POD for authors and publishers

If you are interested in print-on-demand (POD) technology, you might be aware of the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference last week. A posting on the company’s blog, O’Reilly Radar, here describes a relevant day of the conference. The post, by Sarah Milstein, links to presentations such as "digitizing your backlist" and "incorporating POD into a profitable publishing strategy", as well as to twenty more. Here are some highlights provided by Sarah from the talk by Niko Pfund of Oxford University Press:

" * Authors are often resistant to POD, fearing that pirated copies of their books will wind up on the Web, and they’ll lose control over their material. OUP has hit on an analogy that helps authors embrace the new: the editors point out that nobody cares how wine is bottled; similarly, POD is just another system for creating a familiar package. And for many authors, POD means that OUP can now offer eternal life for their books.

* POD has, in some cases, inverted the traditional publishing model. Previously, the company spent a lot of time trying to figure out if a book was selling well enough to keep in print. Now OUP sometimes finds titles that are bringing in enough revenue through POD to justify bringing them back onto store shelves.

* OUP, like every publishing house, has had a history of tense and lengthy meetings over the size of print runs. No longer. POD has given them the flexibility to standardize their print runs without jeopardizing sales, freeing them from negotiating the numbers for every title. Niko referred to those as "among the meetings he misses least."  "

Also on O’Reilly Radar, Peter Brantley writes a post on localizing print on demand. "Publishers maintaining digital files of the books in their catalog can use POD to print copies when individual or small batch orders come in, or when it appears that renewed interest in a title is mounting, without having to inventory expensive physical holdings against the vagaries of uncertain demand." This is the kind of project I was writing about in my post that was ripped to shreds by an unpleasant person called Mr Henry Winkler (I think that was his name, I’m not going back to his vitriol to check on that) and a couple of chimers-in.

Interesting also, that O’Reilly publishing itself is adapting the Apple Mac business model that made itunes and ipods such a commercial hit. The golden egg was the realization that the "unit" that people want to buy is not the album but the song [tune] and to turn that desire into a paying proposition. In similar vein, O’Reilly is now selling its books as individual chapters, as PDFs or other formats, as explained here by Tim O’Reilly himself. The company publishes technical books, for which this business model is, er, better suited than it is for fiction, as Stephen King can tell us.

An articulate, and relevant, creative fiction author’s view is here, on the Charkin blog. I thought the author’s letter is an excellent analysis of the current situation in publishing (the conventional way) from that particular perspective, and the response from the publisher spot on. Read the (16 at time of writing) comments that attempt to wrestle with the paradoxes and viewpoints.

I wanted to round off this post by mentioning an article on another blog about the subject, but I can’t, for a bizarre reason. At the end of this post is a line stating that one cannot quote or cite (emphasis mine) from it without permission. In 32 years of being an author, editor and publisher, I don’t think I have ever heard of this restriction before. Has anyone else? In my experience, everyone is only too delighted to be cited — careers can depend on it, even. I am sure there is no legal reason why one should not cite someone’s work without their permission, but I’ll respect the writer’s wish.