The different faces of print-on-demand

Print-on-demand is really a catch-all phrase for a number of different opportunities: access to books that are otherwise out of print, access to books that are being scanned by Google or someone else (and are often in the public domain), and self-published materials.

The latter seems quite different than the first two. Self-publishing involves a lot more than just print-on-demand. It’s just one step of a process that can also involve a host of other services like proofreading, formatting, design, and marketing.

But even if I’m not interested in self-publishing, I might be interested in getting access to an out-of-print book, or one that is only offered via print-on-demand. For books with narrow appeal, print-on-demand makes a lot of financial sense.

I went to see the Espresso machine at the UW Bookstore and spent some time chatting with a guy who was manning the machine. While the phrase “print on demand” and the presence of the Espresso machine within the bookstore makes it sound like you can right walk in and print your book, that’s a little misleading. The UW supplies submission guidelines along with a self-publishing coordinator to help you through the process. I also saw a disclaimer-like notice along the lines of: “This is new technology so please be patient.” But as with all technology, I’m sure that the print-on-demand technology will rapidly evolve and become easy for just about anyone to use.

Will I want to use it? My current project is a blog, and unless I decide to turn the blog into a book, I’m doubtful that I’ll use print-on-demand with this project.

I do wonder what the demand will be like in the future. I love hard-copy books, but will they eventually go the way of vinyl records and simply become a novelty? Will print-on-demand will be the only way to get your hands on a book?






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