I posted a comment the other week on Roger Colby’s blog about print-on-demand book making. POD. A relatively new technology. It’s also an interesting technology, especially for writers – and, for that matter, small publishers.
I thought I’d extend those thoughts a bit. Digital print has been around a while. Basically, it’s photocopying – same tech – coupled with better flexibility in terms of the paper stock. Lately that’s extended into machines that will print to card, collate, guillotine and ‘perfect bind’ – the printing tech term for paperbacks. Which means you can spit out finished paperback books instead of loose sheets.
That’s the economic way to go for smaller publishers – I’m aware of several in New Zealand who use it. All that’s necessary is to print enough stock for first sales and to meet legal deposit requirements. The advantage is that the publisher doesn’t have to carry unsold stock, and a book never goes out of print. This is important for the publishing industry and authors alike.
Down side is the machinery is hideously expensive. This is less an issue for authors than publishers. What both have to consider, though, is that output is usually lower quality. A lot of these machines use the same paper as traditional offset printing (ink, with plates and rollers), but the quality of laser doesn’t come up to offset levels. It can’t – it’s a whole different tech.
What’s more, the running/production costs of POD are linear, whereas with trad print it’s a case of the ‘more the merrier’, up to around 20,000 units, owing to having to amortise the costs of plate-making and machine setup. Linear costs are great if you’re running one-offs or a print run of a few hundred. But if demand jumps, you’d better know where to move to trad print, or you’ll ruin the economics of what you’re doing. That isn’t always obvious if demand is high but comes in dribs-and-drabs.
There are also things that can be done with trad printing – embossing, gloss overprinting, spot colour and tricks such as five-colour printing which go beyond the CMYK colour limits. Those aren’t yet possible with digital POD. And if you want anything other than perfect bound, you still have to go to a bindery.
So – lots of plusses, lots of minuses. Which to me adds up to the usual story with new tech; it won’t completely replace the old. There will be a re-balancing, a shift; and it will take its place alongside offset print and case binding. It will also go alongside pure e-books. I think there’s room for all in the future. Time will show us where the balance point is. Certainly, I think, POD will make a dent in the pulp paperback/Royal Trade end of the market, if it hasn’t already.
What do you think? Would you use POD? Have you used it already? Do tell.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012