Monday, September 17, 2007


When people think of POD or Print on Demand, they usually think vanity-publishing a book. A writer gets his book ready and pays a company to print out however many copies he wants (to put it simply). If he sells or gives away those and wants more, he orders more from the company. But POD is not limited to vanity publishing. Some small presses use the same type machine to produce books. Even larger houses can have these machines.

Actually, POD isn’t the same thing as vanity printing. POD refers to the machine that prints the books. Even so, POD still puts a sour taste in most people’s mouths. It’s so associated with vanity printing of books that the two are almost synonymous. And yet … POD will not go quietly away.

Every so often you’ll read about how POD machines are going to come to bookstores. You want a book not stocked? Wait five minutes and they’ll print it out for you. Need something to read on a plane? Stop at your local coffee shop and have one printed out while your latte is made.

There are a lot of issues associated with POD, though. One thing is the cost. A machine can cost $100,000, then you add on the maintenance and supplies. Not many local coffee cafes can afford that. Then there’s the copyright issues and royalties to authors. How would authors get paid? Would they get paid? And if a book can be printed out at any time, does it ever go out of copyright? Would an author be able to get the rights back and try to resell the book?

All these issues are still being worked on. And in the meantime, the POD machine is still being worked on, as well. In yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, Stevenson Swanson wrote a piece about a POD machine on display at a New York City library. It’s called the Espresso Book Machine -- ready to print any book, provided there’s a digital file of it.

The Expresso Book Machine prints the pages, while a color copier prints the cover, then it’s clamped, glued and trimmed, and popped out a slot at the bottom. Sort of like one of those vacation-spot machines that would stamp a coin and drop it through a slot for kids to awe over then lose.

It’s fast. It’s convenient. And for authors, it’s still scary.

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