Publishing Sanely In An Insane World

"Print on Demand" publishing, as well as the technology making it possible, are products of relatively modern techniques using computers, laser printing, and Internet advertising. Because books are only made as orders for them are filled, there is no inventory or overstock. Nor are there any bulky offset plates and color separations to store, as with traditional offset printing. Files are kept digitally, hence the cost to the publisher entails much less overhead, and that results, ultimately, in a better deal to the author, while still providing a quality book to the buyer.

In the end, the "P.O.D." printing and publishing process is a healthier one for everyone, because more authors can find their voice in print, without needing to wait to find a "traditional" publisher. Less resources are wasted (that means trees, water, and fuel), since the insane but dominant mainstream method of overprinting thousands, even millions of copies of books, only to destroy most of those that go unsold, is eliminated.

The price of "Print on Demand" books is slightly higher but reasonably competitive with mass-production published books, and the product quality isn't discernibly different to anyone but industry professionals who need high quality offset printing (such as full color picture books might demand). Also, with P.O.D. more of the book's profit actually is seen by the author than through traditional publishers.

One somewhat obvious caveat to the P.O.D. method is that since "Print on Demand" publishers are not set up to inventory books, they can't sell to booksellers or consumers on a "return policy" basis. In other words, once you've bought a book through such publishers, you own it. While most people usually don't return books they don't like, but instead either give them away or let them gather dust in some corner, the "return" policy in bookselling has always been a driving factor in whether a vendor will stock a


title from unknown or unproven authors. The majority of booksellers demand the right to return all unsold copies to the publisher for reimbursement, leading to a cycle of still more waste and insanity. Publishers drive their costs down by printing outrageously more copies than they'll ever sell, resulting in higher inventories to warehouse, all for the sake of compensating for the need to hedge themselves against risks of poor sales. As a result, few traditional outlets will stock hard copies of "Print on Demand" books on their shelves, but are still willing to special order them for customers who want to buy P.O.D. titles through them.

While this might seem unfair to the customer, it does prompt several reasonable responses. One is that return policies of reputable "Print on Demand" publishers cover usual items like defective product and wrong titles shipped. The other is that it requires a more discriminating audience to choose their literature prudently, which, if practiced, would greatly reduce both the production and sale of much of the unwanted books already printed unnecessarily... just because of an apparent demand for cheap reading material.

For obvious reasons, the future of printing and selling books through sustainable methods in a sane world makes "Print on Demand" publishing more attractive to many authors and readers every day. Both can feel good about helping to make the publishing process a more egalitarian one for those writers who have something to say but will never be read in their lifetime because they have neither the celebrity status nor the backing of a fan base. Even more, with the increasing need to be frugal with our dwindling resources, we can be assured that our livelihoods, leisurely, and intellectual endeavors realized through reading and writing, are not jeopardizing our ability to pursue them.

Chris Lugar