Saturday 29 October 2011

Can we stop this snobbism about print-on-demand, please?

We have twice been approached by a bookshop recently asking us to confirm whether a certain title was “a print-on-demand” title. Aside from the fact that they were asking about a book that was not one of our titles, nor did it carry one of our ISBNs and neither was the author anyone we had ever published, I found the question a little insulting.
We do not publish “print-on-demand” titles. We publish anthologies of short stories, novels, cookery books and language learning books. We do use print-on-demand technology and we also publish on Kindle. Some booksellers and award givers seem to equate print-on-demand with self-publishing. We’ve recently not been allowed to enter a very good novel for an award because the committee do not accept “print-on-demand” titles. Yet we put our work through all of the usual editorial processes and we’ve published – and rejected - some prestigious people.
Most publishers of school text books use print-on-demand. Why on earth should they print the books until they have sold them? Print-on-demand orders are usually fulfilled in about 48 hours. The customer gets a brand new book where the white pages haven’t burnt and the book has not got dusty sitting on a shelf. Print-on-demand avoids waste of paper, ink and manpower. Unit cost is higher, but a publisher can still make a respectable profit per until sold and there is still room to give the author a respectable royalty.

Print-on-demand is a real boon for the small independent publisher. There is little financial outlay and overhead in getting a book ready for distribution. There is no need for warehousing and the print-on-demand company will often waive shipping costs as they have so many books going out to the same distributors and wholesalers. It allows the publisher to take a risk on a book that is perhaps less commercially robust but has something important to say.
And surely it’s good for the environment?