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Print on demand comes of age

9 April 2007

Print on demand is coming into its own. At a recent Book Marketing Limited seminar in London entitled Managing the Long Tail, the speakers showed how radically this new technology is transforming publishing and what enormous opportunities it offers publishers and authors.

Print on demand stands the traditional publishing model on its head by enabling one book to be produced at a time 'on demand' and doing away with the need for 'batch' printing, which involves large numbers, with all the risk, warehousing costs and tying up of money that this entails.

Many publishers have been wary of print on demand but are gradually beginning to realise the benefits it can offer. The quality of the finished product has improved immeasurably, making it difficult for the book buyer to tell the difference between books produced using POD and those printed using traditional printing methods. Many of the books in bookshops today have been printed using POD.

Lightning Source's David Taylor said that the firm now had 500,000 titles in its digital library and that it printed 40 million books a year at its plants in the UK and the US. The average print run is 1.8 copies, showing that most of its production is for one-copy-at-a-time print on demand. These books are being printed to fulfil customer orders or replenish stock, so there is no wastage.

Michael Holdsworth, formerly of 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. , showed how print on demand had transformed the Press's approach to its backlist. In 1997 the company had 18,708 live titles but by 2006 that had increased to 24,250. 16,800 of these titles (69%) sold less than 50 copies a year and 60% of that 69% less than 10, but the POD titles as a whole were making £6.1m (nearly $12m) of sales. For many authors this means that their books are being kept in print and are continuing to earn royalties.

For publishers this offers a real opportunity to maximise backlist sales and keep the rights. It works particularly well for the more expensive books, creating sales for backlist titles which otherwise would have gone out of print.

For authors print on demand makes it possible to self-publish at a reasonable price of a few hundred pounds or dollars. The individual copy costs more than it would with batch printing, but there is a huge saving in initial cost and overall risk. The very solution that enables publishers to make economies of scale and continue to sell just one book operates in the author's favour too. Authors with out-of-print work can bring it back into print. POD offers more power to writers, who can self-publish and test out the market, taking control of the publishing of their own book.

The advantages of print on demand

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