How Print on Demand Transforms Book Publishing

 by Chris Fayers

What Is Print on Demand?

Print on demand (POD). “What is that?” you may ask. Maybe you already know, or perhaps I am preaching to the converted.

Print on demand means that you, me, or anyone else can order a single printed copy of any given book—a book that is printed when an order is placed (on demand). It is not removed from a stack of dusty books, which are printed by the thousand and warehoused to satisfy future sales.

One book ordered. One book printed.

Right now, print on demand takes place at a remote location. Then the copy is shipped directly to us. However, it won’t be long before we can enter our local bookshop, drugstore, fast food outlet, or gas station, and select a book from millions of titles on a computerized kiosk. The book will then be printed on the spot!

What Does this Mean for Traditional Publishing?

Of course, traditional book printers will still be in business. Steel, Rowling, and Grisham command such selling power that printing thousands of copies will still remain an economically strong argument for the time being. Likewise those glorious, full-color non-fiction books will command print runs for some time until both the color quality and print-on-demand pricing becomes competitive. But for those novels published by all manner of small publishers or by individuals, POD will soon jump out in front and challenge traditional book publishing and purchasing.

If you’re hooked on e-books, that’s fine; you don’t need paper. But paper will remain—just as film stayed with us when television hurried on the scene. And paper will be almost as accessible as e-books. After all, most of us will still have to buy gas and groceries.

If you’re an author, you will want your book published on paper because an e-book doesn’t carry the same weight as a paper book. And now you can, thanks to the economics of print on demand.

Does Print on Demand Produce Lower Quality Books?

With print on demand, a publisher or individual author will still need to pay for editorial, proofreading, and design services. But once the book is typeset and a cover has been designed, the cost stops there. No more expensive print runs. No more costly warehousing. Just upload your file . . . and concentrate on sales and marketing.

The great danger here is that without the traditional publisher to “do things properly,” corners may be cut—or avoided—altogether, and the finished book will not maintain the expected high publishing standards. Are these standards necessary? And why do standards matter?

Publishing standards are certainly necessary in publishing, and those who ignore them do the reader a huge disservice. All products need a design to function properly. So why would a book not be subject to the same standards?

Maintaining Quality with Print on Demand Publishing

Book publishers have a duty to maintain a certain publishing standard. The buying public believes, for the most part, that what they read in a book is correct—just as what they read in the newspaper is fact. So publishers retain a profound duty to always get it right.

This means, if you’re a writer, you need to get your work edited. Not just looked over, but copy edited for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And you’ll need to have your content edited for your own oversights (e.g.,Whatever happened to the body in the elevator at the end of chapter 7?).

Once the editing work is complete, the book needs to be typeset and checked again (proofread and designed), then placed into designed pages, pass a final check, and output for publication. These functions still cost money, but that huge chunk represented by the press run, storage, and fulfillment is out the window—gone!

Ultimately, buying a package from a self-publishing company is not the answer. Each story is different . . . each one is original in its own way. It is up to each author to find a publisher who will take your project, nurture it, love it, and help you toward your printing goal through print on demand.


Chris Fayers, owner of self-publishing company 4Square Books, has extensive experience in book publishing–both in fiction and non-fiction. He says there are many in the publishing business who still believe in the traditional publishing model and perpetuate the mystique of publishing. Both ebooks and POD have opened the door of possibility to many authors. Chris steps in to steer books to publication by imposing standards on these new publishing developments and helping many writers and academics professionally publish their work.

Chris was born in Yorkshire, England and spent many years in London, Devon, and Cornwall. He moved to the U.S. seven years ago and works for clients on both sides of the Atlantic.

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