Print on demand

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An on demand book printer at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco, California. Two large printers print the pages (left) and the cover (right) and feed them into the rest of the machine for collating and binding. Depending on the number of pages in a given book, it might take from 5 to 20 minutes to print

Print on demand (POD) is a printing technology and business process in which copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, allowing books to be printed singly, or in small quantities. While build to order has been an established business model in many other industries, "print on demand" developed only after digital printing began,[1] because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.

Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all of their publications.[2] Larger publishers may use POD in special circumstances, such as reprinting older titles that are out of print or for performing test marketing.[3]

Predecessors[edit]

Before digital printing technology was introduced, production of small numbers of publications had many limitations. Before the introduction of printing, hand-copying was the only way; each copy required as much effort as the original. After the introduction of the printing press large print runs were not a problem, but small numbers of printed pages were typically produced using stencils and reproducing on a mimeograph or similar machine.[4] These produced printed pages of inferior quality to a book, cheaply and reasonably fast. In about 1950 electrostatic copiers were available to make paper master plates for offset duplicating machines; from about 1960 copying onto plain paper became possible to make multiple good-quality copies of a monochrome original.[4] As technology advanced it became possible to store text in digital form—paper tape, punched cards readable on a digital computer, magnetic mass storage, etc.—and to print on a teletypewriter, line printer or other computer printer, but the software and hardware to produce original good-quality printed colour text and graphics and to print short runs fast and cheaply was not available.

Book publishing[edit]

Print on demand with digital technology is used as a way of printing items for a fixed cost per copy, regardless of the size of the order. While the unit price of each physical copy printed is higher than with offset printing, the average cost is lower for very small print runs, because setup costs are much higher for offset printing.

POD has other business benefits besides lower costs (for small runs):

  • Technical set-up is usually quicker than for offset printing.
  • Large inventories of a book or print material do not need to be kept in stock, reducing storage, handling costs, and inventory accounting costs.
  • There is little or no waste from unsold products.

These advantages reduce the risks associated with publishing books and prints and can lead to increased choice for consumers. However, the reduced risks for the publisher can also mean that quality control is less rigorous than usual.

Other publishing[edit]

Digital technology is ideally suited to publish small print runs of posters (often as a single copy) when they are needed. The introduction of UV-curable inks and media for large format inkjet printers has allowed artists, photographers and owners of image collections to take advantage of print on demand. For example, the National Gallery, London installed a print on demand system in July 2003. The system increased the number of images available as prints from 60 to 2,500.

Some companies specialize in POD booklets, catalogs, or magazines. It is not yet commercially viable for single copies on newsprint or newspapers.

Service providers[edit]

The introduction of POD technologies and business-models has fueled a range of new book-creation and publishing opportunities. The innovation in this space is currently clustered around three categories of offerings

Self-publishing authors[edit]

POD fuels a new category of publishing (or printing) company that offers services, usually for a fee, directly to authors who wish to self-publish. These services generally include printing and shipping each individual book ordered, handling royalties, and getting listings in online bookstores. The initial investment required for POD services is lower than for print runs. Other services may also be available, including formatting, proofreading, and editing, but such companies typically do not spend money on marketing, unlike the conventional publishers they disintermediate. Such companies are suitable for authors prepared to design and promote their work themselves, with minimal support and at minimal cost. POD publishing gives authors editorial independence, speed to market, ability to revise content, and greater financial return per copy than royalties paid by conventional publishers.

POD enablement platforms[edit]

While amateur/professional writers are targeted as early adopters by players like Infinity Publishing and Trafford Publishing, there is an effort now to make POD more mass-market. A class of horizontal technology platforms like Lulu, Picaboo, Blurb, Peecho and QooP have chosen to be "author agnostic" and drive POD technology across the chasm, extending from its early adopter writers, to a broad mass-market of ordinary citizens who may want to express, record and print keepsake copies of memories and personal writing (diaries, travelogues, wedding journals, baby books, family reunion reports etc.). Instead of tailoring themselves to the classic book format (100+ pages, mostly text, complex rules around copyrights and royalties), these new platforms strive to make POD more mass-market by creating tools/APIs within which a range of different text and picture entry systems can be transferred into a POD paradigm, and delivered back to the consumer as finished books. The management of copyrights and royalties is often less important in this market, as the books themselves have a narrow audience (close family and friends, for instance), and the real value proposition is around the ability to get a physical copy of a digital journal, blog, or picture-collection.

The major photo storage services (e.g. Kodak's Ofoto and Shutterfly and HP's Snapfish) have included the ability to produce picture books and calendars. However, they focus on monetizing digital photography. Blurb and Lulu bring this paradigm to a larger volume of creative work (primarily text, as written in personal blogs), and include the capability to embed photographs, and other media. QooP and Peecho take on the role of an infrastructure service provider, allowing any partner website to leverage its pre-designed payment and printing functions. Next to an API, Peecho provides an embeddable print button, very similar to a "Facebook Like".

As of 2006, print on demand book publishing is growing in popularity. In the consumer market, this growth is especially strong among first-time authors as an affordable and easy way to get a book into print.

Publisher use[edit]

Print-on-demand services that offer printing and distributing services to publishing companies (instead of directly to self-publishing authors) are also growing in popularity within the industry.

Maintaining availability[edit]

Among traditional publishers, POD services can be used to make sure that books remain available when one print run has sold out, but another has not yet become available. This maintains the availability of older titles whose future sales may not be great enough to justify a further conventional print run. This can be useful for publishers with large backlists, where sales for individual titles may be low, but where cumulative sales may be significant.

Managing uncertainty[edit]

Print on demand can be used to reduce risk when dealing with "surge" titles that are expected to have large sales but a short sales life (such as celebrity biographies or event tie-ins): these titles represent high profitability but also high risk owing to the danger of inadvertently printing many more copies than are necessary, and the associated costs of maintaining excess inventory or pulping. POD allows a publisher to exploit a short "sales window" with minimized risk exposure by "guessing low" - using cheaper conventional printing to produce enough copies to satisfy a more pessimistic forecast of the title's sales, and then relying on POD to make up the difference.

Niche publications[edit]

Print on demand is also used to print and reprint "niche" books that may have a high retail price but limited sales opportunities, such as specialist academic works. An academic publisher may be expected to keep these specialist titles in print even though the target market is almost saturated, making further conventional print runs uneconomic.

The detailed local history of a small community is one "niche" well adapted to print-on-demand, as these books are invaluable to libraries, museums and archives in that small community but are limited in their marketability outside their home region. Public libraries which normally avoid print-on-demand tomes due to their lower quality will readily make exceptions if content fits a local niche which cannot be addressed by more conventional means.

Many of the smallest small presses, often called micro-presses because they have inconsequential profits, have become heavily reliant on POD technology and ebooks. This is either because they serve such a small market that print runs would be unprofitable or because they are too small to absorb much financial risk.

Variable formats[edit]

Print on demand also allows for books to be printed in a variety of formats. This process, known as accessible publishing, allows books to be printed in a variety of larger fonts, special formats for those with vision impairment or reading disabilities, as well as personalised fonts and formats that suit the individuals needs.[5] This has been championed by a variety of new companies.

Economics[edit]

Profits from print on demand publishing are on a per-sale basis, and royalties vary depending on the route by which the item is sold. Highest profits are usually generated from sales direct from the print-on-demand service's website or by the author buying copies from the service at a discount, as the publisher, and then selling them personally. Lower royalties come from traditional "bricks and mortar" bookshops and online retailers both of which buy at high discount, although some POD companies allow the publisher or author to set their own discount level. Unless the publisher or author has fixed their discount rate, the higher the volume sold the lower the royalty becomes, as the retailer is able to buy at greater discount.

Because the per-unit cost is typically greater with POD than with a print run of thousands of copies, it is common for POD books to be more expensive than similar books that come from conventional print runs, especially if that book is produced exclusively with POD instead of using POD as a supplemental technology between print runs.

Book stores order books through a wholesaler or distributor, usually at high discount of anything up to 70 percent. Wholesalers obtain their books in two ways; either as a special order where the book is ordered direct from the publisher when a book store requests a copy, or as a stocked title which they keep in their own warehouse as part of their inventory. Stocked titles are usually also available via sale or return, meaning that the book store can return unsold stock for full credit at anything up to one year after the initial sale.

POD books are rarely if ever available on such terms because for the publishing provider it is considered too much of a risk. However, wholesalers keep a careful eye on what titles they are selling, and if authors work hard to promote their work and achieve a reasonable number of orders from book stores or online retailers (who use the same wholesalers as the bricks and mortar stores), then there is a reasonable chance of their work becoming available on such terms.

Although returnability lessens the risk for book stores and helps POD authors get through the door, only a certain proportion of such stock can be returned. Non-returnability can make bookstores less enthusiastic about POD books.

Many print-on-demand titles are debut works;[citation needed] many bookstores are reluctant to take a risk on an author's first, untested work without the endorsement of a commercial publisher.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kleper, Michael L. (2000). The Handbook of Digital Publishing. Rochester Institute of Technology Prentice Hall II. ISBN 0-13-029371-7.  part of the Encyclopedia of Printing Technologies in 2 Volumes
  2. ^ Scott Jaschik (31 July 2007). "New Model for University Presses" (electronic). insidehighered.com. Retrieved 14 August 2007. 
  3. ^ Snow, Danny (Jan–February 2001). "Print-on-Demand: The Best Bridge Between New Technologies and Established Markets". BookTech: The Magazine for Publishers. 
  4. ^ a b Early Office Museum: Antique Copying Machines
  5. ^ Garner, Dwight (20 May 2008). "Making Reading Easier". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • 2007.5 Writer's Market, Robert Lee Brewer & Joanna Masterson. (2006) ISBN 1-58297-427-6
  • The Fine Print of Self-publishing: The Contracts & Services of 48 Major Self-publishing Companies, Mark Levine. (2006) ISBN 1-933538-56-2
  • Print on Demand Book Publishing, Morris Rosenthal (2004) ISBN 0-9723801-3-2