Victor Keegan in The Guardian book pages has been writing about Print On Demand (POD) , a way of publishing books by uploading the polished manuscript to a website so that readers can order a proper, bound copy from online retailers. In his first piece he describes how easy it was to publish a book of text message poetry and sell it at “cost” price. His most recent piece covers covers several more services and he is clearly taken with the idea that this will disrupt traditional publishing. POD certainly makes printing small-run books a lot cheaper and will allow individuals to publish books independently of a publisher. But POD doesn’t seem to me to be quite what it seems, at least not in every case. Some of the POD publishers, for example, charge quite high fees for “extras” such as copyediting and advice; others make their money from submitting book titles to the major catalogues. Very few POD books sell through traditional bookstores, most of which (including Amazon) want a 50% discount from the publisher. What this means is that if the POD publisher takes £4 per copy you (the author/publisher) have to charge £10 and offer a 50% discount to make just £1 per copy.
Does that add up? Well maybe not for aspiring authors with no ready audience, which is most of them. But if you’re publishing to an existing audience it just might. Selling through Amazon would net you a pound, but selling direct from the POD site through your own website would be worth £6, or say £3.99 if you set the price at a more reasonable £7.99. Keegan mentions republishing out of copyright books, and that’s a good idea, but there are also possibilities for journals, small magazines, and small independent publishers who don’t want a lot of unsold books hanging around but already sell their wares through a website. Watch this space.