"Print on demand" does not mean a book is of lower quality or the publisher or writer is unsavory. In fact, many of the tiny presses that use POD are making books with better cover art, better interior design, and higher paper quality than traditional publishers. Others make a point of seeking out great writers who are not writing what is currently selling. Others are reprinting classics that are no longer in print with the original publisher. Some scholarly and university presses use POD.
POD simply means that a publisher prints a book only after an order has been received. Traditionally, publishers guessed at how many bookstores might stock the book and how many copies they might buy and then printed up copies.
I have run into the stigma against POD on several occasions. Bookstores have refused to stock my book or to let me sign simply because Like Mayflies in a Stream is a POD book. My book is available through wholesalers, just like books by the big boys, and my book's publisher (Hadley Rille Books) offers bookstores the same terms as the large publishers do, such as a standard discounted price and the ability to return unsold books.
Despite the stigma, I believe the small publishers using POD will grow faster and be more profitable because of the technology. I also believe POD is the wave of the future for all publishers, including the New York Gargantuas.
When all the copies of the book sell, publishers make more money by having printed up mass quantities of books rather than using POD. This extra profit comes about because mass production is currently cheaper than printing small quantities as needed through POD technology.
However, publishers quite often overestimate or underestimate the demand for a book. Most books do not sell out. An occasional book sells out quickly, leaving many unsatisfied people who wanted to buy it but couldn't. When such things happen, the only advantage of mass production is lost.
Problems with estimating demand happen in other industries too, and many have embraced "just-in-time" practices. For example, one of my brothers works for the Graphic Communications division of Kodak (http://graphics.kodak.com/US/en/default.htm), which makes custom specialty printers. He has given me a tour of his plant a couple of times and proudly pointed out the many efficiencies Kodak uses. One such efficiency is just-in-time ordering. Every single part, down to the tiniest washers and screws, is counted and computer monitored. The division always knows exactly how many of each part it has and how many of each part it needs that week. Orders for new parts are placed only when needed.
Imagine how much money Kodak saves on parts and storage buildings with this practice! Then imagine the consequences if all publishers used just-in-time printing (POD):
- The price of POD technology would fall.
- The price of POD technology would eventually fall enough that bookstores could own printing apparatus and stock only one copy of each book, printing out copies for customers as needed.
- Bookstores could carry more books in less space, and independent bookstores would have an easier time surviving.
- Readers could possibly customize their books by choosing their favorite of two or three covers or having their names imprinted on the book.
- There would be fewer returns from bookstores, benefiting publishers and writers alike.
- Publishers would make a profit on more books than they currently do.
- Publishers could charge less for books and could pay authors higher royalty rates. (Whether they would do so is another question.)
- Small presses could compete on an even playing field, with lower prices comparable to big publishers and without booksellers turning up their noses at their books.
- Paper books, with their wonderful smells of paper and ink and the lovely feel of different covers and papers, could continue to exist side-by-side with e-books.
Old-Guard publishers are struggling now mainly because they have not kept up with the times. Accounting systems haven't been updated to track e-book sales or to pay royalties quickly and accurately. Ridiculously low e-book royalties drive some authors to smaller presses or to self-publishing. Books are printed in large batches by guestimate.
POD alone won't save the big publishers. They need to modernize in many ways. But POD technology would be a big step into the future and help bookstores, writers, and publishers.
What do you think? Do you agree almost all publishers will switch to POD production and that it will benefit everyone in the publishing industry?
I'll be posting again at Novel Spaces on October 6. Happy Autumn!