Call me biassed, but (as may be detected from previous posts) I have managed to get myself to a place where the future of Print-On-Demand means to me nothing more or less than the future of commercial book printing.

It’s true that publishers have to do a certain amount of work on their computer systems to get true POD to work. This is a hassle and costs money, but if you haven’t updated your computer for a while, you’re probably going to have to do it anyway just to be able to sell single copies to individuals. The old model of a publisher’s warehouse where the business is sending large(ish) shipments to a few trade addresses is over. Many publishers are subcontracting their warehousing and distribution, and this is probably the simplest way to deal with the issue. Ingram, owner of Lightning Source Inc., the largest POD printer, is a big player in this world of single-copy distribution and have taken on distribution for several publishers, including Cambridge University Press. But many of the other companies offering distribution services have well established links to one or more POD printer. What your system needs to be able to do is identify an ISBN on any order as a book which is made by POD, and route that part of the order, be it for 1 copy for an individual or 100 copies for a bookstore, automatically to the POD supplier, not to your pickers and packers. (Yes, this means that the bookstore may receive part of their order in a carton from the publisher’s warehouse, and part later direct from the POD printer — but this has been going of for ages and everyone is now used to it). Sending the POD orders is usually done by EDI in an overnight routine, so that by the start of business next day the POD supplier is already working on them. All the orders received by the printer will include shipping information so that the books are shipped direct to the customers. You can also include invoice information, so that the printer will print out an invoice (looking just like your regular invoices) as part of the process and insert it in the carton. The first person to touch the order is the publisher’s clerk who enters the order into the system (though of course many orders are received by publishers via EDI from the bookstore) — the next human to handle it is probably employed by UPS or FedEx.

Nervous publishers can of course set the delivery address as their own warehouse, and thus use POD as an automatic reprinting system. But I do think that if a publishing company didn’t already have a warehouse, it’d be crazy to insist on setting one up now.

Ingram is sponsoring a series on the Future of POD on Publishing Perspectives, of which this is the first on Feb 7, 2014. Here’s another from Feb 21. As far as I can discover this series has rather petered out, though this post from 3 September might be a continuation (though it is sponsored by Lightning Source, not Ingram itself).

post from The Digital Reader talks about the Espresso Book Machine whose role in the future of POD seems to be in the self-publishing world rather than, as initially assumed, an avenue for printing regular publishers’ books which just happen not to be in stock at a particular bookshop. I know that such activity does take place — it is just rather rare, while self-published authors are taking the opportunity to print out half a dozen or so hard copies. It certainly beats the now old-fashioned way of having to print a couple of hundred copies of your book and store them in your garage — in this city garage space comes at a cost which is probably higher than most suburban domestic rentals, and McNally Jackson for example, is printing a lot of author’s books.