It wasn't that huge a turnout for MPH Writer's Circle this Saturday ... maybe most wannabe-publisheds run away from any topic that sounds techie.
But Paul McLean's (of Fuji-Xerox Asia Pacific) presentation about print-on-demand publishing was extremly informative ... and for me, inspiring. I'm convinced that for many of us POD is the shape of things to come, and it's only a matter of time before not just individual writers but local bookshops and publishers (are forced to?) embrace it.
Why? Okay, let's take two scenarios. (Mine, not Paul's.)
A Malaysian publisher has a very good reputation but only a small local market. He prints by offset publishing for the local market. He wants to sell more overseas. He has a good webpresence and posts books to international clients who order them. But he would like his books on the American and British market and on Amazon.com. Even if he finds someone to store and market the books for him in those countries, he still has to put his books in boxes and expensively ship them there. It's troublesome and expensive to get the books where he wants them.
A young Singaporean writer (okay, I'm talking about our friend O Thiam Chim) writes a book and decides to self-publish. He decides to do Print-On-Demand publishing with an American company who can get his book listed on Amazon.com and made available to an international audience. Problem: when he wants to sell his book to a local market, he has to import his own books from the US and pay shipping and duty on them. This makes the book so much more expensive than if he has printed locally (by POD or offset).
Print-on-demand could be the answer for both of them. It needs to work like this. The writer or publisher create digital product which can be printed on demand here or from centres overseas. Clients (anywhere in the world) order via internet or via a special booth in the bookshop and are supplied cheaply and quickly (within hours perhaps) with a quality product. There are no shipping costs.
If the book sells really well then it makes sense to move to offset printing which is cheaper for quantity. If the book doesn't sell, not a great deal of money has been lost. There are no warehousing costs. (These add significantly to the cost of a book.) There are no unsold books to pulp. A book never needs to go out of print.
The technology for this already exists. But as Paul said yesterday, selling the idea to client organisations is the hardest part. (MPH is already in negotiations by the way which will put them ahead of the crowd.)
And there is no POD company which operates internationally yet. So bridges need still to be built.
The physical quality of POD books needs to be assured - the publisher doesn't want his overseas clients to buy books which are inferior to the offset copies he produced for the Malaysian market.
Will we buy POD books? I bought my first a few months back a few months ago without noticing.
I'd read about a psychology book on a website. Looked for it and found it on Abebooks. Ordered it and got a nice new copy within a few days at a reasonable price. It wasn't until I'd finished reading it that I realised that the publisher was iUniverse and the copy had been printed specially for me! The book fulfilled all expectations and was in no way inferior for its having been printed digitally. More importantly, I hadn't even paused to think whether this copy had been printed digitally or by offset while I was ordering it or reading it.
It will be interesting to see how the whole POD thing develops here. And I think none of us - writers, readers, publishers, or booksellers can afford to ignore it.
Meanwhile, if you are interested publishing your book by POD locally, you can check out G&L Solutions.