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Latest changes in the book trade 3


Print on demand and the Long Tail | Latest changes in the book trade 3

The current situation in the book trade is one of rapid change. It's important for writers to understand what is happening as it will impact on their own chances of getting their work published and how it will be published. This newly revised series will look at the changes in the book trade, with a different focus each week. First, where books are heading and what changes are taking place at the sharp end of the book trade - the bookselling world.

3: Print on demand and the Long Tail

There continues to be positive news about new technology transforming book printing and publishing through opening up new opportunities.

Print on demand makes it possible to produce just one copy at a time. The book is digitised and then stored at the printer's as a computer file. This means that the POD machine can produce orders of any size and the whole operation is computerised. A single machine does everything except produce the cover. The costs are higher for each book, but this is more than balanced by the fact that there is no commitment to minimum print runs (as in 'batch' printing), no investment in stock and no expensive overstocks.

The quality of print on demand books has improved considerably over the years and books can now even be printed in colour. Several firms are operating in this area on both sides of the Atlantic, but Lightning Source, owned by the American corporation Ingram, which is the one we use, is one of the biggest. Print on demand will shortly be available more widely, as new plants are opened up.

POD is particularly excellent for backlist, since in enables a book to stay in print indefinitely at a low cost. Big publishers such as Cambridge University PressPublishing business of the University of Cambridge; granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534 world's oldest publishing house; second largest university press in world; ( tells you how to submit manuscripts electronically, but only deals with non-fiction. have been gradually putting their backlist into POD, thus improving both its availability and the return that they and the author can make from ongoing sales of the book. In fact this is now a regular way of keeping a book 'in print', although not all publishers subscribe to it. This change has led to ongoing contractual arguments between publishers and agents about what 'in print' actually constitutes. In some cases these have been resolved by agreement on a minimum number of copies to be sold in a year, if the book is to stay with the publisher.

Print on demand is good for publishing start-ups, since minimal investment in stock is required. The books can be ordered for direct delivery to the shops, so there is no warehousing and fewer freight costs as well. When a bookshop orders a POD title, the order goes through the wholesaler to the printer, and the book is delivered direct to the bookshop, often in 48 hours or so, which compares well with the time taken to order a book from a publisher's warehouse.

Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand has shown the profound impact that print on demand can have on all areas of the book business. The long tail is changing our approach to books, bringing everything in print (and much that is out of print from Amazon's used books and sites such as Abebooks) within reach, just a few clicks away.

Anderson has an important question to ask: 'What happens when there is almost unlimited choice? When everything becomes available to everyone? And when the combined value of the millions of items that only sell in small quantities equals or even exceeds the value of a handful of best-sellers?'

No-one knows the answer to that question, but POD has meant that at the same time as we have a huge focus on bestsellers, we also have unprecedented access to the most enormous range of backlist books through POD. The Internet makes these available across the globe in a way that is diametrically opposed to the bestseller ethos, as it provides a huge choice and is also highly customised in providing exactly what the individual buyer wants.

In the meantime one of the most profound ways that POD is changing things is in offering authors the possibility of taking matters into their own hands and self-publishing, which will be the subject of a future article in this series.


Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.


Latest changes in the Book Trade:

Latest changes in the Book Trade:

1 Bookselling

2 Publishing

4 Self-publishing

5 Writers' routes to their audiences

6 Copyright under pressure

From the WritersServices site:

Inside Publishing on POD

The advantages of POD

WritersPrintShop self-publishing service