Writers have always wanted their creations to reach a wider audience. The
printed word has been a great medium and has inspired authors to publish their
creations. From the ancient times of bhoj-patra to the sophisticated offset and
laser printers and modern day digital e-books, publishing has come a long way.
Traditionally, books have been published only through brick-and-mortar
publishing channels. Modern technology, however, has ushered in a revolutionary
new concept of self-publishing. And the technology thats driving this concept
ahead is called print on demand (POD).
The Idea Behind
POD is not new in the digital world. Since 2003, a website called
cafepress.com has enabled users to order customized coffee mugs, posters,
t-shirts, and so on. The fun part is that you can even use your own designs and
there is no minimum or maximum cap for order quantity. About three years ago, a
new dimension got added to this technologyknown as self-publishingthat enabled
ordinary writers to publish their work.
During 2006, when the popularity of photo sharing sites like Flickr was at
its peak, websites such as Blurb came in with services that could convert your
photo stream to a glossy coffee table book. Services like Lulu went a step ahead
and started offering self-published books through on-demand publishing. And this
step paid off. Last year alone, 98,000 books were published by Lulu using POD.
Recently, the big daddy of online book selling, Amazon has also started its own
self-publishing service through its subsidiary, CreateSpace.
Indian companies are also trying to catch up fast. As of now, CinnamonTeal
(established in August 2007 by Goa based couple Quennie and Leonard Fernandes),
and Pothi.com (established in July 2008 by IITian duo Jaya Jha and Abhaya
Agarwal) are leading the pack. There are other players like DepotIndia.in, who
impose some restrictions on the minimum number of copies that they can be
Jaya Jha says that the POD technology is being used extensively for corporate
printing (variable data printing, short-run brochure printing, etc) and for
personal gifts segment (poster, mug, t-shirt printing), but in book publishing
it is still in an experimental phase. The potential is certainly huge, but the
stakeholders in the system have to come together and accept the changes in the
workflow it demands to be able to exploit this technology to the fullest. This
includes everyone from the printers, publishers, authors, distributors, and
retailers, she says. Leonard Fernandes is also very optimistic about the future
of POD in India. The market potential is huge when one considers that about
80,000 titles are published in India by mainstream publishers and the industry
is growing at a rate of about 10-12%. When one considers the scope of the
application of POD in regional languages, the potential is enormous, he says.
|With the changing world, our reading habits have been
changing too. The concept of e-book doesnt sound alien now, and we read
more online than we do otherwise. And with that people are now realizing the
drawbacks of traditional publishing and marketing as well. 50% of the books
in the UK are never read. This figure must be similar for other nations
7000. These unread books are converted back to pulp or dumped, since most
are not printed on recycled paper. The amount of carbon emissions in
printing these unread books is staggering. Its like putting 1 lakh cars on
the road (source: booktwo.org). Even if you dont think of trees, the
environmental damage is not justified.
It feels good, thus, that e-books
In traditional publishing, books are printed in an estimated quantity and
stored by the publishers, distributors and retailers. In POD, on the contrary,
the digital copy of the publication is stored in a computer along with its
design, layout and content and its printed and dispatched whenever the
publication is ordered. Using POD its affordable to even print a single copy.
The best part is, there are no inventory to manage and no headache of keeping
track of unsold copies. A major reason behind the growing popularity of POD is
the growing awareness on environmental problems associated with ruthless
If you are an author and wish to get your work published, you will first
have to search a publisher who would be interested in your work, and if you are
lucky enough, also pay you a royalty. Not surprising, a lot of authors fund
publishers to get their work published. Obviously, you would find it hard to
market such books; the best you can do is distribute the copies to your friends
and reviewers. Self-publishing makes this task painless and you can achieve
similar results without spending a fortune. If you know how to operate a
computer, then you can even save on the cost of typing and composing. Your work
can be ordered by anyone with an Internet connection. Websites like Pothi.com
help you track the sales of your book, and the royalty you earn. There are also
discounts on bulk and self-purchase.
|Self-publishing is not vanity publishing. We ask authors to
print just five books at a go for private circulation, or to have the books
reviewed and then let the market determine the demand
|POD is meant for niche publications and thats where it
works best. And, as is the case with any product, those who are able to
market are able to sell. Passive authors are not able to sell
But doesnt that make self-publishing vanity publishing? Fernandes explains
the difference, We have never asked authors to print 500 books and go market
them. We ask authors to print just five books (or may be even lesser) at a go
for private circulation, or to have the books reviewed and then let the market
determine the demand. We are still in talks with three distributors for sales in
physical bookstores, but presently we do list the books online on our bookstore
books.dogearsetc.com and on Indiaplaza.com. Jha clarifies that POD is not for
mass markets. POD is meant for niche publications and thats where it works
best. And, as is the case with any product, those who are able to market are
able to sell. Passive authors are not able to sell, she informs.
And one could find proofs of POD slowly moving from vanity publication to
mainstream publication as well. Cambridge University Press sold 10,000 titles
recently using Lightning Source. Even big publishers nowadays consider POD for
printing old, out-of-print books. The newer publishers, on the other hand,
prefer POD technology to evade the high costs associated with traditional
printing, warehousing and unsold books.
Who Should POD?
If self-publishing is no more vanity publishing, then what kind of authors
go for it? A lot of people coming to our website have absolutely no idea about
how to go about publishing their books. They recognize the value add POD (and
our whole platform) brings to self. This leads to lower upfront investment, no
headaches of inventory management, shipping, collecting payments, etc. POD is
also suitable for people looking for publishing books as memorabilia.
Personalized books form very attractive and value-for-money gifts. Books of
collections of writings are also popular, says Jha.
|Publicdomainreprints.org helps you publish old and
out-of-print books. The non-profit website lets you search over 20 lakh
freely available titles from archive.org and Google Book that you order
using POD facility.
FaberFinds (faber.co.uk/faberfinds) also lets you
Bookmobile service is a van equipped with a satellite connection, laptop,
Fernandes narrates the case of a college in Pune that had a class size of
four and an ever-changing syllabus. They chose POD for their textbooks so that
they could print only four copies and change them the next year if need be, he
says. Then, there was one gentleman from Bengaluru who published his
grandfathers poems for circulation within his family, he adds. Both Jha and
Fernandes mention that POD can be used to test the market and get feedback
before hitting the market with bulk production.
When you are the publisher of your book the onus of marketing the work lies
on your head too. Fernandes suggests, There is no point marketing a book in
places where its not related to. For example, a souvenir for an alumni meet
cannot possibly be sold outside the alumni circle. POD publishers should create
awareness about the concept of POD and be imaginative about where this concept
can be applied, Jha believes that the best place to market POD books is online.
The book should be an extension of authors online presence through blogs,
social networks and other social media outlets. He has to pique readers
curiosity so that they buy the book. It is important to communicate clearly as
to what this new book will give them which they did not have earlier, she says.
Self-publishing through POD technology is an attractive option gaining ground
among authors, not only in English, but in Hindi and regional languages as well.
It opens new doors for budding authors who are unable to find publishers, and
for writers who only want to reach out to a close circle of readers.
Ravishankar Shrivastava and Debashish Chakrabarty
The authors are freelance writers