I was at a hospital recently on business. I noticed a rack of books in a window of their gift shop. I stopped and saw a sign on the rack that indicated there were inspirational books there. Since my recently published novel, Boundless Trust, falls within the inspirational genre, I thought it might be a good fit. I learned who to contact to have the book considered for their inventory. Ultimately, I was referred to a book distributor. I consulted their website and promptly discovered they will not purchase anything from print on demand publishers. Without any regard for the quality of the physical book or its content, it was ruled out automatically.
I’ve seen other aspersions of print on demand publishers and have received the impression that certain contingents in the publishing world have a condescending view of print on demand (POD) publishing. This article is the result of my research into the matter and an attempt to compare it to conventional publishing. Perhaps I can provide an unbiased perspective for authors who will be plunging into marketing a manuscript to some traditional publishers or taking the self-publishing route.
The age-old, traditional method of printing books is called offset lithography. It works by transferring ink from a plate with all the letters and figures in place to a rubber sheet. The rubber sheet is pressed onto paper and, voila, we have words on pages. Multiple pages, in fact, are on big sheets and they are cut in preparation for binding. This is mostly how large publishers do it because they have always done it this way and in the long run, it’s the most economical way when you print more than 500 copies. These same companies started using POD around the beginning of this millennium as a way to economically print smaller runs of older books which had less demand for large inventories. With the digital age came the ability to print single or small numbers of copies without the labor intensive and costly use of offset lithography. As I understand it, one machine can print the manuscript and the cover, then collate and bind in 20 minutes or less per book.
Consumers Digest published an article on their website that provides an example of the disrespect shown POD publishers. It is dated 2008, so they may have softened their stance since then, but I cite it as one case of a negative opinion of POD. It is presented as an unmasking of this approach to publishing, warning aspiring writers against it as one might caution them about vanity publishing. They go on to quote Jerry D. Simmons, a former Time Warner Book Group Executive and founder of NothingBinding.com, who states, “The POD companies are printers, not publishers.” That is quite the sweeping generality.
IBPA Independent, an excellent magazine published by the Independent Book Publishers Association, presented an article in October of 2015 titled, The POD Putdown and Ways to Fight Back. Brooke Warner points out that the stigma against print on demand publishing came about during self-publishing’s early days when author’s eager to be published produced poorly designed and poorly written/edited books. They foisted their inferior products on bookstores without making widely accepted concessions such as viable discounts and allowing their books to be returnable. Self-published books were soon scorned for the most part. In the late 1990’s, companies were formed that would serve self-publishing authors, using POD technology, but most of them didn’t do anything to improve the quality of the books they published. They came to be known as POD companies, as I’ve referenced above in the quote from Mr. Simmons, and they solidified the perception that POD meant inferior. Ms. Warner states that a shift followed and authors started producing books better in overall quality. Unfortunately, the industry has not changed its view of POD publishing.
Many legitimate independent publishers have turned to the POD process as a matter of practicality and financial responsibility. In so doing, they have not renounced their commitment to first-rate design and attention to literary quality They should not be identified with the older, unprofessional model cast by the inexperienced.
Black Rose Writing is the publishing house in Texas that published my latest novel. Created by Reagan Rothe, Black Rose gives us an example of a company that is conducting the business of POD book production in a professional manner. I conducted a short interview with Mr. Rothe, seeking answers to questions that were key for me in addressing the attitude toward POD publishers.
He states, “In terms of the quality of our books, our feedback has been quite positive. We very rarely receive notification of a bad batch of books, which could also occur for offset printers. I’m comfortable putting our trade paperbacks up against any printers in the world.”
With regard to the quality of the writing itself, I asked him about the percentage of manuscripts received which are actually published. “At present, we are very much in alignment with the major publishing and indie publishing houses around the globe. Less than 15% of all requested manuscripts are published. While some of the larger presses may receive more queries and agented queries, we still do our best to review each and every query sent our way, and I do my best to respond to each writer personally.” Obviously, the Black Rose team is careful about the quality of the writing. And there is no payment by the author for publication of the book.
Finally, I asked him if there is a clannish attitude in the conventional publishing and distribution fields toward POD publishers. His response: “The stigma is still there, but it’s definitely not as accepted. Many bookstores are realizing that POD publishers are willing to do their best to provide quality authors and titles, same as the big six publishers. I believe the media professionals are also realizing that there are quite a few really good POD publishers with books of equal quality to bestselling titles.”
I see this as only getting better also. There is so much talent out there, from the wordsmith to the designer! It would be a shame to suppress it on the basis of how it is produced. There are voices in literature that deserve to be heard and read, regardless that the publishers are making economical choices in book production. As long as they do not sacrifice quality, they deserve to compete on a level playing field.