Brave New World, The Bookseller blog, runs a piece under the heading “Is Amazon Poised to Steal Print on Demand?” which is a fine question but not one addressed in the piece.

The implication in their last paragraph that Amazon’s ability to fulfill an order in 24 hours is entirely due to their POD facility CreateSpace is nonsense. Amazon’s orders are fulfilled via an algorithmic cascade which determines the most efficient place to source a book from. Among factors included in the calculation will be the sourcing status of other books in an order: so that on the same day different decisions may be reached on the self-same title. Amazon can get 24-hour delivery in several ways: they may have the book in stock at one of their warehouses; they have agreements with wholesalers, including Ingram, which guarantee 24-hour availability; as part of their agreement with a wholesaler who has their own POD set up (like Ingram) will be included a 24-hour availability clause for POD books; or, if it’s set up there, they may print it at CreateSpace. Doing the book at CreateSpace will earn them the small profit to be made on producing a POD book, but that isn’t likely to be enough to swing the cascade that way all on its own. 24-hour delivery doesn’t mean that CreateSpace or Lightning Source, or whoever it may be agrees to print the book and get it to Amazon’s warehouse in 24 hours. It means that they agree to ship the book direct to Amazon’s customer, in Amazon’s packing, within 24 hours. This is an incredibly efficient system which we should all regard with some awe.

As we know Amazon has considerable power in the book market, and if your Amazon rep suggests to you that you might want to set up your POD books at CreateSpace as well as at your regular supplier, most publishers find themselves agreeing. But not all books from all publishers have been set up as POD yet, and not all publishers have been asked the question, so CreateSpace can print many but by no means all books. Furthermore they cannot make a hardback. CreateSpace, and other wholesaler POD operations are always keen to have publishers set up a new book for POD with them even before the publisher is ready to do so for their own reasons. This “stock protection” mode is, the argument goes, a way to guarantee that no sale is ever lost. Cynics might suggest it’s also a way to cut your stocking order quantity.

So no, I don’t think Amazon is poised to “steal” POD. I doubt if they’d even want to. If your order for two books needs to be filled by sourcing one of them from stock at Ingram, it’s just more efficient to get the second one printed at Lightning Source Inc. (Ingram’s POD operation) rather than at CreateSpace, so it can be shipped to the customer in the same box. We do tend often to sneer at Amazon’s avowed commitment to the customer — but it is real.