Emma Hall has experience in trade sales and academic publishing. She moved to the independent publishing sphere in 2017, working with a diverse range of indie authors and publishers to offer print on demand and global distribution solutions.
Print on demand is exactly what it sounds like – books are printed as they are required. There are lots of advantages to this model over traditional offset printing, particularly to smaller or niche publishers and to organisations needing small quantities of books, often in fast turnaround times.
- No stock-holding required:
Print on demand removes the need to hold stock. Large publishers will often have (or have access to) a warehouse or storage facility to store large numbers of books before they are sold. Smaller publishers however don’t have this luxury, and if they do an offset print run of 500 or 1000 books – a typical minimum order amount – they need to find space to store these. Books in any volume are large and heavy, and storing them is inconvenient and frequently expensive. With print on demand however, you can have a digital inventory, rather than a physical one. All your titles are available to be printed whenever you need them.
- Reduced risk of second print run:
Some small publishers will do a large print run of a book, sell most of the copies, and be reluctant to spend the money on ordering another large quantity of books that may not all sell. Thus the book risks going out of print and becoming unavailable to potential purchasers, unless the publisher chooses to put that book into a print on demand system. No money is wasted on an older or less popular book, and no sales are lost either.
- Reduced wastage:
There is a lot of wastage in the publishing industry; older books are frequently pulped to make way for newer stock in overcrowded warehouses, and in an unpredictable book market with many avenues of sale, it can be hard to know how many copies of a book are going to be sold. This is not only economically bad for publishing houses and bad for the environment – it is also sad for people who love books to see large numbers thrown away. With print on demand, however, books are only printed when the publisher has a need for them. Print on demand companies can produce as little as a single copy of a book, significantly reducing wastage in the industry.
- Cheaper and easier international distribution:
Sending books around the world is a very expensive exercise. Here in Australia we unfortunately have some of the highest freight costs for international shipping, so having books printed overseas will incur a heavy cost for having them sent to you. Additionally, if a small publisher wants to make their books available to international customers, they’ll often have to pay for sending the book to them, or pass this cost on to customers, making the book less attractive. A better solution is for Australian publishers to print books for local sales in Australia, and for international sales to be printed in an overseas printing facility close to the customer who is receiving the book. Print on demand makes this possible, with linked printing facilities around the world. Books for American customers are printed in the US, minimising both the time it takes for the book to get to the customer, and the cost of sending it to them. Similarly, a British print facility can service the UK, Europe, Asia and Africa, allowing small publishers to market their books to a global audience.
- Typically faster printing:
So, just how quick is print on demand? This is dependent on the type of book – paperbacks with black and white interior pages are the quickest to produce, while books in full colour and with hardcovers and dustjackets take longer. Generally, when publishers order their books, they can expect them to be printed in three to five days. Print on demand books can be shipped directly to customers, or sent to the publisher. For comparison, an offset print run (typically done outside Australia) can take up to three months to be delivered to the publisher.
- Competitive prices:
And finally, how much does print on demand cost? Often if you want single or small quantities of books produced, it can be quite expensive through bespoke printers. But larger print on demand companies are very competitively priced, due to the volume of books they produce for multiple different publishers. The cost to print a single book will depend on the individual book; many factors, such as size, format, type of printing (inkjet or digital), and page count, will alter the price of the book.
Despite all these advantages, there are still people who are concerned about the quality of print on demand books. It’s true that, generally, print on demand books won’t have some of the fancier features available to offset printers, such as embossing and foil on covers. However, it is a common misconception that print on demand is only for cheaply produced, poor quality books. Today, a print on demand book is indistinguishable from an offset printed book. You probably have print on demand books sitting on your bookshelf without even realizing it, as more and more publishers start to take advantage of this technology. Print on demand books can be both paperback and hardback, and have a variety of paper weights, ink options, and cover finishes to suit the preferences of the publisher.
Print on demand is democratising the book industry by making professional quality books available for anyone who would like to publish them. Australia’s small publishing community is growing exponentially, and print on demand provides a local printing solution to this diverse and ever-changing industry. ••