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Publishers go for print on demand

24 November 2008

Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing has just announced that it is to launch its print on demand list, Random Collection, in January. It has been producing print on demand titles for a year and a half, but now has sufficient critical mass to see this as a separate list to be marketed as such.

POD is also driving Faber Finds, but the difference here is that this is a backlist publishing programme for which most of the titles are from other publishers. It launched in May with 100 titles and will have around 300 by the end of the year. The break-even on each title is just 50 copies, so, says Faber MD Stephen Page, the top 100 titles are 'racing past the finishing post'. With titles like Philip Ziegler's The Black Death and Richard Hoggart's classic The Uses of Literacy, perhaps this is not surprising, but all credit to the publisher for this enterprising initiative.

Faber editor John Seaton says: 'The point of the list is that it enables us to publish deep backlist which would have been stocked in some bookshops, but which has now become vulnerable to the shift towards frontlist - These books did sell, but not in sufficient numbers to make them viable. Now, thanks to new technology, we can make them work.'

In some ways trade (general) publishers are way behind the trend. Specialist, professional and academic publishers with higher-priced books have been using POD for some time. 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. has been working on a massive print on demand programme for several years. It has systematically brought its backlist back into print, at low cost to the company but contributing a substantial and growing amount to the bottom line.

From a publisher's point of view, reprinting books from their archives is highly economic. If they still have the rights, it enables them to keep a book in print and go on selling it at minimal cost, as efficient digitisation of texts that they already own is a relatively minor cost compared to the expense of originating new books.

For the author it is very gratifying to have their book back in print. As Seaton suggests, it is becoming harder and harder to persuade bookshops to stock a wide range of backlist. Worryingly, American publishers and bookstore chains have commented recently on the difficulty of selling anything other than heavily promoted front-of-shop bestsellers or big-name authors.

Amazon has played a big part in the renaissance of the backlist, with its very wide range of titles. Books which could not make their way through bookshop outlets can now be sold to an informed book-buying market, which knows what it wants, through online bookshops. For authors who have already published a number of books, just as much as for as yet unpublished writers considering self-publishing, this channel is going to become increasingly important as the book trade is ravaged by what increasingly looks like a retail slump.

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