A Personal Look at Print on Demand (POD)


Ink Brush Press sends its books to a print shop that is the one of the largest POD printers in the world, Lightning Source (LS). This is a printing company, not a press, and it serves presses such as mine. Owned by Ingram, a leader in book distribution, LS has machines that, once loaded with the electronic definition of a book, can print a single book or dozens of them. The technology is astonishing: after telling the machine to print a book, it prints a color cover, prints the entire book, binds the book in perfect binding, and drops out a book--all in about 7 minutes.


By typesetting books to LS specifications and including ISBNs on the books, Ink Brush has our books listed in Books in Print and listed with Ingram. The book is then available for any bookstore in the world to order, be the company electronic such as Amazon or a company such as Barnes & Noble. The beauty of the printing process LS uses is that a press doesn't have to pay for large print runs on speculation, then warehouse the books and find distributors to market the books.


Books cost a bit more per unit through POD than they do in large print runs, but the cost is more than balanced by the elimination of waste. Large presses routinely pulp huge numbers of books that don't sell rather than paying for storage. I have had two of my own books published by university presses: TCU Press and Texas A&M University Press. Both have remaindered my books, a process of dumping the books on the market for pennies in order to clear space in warehouses. POD eliminates both pulping and remaindering.


In May of 2009 there was a radical new development in book printing: On Demand Books began placing what the company calls Espresso book machines in bookstores. These are POD machines, now built small enough to move around readily and put into stores. Soon readers will be able to go into a bookstore, locate a good book, and instead of ordering it and waiting a week or so, they can pay for it and wait 3 to 7 minutes for it to be printed. To see a video of the machine printing a book, click here.


University of Michigan library now owns an Espresso Book Machine


The large publishers will no doubt eventually get over their inertia and go to POD printing, as has Random House. In 2008 a major university press invested in POD publishing: University of Michigan Press bought an Espresso machine for printing many of their books. 


Because Ingram and its daughter company Lightning Source have solved the problems inherent in large print runs and have come up with an excellent distribution system, I am able to establish a literary press with little overhead. I have a partner, the news editor of the Temple Daily Telegram, and we have a staff of five other talented people. These include two university English professors, a professional website builder, two independent editors, and a commercial artist. We volunteer our time in working with Ink Brush Press, for our goal is to publish excellent books that need to be in print--be they original or second editions such as William Seale's classic book on Texas rivermen.


A number of first-rate publishing companies now make use of POD for producing their books. One of these, The Flying Pen Press, has an excellent page containing useful comments on the nature of print on demand publishing.

                      Jerry Craven


More useful links for those interested in POD:


The deal between Google Book Search and On Demand Books 


From LondonWill the Espresso book machine revolutionize the publishing industry?

Espresso Book Machine Prints a Book Faster Than You Can Make A Cup of Coffee