Wednesday, December 09, 2009

POD People

Remember the old movies of pod people? Sci-fi, scary music, dark lighting, things popping out unexpectedly? Pod people may be back, but not that kind.

It may be the time of POD people - writers with books printed on demand. That’s what POD stands for: Print On Demand. Some have come to use it as if it means self-published. It doesn’t. A lot of self-published and vanity books are printed and mailed to buyers on demand. So are a lot of books published by regional, small, university and major publishers. Print on Demand is a process, a way of printing books.

Print On Demand makes sense. A few bookstores have POD machines in-house and can print a book in about five minutes. The majority, though, aren’t available for use at bookstores. Who has them? The same people who could print huge runs for bestsellers or smaller runs for regional books.

It cuts remainders - the returning of books unsold. It could give a clearer picture of actual bestsellers. Instead of stores ordering hundreds of copies of a politician’s or celebrity’s book, sending the book to the top of the bestseller list, then returning hundreds of unsold books, stores would order only the ones they know they can sell.

It could make it easier to get your hands on a copy of out-of-print books. Bookstores could “carry” thousands of books - they’d just be in the machine waiting to be printed.

Stores wouldn’t have to carry multiple copies of all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. But within minutes you could hold in your hands the N book or the A book or whichever one you wanted.

Remember our many discussions about e-books and print books? They can co-exist. We don’t have to divide into camps of “print-only” and “electronic rocks.”
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31 comments:

  1. POD is very eco-friendly! And returns are what really take a bite out of publisher profits. (And what other business could exist with 30% of their products returned?)

    And you're right - POD is a PRINTING process, not a PUBLISHING process.

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  2. My book was published by a small publishing house. They use POD as well as small runs. Unfortunately some book stores still attach a stigma to the POD process even though the books are fully returnable. Hopefully, managers will become more enlightened as more and more publishers move toward this method. It makes so much more sense than printing books that will never be sold.

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  3. I love the idea of POD books - that is the best of the ebooks too - only going to those who want them when they want them...not so good for schools in Pakistan though. We need to keep remembering that there are lots of places where reading is just now taking off and there are children in mountainous valleys who would so love to hold good books.

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  4. POD certainly makes sense in lots of circumstances!

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  5. It does make a lot of sense, if the publishers and bookstores can make the adjustment.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  6. This is fascinating and especially appeals to me when I think of out of print books.

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  7. Of course, POD doesn't need a bookstore. It just needs a cubicle in the mall somewhere. Think photo booth, though from a few decades ago when you had to wait five minutes for the photographs to develop.

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  8. I'm also being published by a small press that uses POD, and I think the idea has potential, especially now that technology allows for better quality. For now though, it's still developing. It will be interesting to see what the future brings...

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  9. I'm all for POD. It's greener, more efficient, less risky in terms of ROI - isn't it even a trend with the BIGS to POD books now? Should be.

    Marvin D Wilson

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  10. Any avenue that gets the books out there seems a good option. It sometimes seems that's what it's coming down to, options for the many varied ways of reading now.

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  11. You're right, Marvin, the big publishers are using print on demand technology, too.

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  12. Coincidentally I just came across this:

    http://bit.ly/684RFG

    You can personalise your very own copy of a classic (ie out of copyright) novel, substituting names of your choosing for the main characters. I think I can hear the noise of dead authors spinning.

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  13. Ooh, I hear them, too, Anton. And it's scary.

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  14. I have been a fan of this new technology since it was first introduced and wish that people would remember exactly what POD means. You did a great job of explaining it here, and I hope it helps lots of people understand that POD is a technology for printing and it is not a publisher.

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  15. I want a POD machine in my house.

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  16. Print On Demand Technology is fabulous for making books available without having to warehouse thousands of copies. The cost of returns on books these days are cutting into profits, big time.

    I think more and more publishers will be using this technology in the future. It just makes sense.

    Bestsellers would have smaller print runs but sell through would be easier and not as many returns. Bookstores could either order, as you said, what they thought would appeal to their customers, or they could have a POD machine on hand to print enough to put on the shelves to catch the eye, and print more as needed. To me it makes perfect sense.

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  17. The publisher for my first book is a small press and uses POD for short runs. Makes sense to me.

    Best, Galen.
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

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  18. If e-books and e-readers become outrageously popular, POD might be the only cost-effective way to get our hands on a professionally printed book.

    As far as schools in Pakistan... Even with a one hundred per cent POD system, there will be promo copies and such to make. Maybe the industry would commit to a few extra copies during those print runs. Or those books would be ordered by the non-profit organizations that currently gather them, paid for with donations.

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  19. I was surprised when Poisoned Pen Press told me to submit my 500 page manuscript via the internet instead of snail mail. The second largest publisher of mysteries may have gone POD.

    POD makes a lot of sense not only for the reasons you listed, Helen, but for the publisher control it offers. It's a well known fact that tons of books published by the large houses never make it out of the warehouses. That and the practice of shredding remainders would push most businesses into bankruptcy. It's long past time for the publishing industry to accept 21st Century technology and put it into practice.

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  20. POD makes such good sense. It always pains me to think of all those unread remaindered books fed to book-eating machines.

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  21. This TOTALLY makes sense to me. Do you know the cost efficiency? Break even old school = a set cost for set-up, plus a variable cost for paper and ink. Has the digital age meant that set up cost is now negligible so it is the same cost per unit for 1 as 100,000 (or almost).

    If it is, this seems a no-brainer if publishers are thinking.

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  22. Makes you wonder what the hold up is. Why isn't Print on Demand being used more?

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  23. WT - a set cost for printing set-up, plus variable cost for ink and paper BUT the variable cost of ink and paper is higher for POD due to economies of scale and, I suspect, factoring in depreciation on the smaller POD printing equipment would probably increase your variable costs as well.

    Not sure about the depreciation, I just suspect that the smaller POD equipment has a higher cost per print run than old school printing presses, ie I'm guessing each print run accumulates future service and repair costs at a greater rate per book than larger printing presses would. But that's a whole different study.

    But the fixed costs are the same whether for POD or traditional printing. ie in author's time, and the cost to edit the manuscript into something worthy of publication.

    Publishing has traditionally been about shifting costs away from the author and on to the publisher. The publisher paid to edit the book, to print the book, to distribute the book, and sucked up the cost of returns. The author got an advance and hoped to see royalties some day.

    With POD it's more like stepping into a dark room with a blindfold on. You might land in the bed, or fall out the window. And the costs are generally carried by the author.

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  24. POD works really well for some things--mostly low demand (but necessary) nonfiction. At least that's what I learned working for a bookstore that sometimes fulfilled Ph.d. program requests for books on esoteric subjects.

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  25. The cost is always carried by the author, either at the beginning or in the remainders that lower the actual sales and end up hurting the author's chances for future books. There is bad and there is good, for either printing method. Consideration has to be given to the future of publishing.

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  26. Go green! I agree with you on this one. POD makes good sense on so many levels.

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  27. So long as the quality of the POD books could be as high as "regular" books are now, I wouldn't have a problem with this. It's certainly food for thought in this day and age.

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  28. Thank you, Anton! That may explain some of the hesitation--if the actual printing per unit cost is higher--though it seems there should be a balance, with the reduction in over-printed books, storage, etc.

    This still seems a smarter way to go on books that they have NO IDEA what reception will be. (seems there will always be sure sellers, but for the REST of us... small first runs in a traditional manner, with a back up available of POD if it sells better than expected...)

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  29. managers will become more enlightened as more and more publishers move toward this method. It makes so much more sense than printing books that will never be sold.

    Work from home India

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  30. The per-unit cost is much higher the shorter the run, which means that unless you're making a run of 2000 books the cost will be so high that they won't get into the bookstores anyway. My publisher uses only POD, and getting our books into the bookstores is almost impossible. I ended up creating my own bookstore just to sell my books myself.

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