Printing On Demand

This is the first of an occasional series of articles about writing books and the publishing process. Other subjects I intend to cover in the future include: story inspiration, character development and keeping track of the plot. If you would like me to write about something not mentioned above, please add a comment below or drop me an email.

Here goes, Printing On-Demand.

Independent authors like myself sell predominately ebooks, but paperback versions are also available through a service called Digital Printing On-Demand (POD). At the heart of this process is a very sophisticated machine costing £50k+ and looks like a commercial photocopier on steroids (see pic). It essentially consists of two printers: one to print the glossy cover, and another to produce the black and white pages of the text. When printing is complete, pages are collated and trimmed, heat-sensitive glue applied to the cover, and the whole package is bound together. Voila, one new book.

Now, you may think this doesn’t sound like a very efficient system for producing large quantities of books, and you’d be right, but it’s ideal for Kindle authors who generally sell only small amounts of paperbacks and who can’t use traditional printers as they only work with long production runs.

Advantages of POD for publishers include:
▪ Eliminates the need to hold books in inventory.
▪ Allows books with low sales to stay in print.
▪ Reduces investment required to maintain a large backlist.
▪ Eliminates waste and expense of pulping unsold books.

Disadvantages for publishers are:
▪ Costs more per unit than books printed by traditional methods.
▪ Not efficient for printing books in volume.
▪ Format quality and flexibility not as good as traditional printing.

The Espresso Book Machine made by On Demand Books is being marketed to large bookshops like Blackwell’s in London and to small publishers, and costs around $175,000. To see a demo of it working, take a look at the short video on YouTube:

Companies such as Amazon clearly save huge amounts of money using POD, but readers receive an advantage too. No longer are you forced to buy the last copy of a coveted book with a bent cover and some torn pages, as POD prints a fresh copy each time. You’re doing your bit for the environment too. When a new print-based novel is launched, no one in the publishing process has any idea how many copies it will sell and bookshops are encouraged to over-order. In time, they may decide that some books will never sell and clear the shelves for something else. They will be sent back to the publisher to be pulped and eventually recycled, but surely it’s better for the environment if they were not printed at all?

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