Print on demand (POD) technology allows books to be printed and bound in just a few minutes using a computer. This lets publishers print small runs, or one book, as the need arises. The quality of this type of printing has improved over the years, but varies with the quality of the printer. According to one source I read, professional digital imaging equipment can cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to more than three million dollars.
Many publishers use this technology to print advance reading copies (ARC) to send out for reviews before a book is released. It’s also used to supply books that are on a publisher’s backlist, and where a large run isn’t warranted. It saves publishers money since they don’t have to stock the books in a warehouse, but it generally costs more to produce each book.
Traditional offset printing is a more complicated process, involving pre-production of printing plates, printing a large number of books, and then binding the printed pages. The initial costs involved in offset printing are higher than digital printing but, since it is used for large runs, each book may actually cost less than one produced with POD technology.
Print on demand is becoming popular with traditional and small, trade presses as well as self-publishers and vanity presses, but the term has sometimes been used interchangeably with vanity publishing. Actually it just refers to the technology used to do the printing. I’ll go over the different types of publishing in a future post.
Has anyone noticed a difference between books printed with digital, POD technology and those done with the offset press?
Edit April 27, 2009: Here’s a link to an excellent article on POD, which includes more details than I’ve provided. One important point this author made is that having a POD book available for bookstores to order does not mean the store will stock them. They can not be returned if they don’t sell, so stores will only order copies when they have an actual order for them.