Print on demand versus self-publishing

Continuing the topic of the previous post: Stephany Aulenback received an email from a bookseller who explains some issues with print-on-demand. You can read the full text there, and if you’ve an interest in books and publishing you should, because it’s a well-written and interesting letter.

But I’d like to focus on one aspect, which is that print-on-demand is frequently conflated with self-publishing. When in fact they’re not the same thing at all.

POD means printing small quantities of a book in a cost-effective manner (but also one hopes in a high-enough quality manner that the book is pleasant to read). Self-publishing means publishing your own book, in either large or small quantities.

I think both are great things, and I believe they are mingled together in many minds because POD make self-publishing affordable to a normal person. But a small or even large publisher might want to take advantage of POD for a book that is predicted to have a small audience, or a very specific type of market, or for which the roll out has to be long and gradual, a building type of awareness among the readers.

POD is perfect for certain books for all those reasons, and has nothing to do with the book being filtered by editors — I’m referencing the quote in the letter linked above that “the LA Times is refusing to read pods on the basis that they’ve gone through no editorial filtering,” which seems a poor policy on the LA Times’s part.

So the irony is that POD could be a great boon to publishing, which is looking for ways around the economics of large-scale publishing (which require a book to sell so many, many copies to be profitable, and few books will ever sell that way); and yet publishing frowns on POD because it wrongly thinks it’s only for vanity publishing.