I was somewhat saddened to see that authors whose publishers use print-on-demand are precluded from the Sunday Times’ short storycompetition. Yet print-on-demand is a gift to small press. The big companies that operate this system can link publishers up to distributors and provide small presses with a system whereby they don’t pay for any printing until the book is sold. Admittedly unit cost is a lot higher but there are no warehousing or shipping costs and books don’t lie around aging: they are only printed as they are needed. The higher unit cost to the publisher results in only a slightly higher recommended retail price. Print-on-demand has been used for educational and academic books for some time now.
Confusion with self-publishing
Yes, many companies that provide self-publishing services to writers will use print-on-demand. Again this will avoid warehousing costs and guarantee freshly printed books. But some self-publishing companies and self-publishers themselves use other methods. And several small presses use print-on-demand technology. These include Bridge House, Crooked Cat and Unthank. These houses use the normal selection processes, rejecting a lot, and each book is treated to a full editorial process by experienced editors.
At that point, doesn’t print-on-demand become quite virtuous? There are no wasted resources, it is better for the environment and for the customer. Even the writer benefits; the publisher can take a risk with a title that is not going to sell millions but is still useful to a niche group of readers.
Self-publishing has come of age
In any case, self-publishing is a more respected act these days. Many self-published books are actually better written than some traditionally produced ones. More often than not a full editorial process has taken place. Sometimes, an out-of-print title can be brought back to life. It’s a good option for a “how to” manual, a writing experiment or for any book with an unusual readership.
The main problem for many fiction writers who self-publish is finding their readership. Again, because the writer uses print-on-demand, at least they are risking no cash even if they have risked a fair amount of time.
Hopefully soon print-on-demand will be more widely accepted, even by the Sunday Times.