POD technology came on the scene as a result of digital printing. Before that, it wasn’t financially feasible to print a short run, or just one, or a handful of books on an offset press. POD means that books are printed after they are ordered, not before. Garages and basements don’t overflow with unsold novels, and large publishing houses aren’t stuck with huge inventories. Self-publishing authors who, in the past, have been required to pay for large print runs no longer have to do that. They don't have to save thousands of dollars—or max out a credit card—before they can take a book to press.
Does this mean that anybody can publish a book now—without benefit of an editor, designer, agent, or the name Random House? Yes, and this may be where some of the controversy comes from because it bypasses the quality control that has marked our industry for many decades. But did you know that academic publishers, small presses, university presses, and even large houses use POD technology at least occasionally and sometimes all the time? Being able to print just the number of books needed makes great sense economically and environmentally at a time when we’re counting the cost in terms of not only dollars, but also resources.
What are some advantages of POD?
1. Short runs are cheaper despite the higher unit price of POD because setup costs less.
2. Waste is minimized.
3. Storage requirements are reduced.
4. Reprinting out-of-print titles becomes more feasible.
5. Editorial independence circumvents publishers’ guidelines and opens the doors to topics and opinions that might otherwise never see print. (This can also be a disadvantage.)
6. Manuscript completion to market-ready book requires much less time.
7. Authors retain a larger share of the profits.
Of course, there are also drawbacks.
1. Lack of gatekeepers allows the market to be glutted with poor quality books that don’t meet any standards of excellence.
2. Many bookstores, particularly chain stores, choose not to stock POD books because unsold copies cannot be returned.
3. Books of first-time authors who don’t have big-house backing can be a hard sell—and many who use POD are first-timers.
4. POD books are typically more expensive and offer the retailer a lower discount rate—aka lower profit.
For the naysayers who have for years predicted doom for writers who choose the POD route over traditional publishing—which turns away almost all comers—the future looks far less dire than expected. Authors whose books grab the public interest and rack up sales often migrate to the offset press and/or are picked up by larger houses that see profits on the horizon. Others use non-traditional marketing strategies such as website offerings, motivational speaking engagements, workplace or other niche options, schools or organizations, and other creative outlets.
POD has proven itself a powerful means to an end for many writers who use the system to their advantage and sell books. For others whose marketing skills fall short or whose products are inferior, it has been the end. Whether or not any individual book becomes a success, the technology is here to stay. It’s fast, it’s effective, it’s economical—and that’s what people want.
How do you feel about POD?
Linda Lane loves to read, write, and teach writers to hone their craft. Learn about her and her team of writing mentors at www.denvereditor.com.