Print-on-demand (POD) technology allows a publisher to distribute books in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Unlike conventional (offset) printing, which requires a publisher to print well in advance, printing on demand allows the publisher to more effectively print to scale, as sales happen.
POD technology has developed significantly since it was first introduced more than two decades ago and provides near the same quality as conventional printing. In fact, digital short-run printing, which is analogous to POD, is now often used in lieu of conventional printing on initial print runs. POD has multiple benefits for authors, readers, publishers, and the environment.
POD allows books to be printed to meet demand more quickly than is possible with conventional printing. Conventional printing for large runs generally takes months rather than days. As such, POD is often used as a stopgap between conventional printings (or even before an initial conventional printing), allowing readers to obtain copies of books that would otherwise be out of stock at the time of their order.
POD allows books to be published that would otherwise not be financially viable, even for a nonprofit press which still must generate sufficient revenue to cover expenditures. In some cases, traditional print runs represent an initial financial outlay that is too great of a risk for a press to bear responsibly. POD makes it possible for these presses to publish mission-furthering scholarship that may not have robust sales potential and to keep in print works whose audience has peaked, allowing authors to continue to share their ideas and readers to continue to obtain information long after a book’s initial publication.
POD reduces the environmental footprint of bookmaking by preventing the unnecessary destruction of trees and reducing the pollution that accompanies the manufacturing of paper and ink as well as the long-distance shipping and climate-controlled storage of physical copies. Excess inventory is often destroyed after a set number of years to avoid ongoing storage costs, but with POD, because only sold books are printed, there is no excess inventory. In addition, books are generally shipped only once—directly to those ordering them—rather than from a printer to a warehouse and then to the retailer or consumer. Furthermore, POD vendors that have multiple manufacturing locations often print books as close as possible to a book’s final destination, reducing the shipping distance, especially for international sales.