The future of publishing – print on demand

It’s becoming commonplace to observe that the internet and print-on-demand revolutions are changing the world of publishing, shaking the centrality of publishing houses and agents, and creating a more democratic relationship between reader and writer.  But how is that supposed to work?  The following article gives some ideas:

Reading and Writing with Ernest Scribbler: Escape POD.

Years ago when the world was young a writer who couldn’t get a book published turned to ‘vanity’ publishers who, for a fee, would set and publish your book for you. Vanity publishing has always been sneered at because the books so produced tend to be poor, and without a publisher’s imprimatur, it’s hard for purchasers to know if they’re buying a pup.

POD fulfils the same need, but uses modern technology to cut out virtually all the cost. Submit your files online to the POD provider’s conversion engines, design a cover, set a price, and you’re done. Send the link to all your friends, and you have a book.

The catch, as ever, is credibility. Why should POD books be any better than old-fashioned vanity products? They needn’t be, of course — except that the increasingly tough publishing market, in which publishers have been stung by paying unrealistic advances on books that weren’t going to be big sellers, means that many good books fail to reach the market, because it’s just not worth an agent’s while (or a publisher’s while) to publish a book that sells fewer than a certain number of copies. My agent tells me that publishers are increasingly “buying conservatively” which means that they will tend to do retreads of tried-and-tested formulae rather than risk anything new. That’s why all books these days are chick-lit or Dan-Brown clones.

Here the ‘long tail’ effect comes into play. There are many good books that would get some readers, if a publishing mechanism existed that allowed for them to be produced without incurring a thumping great loss.

Enter POD.

Food for thought, at the very least.


2 thoughts on “The future of publishing – print on demand

  1. I think that there are two issues here. The main one is that, from the “long tail” perspective, writers are finding that there are (in many cases) modest-sized or small audiences interested in their work, and with such a low cost to reach those readers, there can still be much pleasure in being published by one does still in fact amount to a vanity publisher. But most authors, finding some audience is far preferable than keeping the manuscript under the bed.

    For commercial publishers POD technology is a way to keep old titles in print at a modest cost, and extend the life of the title, and that’s a good thing (another “long tail” issue). Most commercial publishers don’t use POD for first printings: if they only feel they can sell a few hundred copies, it’s not worth their up-front costs.

    I cover all of this on my website

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