Print on demand (POD) or publish on demand implies that new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order to that effect has been received. POD is an outgrowth of digital printing, because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology, e.g. offset printing.
Many small printing houses or academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services or service providers. Larger publishers use POD for reprinting older out of print titles or test marketing.
Digital POD provides printing for a fixed cost per copy irrespective of the size of the order, but the unit price is higher than with offset printing. The average cost is lower for very small print runs, because setup costs are much higher for offset printing.
POD has other business benefits besides lower costs (for small runs):
- Quicker set-up compared to offset printing.
- Lower inventories, thus reducing storage, handling, and inventory accounting costs.
- There is little or no waste from unsold products.
All these reduce the risks associated with publishing and printing.
POD fits well with e-books, electronic editions and Internet blogs. Copies are printed only for promotional purposes, libraries, or old fashioned readers.
Digital technology (large format inkjet printers) is ideal for printing a few posters, even a single copy.
POD is valuable to authors who wish to self-publish, since the initial investment for POD services with small print runs is usually lower compared to offset printing. Moreover, it is often accompanied by other services, like formatting, proof reading and editing.
POD brings professional printung to ordinary citizens who wish to print a few copies of memories and family centered editions, like diaries, wedding albums, baby books, family chronicles, etc. What is common is that the finished book has a narrow audience (e.g., family and friends) and is not exploited commercially.
Print on demand book publishing is gaining popularity lately. It is especially popular among first-time authors as an affordable way to get a book into print.
Print-on-demand services gain popularity among publishers as well. It can cover the availability gap when one print run has sold out, and the next one is not yet become available. There are also the older titles, for which further conventional printing is not justified, e.g., for publishers with large older works catalogs. As a further example serve the highly volatile short life titles with large potential sales.
Print on demand comes to the rescue for printing and reprinting books with a high retail price and limited circulation, such as academic works. An academic publisher is expected to offer these, although conventional printing is uneconomic.
Print on demand allows printing in a variety of formats, e.g., with larger fonts for readers vision impairment, or otherwise personalised to suit individual needs.
Since with POD the per-unit cost is typically greater compared to conventional printing, POD books are usually more expensive.
Another obstacle to the distribution of print-on-demand titles is that they are often debut works, and book stores are unwilling to take a risk on an author’s first work without no endorsement by a commercial publisher.