Welcome to the Era of Print on Demand

More and more people are discovering books that aren’t with large or small publishers. Rather, they’re print on demand, or POD. These work much differently from the rest of the books you see in the bookstore and, thanks to technology, are becoming more commonplace than ever. There are so many different POD outlets that virtually anyone can publish a book. It’s something a lot of people are still trying to digest.

Previously, before the ebook revolution and the now massive world of online retail, publishers were essentially the keepers of the keys. If authors wanted their books to be in print and on bookshelves, their best bet was to get an agent and then hope they could convince a publisher to take them on and sell their book. During these times, print on demand books were a possibility, but not as we know them now. Instead, and author would call themselves self-published (which still stands true with POD books now), but they would pay a company as much as several thousand dollars to print their books. The company didn’t distribute them — that was the work of the author. So when you hear stories of now famous authors who started by selling books out of the trunks of their cars, this is what is being referred to.

Thanks to technology, the game has changed quite drastically. Now places that ask for thousands of dollars are considered sketchy (though there were plenty of them back then, too), whereas places like CreateSpace make the POD process easy and fast. All an author needs is a finished book and cover art. Authors can then order copies for themselves to sell as they please — whether they decide to do so out of the trunk of their car or at a convention is up to them. But good POD entities also offer something else to authors that wasn’t available before — distribution.

CreateSpace, Lulu.com, and others have all worked with various bookstores large and small in order to allow their massive list of POD books to be ordered at any given moment. They aren’t concerned with cover art quality or the insides of the book; their job is to simply craft the books and ship them out.

So what does that mean for customers?

As mentioned in a previous article, POD books are, in the vast number of cases, non-returnable — at least from a store’s standpoint. It’s a hard concept for a lot of people to understand due to Amazon’s all-encompassing presence. Because Amazon is basically like ordering from a massive warehouse, they’re selling, buying, and accepting returns at any given moment. It also helps that Amazon owns CreateSpace. So Amazon doesn’t much care if you order a POD book and then decide to send it back.

Physical bookstores, however, order their books directly from publishers and work with distributors — most of which keep a wide berth from POD books. They have little to no incentive to stock them or accept them in a return because the demand is too low. A handful of people throughout the country requesting a POD book is nowhere near enough. Instead, each individual order is fulfilled by the company producing the book. This is why it can feel so easy ordering a POD book online, but seem as though you have to wait if you order it at the store. Many stores require that the book be paid for and then sent to your home. People are used to ordering things online and then waiting for them to arrive, but many customers become impatient when told the book isn’t in stock at the bookstore and decline to order it (only to often do so themselves later). Some locations may have the book sent to the store, but they may still make you pay before it arrives to ensure someone actually picks it up. But no matter how you order or who you order from, the fact remains: the book has to physically be made once the order is received and then shipped out to the location provided.

That’s why you’ll rarely see a POD book in a store. You may very well be the only customer that has ever asked for it. Naturally, there are some exceptions, such as a bookstore willing to host a book signing, or the book gaining sudden traction in a community, or social media exploded and the book has gone viral in its popularity (though if this is the case, chances are a large publisher will snap it up very soon!). Even then, the sales numbers or potential sales numbers need to be very possible and high enough to convince the store to make the investment.

The upside to POD means you now have more books to choose from than ever before. Knowing what will be a good read is the difficult part. Either way, you can drown yourself in a plethora of books — and you might be surprised to find some real gems out there. Traditional publishers only accept so many manuscripts per year, and they aren’t always amazing sellers. They can only take in what they like and what they think will sell well, but the world of publishing is tricky and sometimes good stories slip through the cracks. POD has allowed those stories to come to light and give you something other than an ebook to hold onto.

So if you find yourself at a store and interested in buying a POD book — go ahead. Don’t let the wait time stop you. Any author making a sale on a POD title will be thrilled because it means yet another reader (and yes, another few dollars to help pay the rent). And if you find a POD book that you love? Tell the world. Word of mouth in the book world is the most powerful marketing tool possible, and readers are the ones that hold that tool. More popularity means more incentive for that writer to keep on writing so you get even more books from him or her. And who knows? Maybe someday the book will become so popular a publisher will pick it up and then it will be easily accessible everywhere.

After all, it’s happened before…

 

4 Comments

  • J.L. Gribble July 6, 2017 at 9:07 am

    It’s really, really nice reading an article about POD from a bookseller that isn’t rude and dismissive. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 6, 2017 at 11:50 am

      Most small press publishers are print on demand, aren’t they?

      Reply
      • Nicole Taft July 6, 2017 at 10:33 pm

        I’ve got two POD books myself, so I understand both sides of the fence. Any personal frustration I get with POD is primarily from customers who can’t seem to grasp even the most basic of concepts regarding it, and then from authors who have done absolutely zero research into how publishing of any kind works – they just went straight into POD without any knowledge of agents, publishing houses, or why their book isn’t sold in stores. In fact, not even joking, I had someone like that just today. Then you’ve basically become their personal encyclopedia into how all that works. *Or* they think they’re all that and a bag of chips because they’ve published something. When you deal with that long enough, you automatically get your quills up when someone rolls into the store demanding to have their book stocked or hold a signing. I know I do.Otherwise I don’t much care either way. It’s a way to get your work out there, and if that’s how it gets done, that’s how it gets done.

        Reply
  • Nicole Taft July 6, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    In fact, I should have added in one of Bella Forrest’s covers because she’s pretty popular, her books get good ratings, and to my knowledge she’s strictly POD and ebook. In fact, her books give me an idea for another article – the importance of a good cover. 😀

    Reply

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