Wednesday, December 07, 2005

POD, not just for vanities anymore

Publishers Lunch tipped me off to a great article on the movement of university presses to POD technology (almost exclusively) for printing off monographs and short print run titles. This piece not only highlights the value of POD but also gives a good background into how university presses operate:

Professors have always depended on university presses to publish the scholarly books that help faculty members earn promotion and tenure. But demand for those monographs is usually limited, to say the least.

A typical scholarly book sells only a few hundred copies within the first year or two.

Yet university presses, because of the high cost of printing a book, have traditionally printed initial runs of at least 2,000 copies. As a result, hundreds of books have sat in warehouses collecting dust.

But the best part is the discussion of POD:

A traditional print run of 1,050 books can cost about $3,000, Mr. Walsh says. But when presses decide that fewer books are needed, they can print about 350 copies using digital technology for about $1,600, he says. [Note: you get a real idea for how expensive it is to use POD] With demand for scholarly monographs decreasing, that extra savings reduces not only upfront costs but storage costs for books at the warehouse.

And for those skeptics who still think you can identify a POD title based on quality of product (the book itself, that is; we know the covers have a long way to go), read this:

Even after publishers became sold on the digital technology, though, some book buyers remained skeptical. Eric Rohmann, director of sales for Princeton University Press, says one bookstore refused to buy any books that were digitally printed until Mr. Rohmann showed the client one side by side with a traditionally printed book. "I handed him two books, and he couldn't tell," Mr. Rohmann says. "To you, the consumer, the process is transparent."

Finally, the greatest moment of all:

"These days, the technology has improved and the costs have decreased, leading some academic publishers to move completely to digital printing."

Who'd have thought it?

So it does seem that publishers with an interest in small print runs are finally being won over by POD. Is it going to replace offset printing? Not today. But maybe, one day--if the costs can be lowered even further. Pretty soon the only folks left not utilizing the technology (in a progressive way) will be Random and its peers.