How print-on-demand can beat traditional publishing.
Print-On-Demand Publishing and Annapolis
by Michael Diamond
Book publishing, like the music and film industries, is struggling with the Internet. While market leaders cling to the old model, new technologies cast a lengthening shadow. For decades it has worked this way: a publisher buys rights from the author, manufactures the book, prints thousands of copies, stores them, distributes them, and finally markets them until they’re sold. If the book succeeds, the process is repeated. If not, unsold books are returned to an unhappy publisher who has wasted thousands of dollars in the process.
Enter the internet and hi-tech printing. An author writes a manuscript, sends a digital file to a web-based printer, and then advertises the book for sale. The potential buyer peruses the book’s reviews on the web, places an order, and a single copy is printed and dispatched within 48 hours. Print-on-Demand: no expensive middlemen, no mass printing, no complicated distribution, no risk or over-stocking, and in theory, a very satisfied author.
Except that bookstores won’t accept print-on-demand books.
The advent of the personal computer brought with it a tidal wave of badly composed, uninteresting, and largely unmarketable manuscripts. Pensioners, gurus, and computer geeks everywhere are writing life stories, self-help guides and manuals, convinced they have something to tell. Print-on-demand companies scramble for their custom, promising vast sales, worldwide distribution, and an audience eager to listen. Tens of thousands of dull books now fill the virtual shelves of print-on-demand companies, rarely seen by anyone. Meanwhile bookstores—probably rightly—don’t trust these manuscripts which have never passed a discerning publisher’s eye.
But as technology advances and print-on-demand gets cheaper, the battle is far from settled.
In writing my Middle-Eastern thriller Subsurface, I’ve discovered one major advantage of print-on-demand—one that may eventually tip the balance in a world of never-ending change.
Subsurface’s story relates to the discovery of oil under the West Bank a month before Israel is due to hand it to the Palestinians as part of a hard-fought peace deal. As was pointed out to me by many literary agents, writing such a book in the constantly-shifting environment of the Middle East is a risky business; it will almost certainly be outdated before it hits the bookshelves. Indeed, during the writing, Arafat died, and Hamas usurped Fatah.
And that’s when I decided on print-on-demand. Only rapid reaction could solve my problem.
And it worked.
Today my laptop stores the text. When something changes—as it regularly does—I alter my manuscript, and upload the new version. A reader buying today can see reference to events that took place just hours before. Indeed, the current version of Subsurface already refers to "toxic debt" and the international "credit-cruch"—a distant dream using traditional publishing.
As the industry realizes the benefits of instant updating, publishers and bookstores will have to alter their ways. Print-on-demand is the inevitable future. High street bookstores of 2018 will have a single paper copy of popular books on display. To buy it, press a button, swipe your card, and collect your updated, freshly-printed novel a few minutes later.
It’s only a question of time.
Michael Diamond is author of the print-on-demand book Subsurface, obtainable at http://www.amazon.com/dp/965912421X.