Print on demand caters extremely well for individuals, learned societies and institutions that require the option to order a physical book or journal alongside an electronic publication. It takes the guesswork out of how many copies should be produced as journal issues, books and conference proceedings are printed upon request.
Current technology allows academic publishers to print books and journals in smaller quantities with a short lead time. In the past, books were published in large quantities – if unsold they would be returned to the publisher, which would then have to stock them and eventually dispose of them.
Another problem was that some books went out of print and would not be re-published unless there was a big demand. Printing small batches would not be financially viable – a big issue for specialised academic books that have a small readership.
Pros of print on demand (POD)
A POD book or journal can be printed in a short time, compared to traditional publishing. It also takes less time to format it and get it ready for printing.
Costs for storage, handing, inventory and delivery decrease significantly. Books are never out of stock – a big bonus for older titles and rare editions. Traditional publishers have also embraced POD to deal with spikes in demand of special titles.
POD is perfect for niche publications – many academic fields are highly specialised and traditional publishing would be too costly. This is also relevant for limited editions and materials with a short sales life.
Academic societies that have embraced the lower production costs of electronic books and journals can still offer the choice of ordering a printed publication to their members.
Cons of print on demand (POD)
The unit cost for POD books and journals is often higher than that of traditional offset printing, where economies of scale are practised when a large number of copies are published. POD is therefore not suitable for high print runs.
Online versions are cheaper to purchase and for certain publications, there might be an option to buy individual chapters rather than a whole book. In many cases the paper stock for print-on-demand publication is heavier, resulting in higher postal costs.
Although many publishers have embraced POD, illustrated art books and jacketed hardcovers are still published using traditional methods, which offer higher quality control on colour photography and illustrations, more sizes, paper types and layouts to choose from.
POD: a sustainable option
Many academic publishers, including university presses, use print-on-demand services to maintain their backlists as it is more cost effective for their print runs. Big publishers might use print on demand to re-issue out-of-print titles or to test the market with unknown authors.
For academic institutions and learned societies, print on demand is the way forward as it offers an affordable preference to their readers, while addressing increasing financial challenges and shrinking budgets.
Overall, print on demand offers a greener alternative to traditional print publishing. It also unlocks the value chain in a sector where customers expect speed of delivery and there is growing demand for sustainable technologies and innovative solutions.