10 June 2008

John Dough on Demand

Last week Bowker, the Books in Print people, issued a report on the state of the American book industry, which Publishers Weekly summarized in this article.

Bowker now counts new print-on-demand books separately from books printed in a traditional way instead of including everything with an ISBN in the same count. That's because the new p.o.d. technology is causing a huge spike in the availability of books that don't physically exist until someone orders them. In 2007 the number of new traditionally printed titles (or editions) rose only 1%, to about 277,000. However, "the output of on-demand, short run and unclassified titles soared from 21,936 in 2006 to 134,773 last year."

According to PW:

The new segment includes traditional books printed by mainstream publishers using print-on-demand technology, public domain titles published through p-o-d as well as titles from self publishers and very small independent press[es] that use p-o-d.
One of those small presses is Hungry Tiger Press, publisher of the new edition of John Dough and the Cherub that I've been pushing discussing in a detached, scholarly manner over the past week or so.

David Maxine started Hungry Tiger Press before print-on-demand books were possible, and has issued many books (and a Grammy-nominated CD) using older manufacturing methods. But p.o.d. makes the economics of niche publishing much more workable. With good design and production values, a volume published through p.o.d. technology looks just as good as a volume published the usual way.

Some people associate p.o.d. publishing with self-publishing. And indeed the new technology makes it easier than ever to print a poorly written, unedited, ineptly laid out, and unproofread manuscript. A lot of those 135,000 new p.o.d. titles issued last year are public-domain books churned out by "presses" that are nothing more than websites.

However, print-on-demand offers many benefits, such as making a book like John Dough and the Cherub available once again to libraries, researchers, and Baum fans. With, I hope I can say, some added value in its new introduction. Last week, Public Affairs turned to p.o.d. to fulfill the big demand for Scott McClellan's confessional. In the next few years, scholarly publishing and other niches will migrate to that form of manufacturing, and it will be fully integrated into the traditional book industry.


Jay said...

Why doesn't Hungry Tiger Press switch to P.O.D.? It'd be more cost effective.

While POD publishing has it's advantages, what really irks me are the people who use it to print shoddy work, or think that since they put a PDF to Lulu that they should now be considered an author. As Marcus Mebes said on the IWOC Forums, self publishing is a boon and a bane to the printing industry.

I mean, my sister's fiance has put three books on Lulu and has sold none. (Of course, chatting with him recently, he told me has was wanting to revise his books, so he's glad no one would have to buy another copy of the same book.) But, since he does this on the side of his real job, he just calls himself a writer.

Anyways, while some reprints are possible through POD, it doesn't mean every reprint is a good one.

J. L. Bell said...

Hungry Tiger Press is using print-on-demand technology to manufacture many of its new titles, including John Dough and the Cherub. But the p.o.d. companies' cost structure makes it better for a small company to order a quantity and fill its own customer orders.

Unknown said...

I don't understand how Bowker can know what printing technology was used to print a book. Obviously since they are the ISBN registry, they would know which books are printed through the subsidy houses using their ISBNs, but how would they know if a traditional publisher is using POD or offset for any given title? And some titles now can even be printed using both, using POD to fill demand when offset printed books are out of stock and another print run is in the works. Or am I missing something?

I do agree with you about the advantages of POD technology. It's not just being used for subsidy printed books. It's allowing publishers to publish books for niche markets, to bring back out of print books, and to keep backlist titles in print after demand goes down below levels where offset would be economical.

J. L. Bell said...

Bowker’s press release doesn't say how it determined which titles belong in the grouping of "'On Demand' and short-run books."

Through ISBNs and Books in Print, Bowker collects so much information on publishers and titles that it has the best overview of the industry. It wouldn’t be able to separate a p.o.d.-manufactured copy of a book from a traditionally printed copy of the same book from the same publisher. But Bowker might well be able to identify books set up to be sold only on demand or in very small runs.