesting few months in this respect. Working towards getting The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore published (though not necessarily through POD) has led me in lots of different directions. Writing this blog and reading other blogs and chatting with other writers and kicking into Facebook and constructing a website (more on this another time) are all activities I had no idea I'd be involved in a few months back. It's been a steep learning curve at times, but the view's worth it.

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