Monday, October 16, 2006
Or Vanity X-Press?
A message from Ron Kaye
President, Authors & Publishers Association
Part I: Quality
Over the past year or so, we’ve been hearing a lot more about Print On Demand, or POD, and I thought it would be a good topic to kick off the APA’s new blog. Put simply, POD involves creating books electronically, rather than through an offset press. The printed pages are directly output from electronic files, eliminating the steps of outputting electronic files to negatives (which are then used to create the plates from which pages are printed).With POD, therefore initial setup is greatly simplified, and as a result it is less expensive. It is for this reason that POD can allow short runs of books — even one book at a time — much more economically than using the offset method, which requires setups on large presses that produce 8, 16, or 32 pages of the book at a time. Likewise, with POD, covers and dust jackets are output directly from electronic files, which is much simpler than the four-color offset press method.
On the surface, it would seem that POD solves many of the biggest hurdles publishers face, such as the need to stock and ship massive inventories of books that may or may not sell. Furthermore, POD opens the door to many authors who might not desire — or be able to afford — a significant quantity of books. For example, take the individual who develops a family history, which is of great importance to the dozen or so members of the family, but has virtually no commercial appeal beyond that small circle. In this instance and others like it, POD is clearly the way to go, and should be considered by people who simply want to make their books available to a limited audience at minimal expense.
However, there are presently a number of POD companies who market their services as being the path of choice for virtually any type of book, from short-run personal journals to mainstream nonfiction books, complete with photographs. It is within the latter that some problems have arisen, which the POD companies aren’t too keen on discussing. My partner and I have worked with a few clients who have, for various reasons, chosen to go the POD route, and so I felt obligated to our members to share some of their experiences.
My opinion of the POD industry as it exists today is, to be quite honest, not too positive. While I certainly see the potential benefits to some, I also have encountered some significant shortcomings, both technological and operational, and feel our members need to be aware of all the facts before making their decision to publish via POD. I won’t mention any company names, to avoid any repercussions to the Association, but I will detail some of the things we’ve encountered, so you will know a few things to look for, should you opt to publish your book via POD. (I ask that you not mention specific POD companies in your comments for the same reason noted above.)
The first — and frequently foremost — snag we’ve seen involves the quality of the books produced. Typically, the pages will look like they were printed on a laser printer (which, in truth, they are). If you have a book that is primarily text, with a few black and white graphics or line art, the appearance will probably be satisfactory. The output from POD printers is typically 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution, as opposed to the approximately 2400 dpi achieved using the offset method. It is not as crisp and true black as a book output on an offset press, but still acceptable if you’re not competing with the quality of traditionally published works. However, if your book has any graphics that are grayscale — especially photographs — they will usually be fairly pixilated, and, at best, will look more like the pictures that appear in a newspaper than those in a book. While the technology has improved somewhat since the original Docutech process was introduced some years ago, it still falls short quality-wise of offset.
Likewise, color covers on POD books appear to be either inkjet or dye-sublimation, rather than four-color offset. While such output devices have greatly improved over the years in their ability to prevent overprinting of one color over another, a close inspection will sometimes show a band where two dissimilar colors converge. This might not be an issue for someone who is producing a book for a committed, limited audience, but it becomes more obvious when the book appears on shelves next to others whose output is more precise. It is, I feel, too early to pass judgment on the long-term stability of covers and dust jackets produced via POD; we’ll just have to wait and see if the covers hold up to extended shelf time.
I realize that my bias is obviously in favor of offset press production of books, purely from a quality standpoint. I also realize that not everybody is going to be as picky as I am about things such as sharp, pure black text and smooth graphics. For that reason, I would not summarily advise anyone to avoid POD, so long as their expectations are clear and realistic. I do, however, feel it is important for the prospective consumer to be aware of the pros and cons of taking the POD route, which I will further describe in the next blog or two. Other areas of great concern with POD are…
- Pricing (don’t be fooled by the POD company’s promises of generous royalties; there’s a catch)
- Rights retention (you may not own the rights to that custom-designed cover you paid the POD company to create for you)
- Distribution (bookstores as a rule shun POD product)
Until next time, then, feel free to submit comments about your own experiences, positive or negative. After all, the more we know, the better our own projects can be.
Happy writing – and publishing!