The publishing environment is constantly evolving as new technology expands the possibilities. One of the latest trends, print on demand, is changing the face of publishing, creating a viable channel for out-of-print and first edition publications.

Technology plays a big role in publishing, resulting in an environment that is always changing as publishers embrace new technology to communicate messages—their own or their client’s—in meaningful and professional ways.

In print, the desktop publishing revolution changed the way publishing houses operated, allowing them to effectively bring all publishing processes in-house. Pages of text and images could be easily laid out in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) mode, and turned into press-ready files that printers could churn out at increasing speeds. Even for home and small business users, it meant anyone with access to a computer and publishing software was capable of producing brochures, pamphlets and letters (albeit with a varying degree of design quality!).

Another big change in recent years has been the emergence of electronic publishing (e-publishing), providing a way for businesses to connect with clients and stakeholders though e-books, digital magazines, apps and more, without the associated costs of printing and distribution. And while the digital publishing space is only likely to grow, it’s unlikely to completely replace printed publications.

In fact, just as digital technology is making e-publishing an accessible, economic alternative, it is also driving a revolution in print media—print on demand.

Print on demand

Print on demand (POD) is exactly what it sounds like, a system where publications are only printed when an order is received—so copies can be printed one at a time. So rather than printing a number of copies and having to store, sell and distribute them, publishers simply upload the files to the POD service provider, who hosts the publication on its virtual bookstore to sell and distribute at a pre-determined price.

Due to economies of scale, it’s not viable to produce single or low-volume copies of publications using traditional print technology. With POD, items can be printed for a fixed price per copy (regardless of quantity ordered). Advantages include fast turn-around, as set up is usually quicker than for offset printing, for example, there is a one-stop-shop for printing and distribution (so no need for storage for printed copies), and no waste from unsold copies.

For former ABC Radio journalist Rick Tanaka, author and publisher of Okinawa Dreams OK (co-authored with Tony Barrell), the decision to use POD for his out-of-print publication was an easy one. “We were fortunate to still have the original files that were used to create the book initially, which made it easier to convert to the POD files without too many problems,” Rick says.

“We did not just write them, but we also produced the book ourselves, handling distribution, retail and promotion. We enjoyed every process, but would have opted for POD, if it were available in those days. We could have spent lot less time raising money up front and we would not have needed to shift boxes of unsold books every time we had to move office.”

Rick has been planning a reprint for a few years, especially after Tony suddenly passed away a couple of years ago. “Obviously it makes complete financial sense to use POD. Commercially, it wasn’t an option to pour in huge amounts of money again to print and store a lot of books.”

Designer Madeleine Preston worked on resetting Okinawa Dreams OK, and admits there were a few technical issues to consider. “Okinawa Dreams OK was originally designed using QuarkXPress software and sometimes the translation involves tweaking things like the text threads. If it is the first edition of a book then the process is very similar to designing for print, with more freedom in colour and size decisions.”

Even if you don’t have original files, POD is a good option for out-of-print publications. “If you don’t have access to the original files you might choose to scan an offset print version and this can work well but will have slight loss of quality. However, this is often the only solution, particularly for rarer publications where getting the book into circulation is key,” Madeleine says.

“The process is relatively easy and the outcome is determined by the level of experience you bring to the project.”

The print quality is determined by the publisher, with options for various sizes, single-colour or full-colour printing, plus hard or soft cover and different binding options. Naturally, the better the finish, the higher cost per copy. No matter which finish is chosen, the end result is good quality, and as competition increases it is only likely to get better.

“People used to working with offset printing will notice the difference between the paper weights and colour quality but the cost and ability to determine volumes on demand for most projects outweigh the quality differential,” Madeleine explains.

What’s more, it’s a form of publishing that is available to anyone. “We are living in that future now where publishing is more or less possible for everyone, not limited to a selected few,” Rick says.



One Response to “Print on demand publishing”

  1. rita says:

    Good read. Have made me pondering to do another book POD. Soon.

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