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What is Print on Demand?

By Deborah Ng
Updated May 16, 2024
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Print on Demand. You may have heard this phrase, especially if you're a writer or in the publishing industry. What is it and how does it benefit the author? Read on for more information about print on demand publishing.

Print on demand, or POD, is exactly what it sounds like. Being able to print up as many or as few books as needed at any given time. In fact, POD publishers can print one book at a time if they're so inclined. This is proving to be the answer to many aspiring author's prayers. Because there's no major risk, as there is with traditional publishers who have to order large print runs, almost anyone can be a published author.

There are drawbacks with POD publishing. When an author is signed to write a book with a traditional publisher, that author will, in most cases, receive an advance check to help pay for expenses until the book is published and begins to make money. In addition, publicists and editors are provided. With POD, the author does most of the work herself. She may also find it's difficult to get her book reviewed, as many reputable newspapers and magazines refuse to recognize print on demand services as a legitimate publisher. In fact, they're more or less regarded as vanity press.

For some, the benefits of POD publishing far outweigh the risks. The first, of course, is that it's relatively inexpensive. Books are printed quickly and cheaply. This savings is passed on to the author who receives a higher royalty rate than she would have if she went with a traditional publisher.

Going with a print on demand publisher means you won't have to hire an agent to schlep your manuscript around from publisher to publisher. No schlepping means the book is on the market faster, which means a better chance at making money. The author also retains creative control over most aspects of her book. This means she won't be surprised by overzealous editing or an unattractive cover.

Of course, this means that it's up to the author to gather her own publicity. Book signings, speaking engagements, and reviews all become the job of an already busy writer. While this means the author won't have to make public appearances she doesn't want to, it also means she'll have to promote her book herself without a highly-regarded publicist's large Rolodex full of contacts.

If you've always dreamed of being published and you're unable to go the traditional route, you might consider a POD publisher. To find out if it's for you, do the research. Talk to other authors who have used print on demand. Research different companies to find out which one best suits your needs and avoid any POD publisher who has received negative comments or publicity.

In the past, if an author was rejected by a publishing company, she wouldn't be published. Now she can be — with print on demand.

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Discussion Comments
By anon947633 — On Apr 26, 2014

I'm a young, traditional/commercial publisher who uses print on demand technology to get our books available to global consumers via major retail stores worldwide, and it's the best thing I ever did.

The book quality for all titles has been great, and the sales are reflecting it. I tried it the other way for a while at the beginning, but due to the way the industry is (store discounts, high cost of short print runs when you're small and on a budget, packaging and fulfillment costs) it didn't work for me at all, and I was sinking more and more of my own money into something that wasn't viable.

Since I discovered POD, things are going very well, and I believe it is the way forward for the industry:

1.Only printing the books we need, as opposed to thousands that may never sell. I still print some to have ready stock, and we do have titles that are physically on bookstore shelves, but it's easier to estimate inventory and I'm no longer panicking to fill big orders, especially overseas ones.

2. Cutting down on rainforest destruction with reduced paper consumption.

3. Reducing the carbon footprint from unnecessary book transportation.

4. Easing the pressure on my cash flow and allowing me to divert my attention (and some of that eased up cash flow) to other areas of the business that are important, for example, marketing, and maintaining relationships with my people.

5. Perfectly decent print quality.

6. Sales have increased for me, since I decided to go POD, compared to the old fashioned way of doing things.

For me, POD has been a no-brainer, and most definitely not just for vanity presses and self publishers, but it's important that you go with what works for you. As a small, relatively new independent, this is working for me so far, and I'm sticking with it.

Good luck to all of you, and continue to have faith in yourself; it's not the easiest industry to navigate!

By Cageybird — On Feb 12, 2014

I'm still not convinced that POD books are going to be successful in the long run. I think readers still want to know that an author's manuscript has been carefully read by an editor and published through a recognized imprint. I've seen a lot of POD books that contained numerous misspellings and formatting errors. I'm afraid that all of those thousands of below par titles are going to oversaturate the book market and ruin it for everyone.

By Ruggercat68 — On Feb 11, 2014

I decided to publish my own books through a POD service and I've been very satisfied with the results on a technical level. I don't have 1,000 hard copies of my books gathering dust in my garage, for one thing. Self-publishing used to mean hiring an independent press to create print runs. Authors were expected to store and distribute these books somehow.

One advantage of Print On Demand publishing over traditional publishing is the decreased lag time from printing to marketing. Traditional publishers first have to decide if a manuscript has enough commercial potential to merit a print run, and then the lucky author gets put at the end of a very long waiting list. It could be years before a traditional small press publishes and markets an author's title.

If an author decides to go with one of the newer print on demand sites, a book can be uploaded, formatted and released for sale in less than 24 hours. I tried that myself once with Amazon's print on demand service.

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