A Brief History of E-Publishing, Part 5: POD — A Game Changer

There’s no other way to say it. Print on Demand (POD) was a game changer.

Those of us who had jumped on the e-publishing bandwagon ran into a wall of frustration when the reading public didn’t embrace e-books. Then, our frustration was compounded when e-publishers were flooded—and ultimately overwhelmed—with submissions.

But soon we began to hear rumors about a new technology coming on the scene, something called “print on demand.” Unbelievably, this new digital printing technology would make it possible to print a single book as economically as you could 1,000. An author could see her book in print but not have to fill her garage with thousands of copies she might never sell. Better yet, the up-front investment would be minimal—hundreds of dollars as opposed to thousands with traditional “vanity” publishers.

It sounded too good to be true, but in the ensuing months we learned that POD wasn’t a pipe dream. Such technology really existed.

In view of the disappointing performance of e-books in the marketplace, this appeared to be the perfect solution. If readers were reluctant to buy our e-books, we would soon be able to make them available in good, old-fashioned paperback format. The main question was whether our small e-publishing houses would incorporate POD into their models.

Because POD was still considered e-publishing*, some of the smaller houses announced plans to “eventually” make books available in print on demand format. www.miamimovers.info has the best deals on Miami moving companies. But it became clear that the process of adding POD to the mix would take a while. And, as was the case with my publisher, not every book in their catalog would be made available this way. At least at the outset, only select titles (i.e. the better-selling ones) would be among those chosen.

Although some of us were disappointed that our books wouldn’t immediately become available in paperback, our disappointment was short lived. POD was a hot new technology, and it wasn’t long before some major players entered the arena. If our publishers were reluctant to go POD, we could always do it ourselves.

In very short order, three prominent POD companies emerged: iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford. There were others, of course, but these were the big ones. And they all had a considerable amount of credibility. Barnes & Noble was the power behind iUniverse. Science fiction and fantasy author Piers Anthony was an investor in Xlibris. Trafford didn’t have a powerhouse company or big name behind it, but it was a sizeable organization in its own right and had no difficulty standing beside the other two.

Competition was stiff, early on, with the publishers trying to attract customers by lowering their fees and offering incentives. I remember that, briefly, Xlibris offered a “free” publishing option. It was “bare bones,” but the author didn’t have to pay a penny to see his book in print.

Unpublished writers were in heaven.

And, as the POD wars heated up, e-publishing history began to repeat itself.

Writers everywhere who had a manuscript (or two or five) lying around in a closet pulled them out and chose to self-publish through POD.

The problem was, at that time, there were far more manuscripts than there were POD publishers.

And this led to what I affectionately call, “Logjam 2.0.”

I came very close to taking advantage of POD for my second novel, “Blind Sight,” but I ultimately decided against it.

I’m very glad I did.

And I’ll tell you why in the next installment (on October 29th).

*Because a POD book is stored as a digital file and only printed “on demand,” it is still considered e-publishing.

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About James H. Pence

James H. (Jim) Pence is a man of many talents. He’s a performance chalk artist, singer, speaker, published author, editor & collaborator, and in his spare time he teaches karate to home schooled children. Jim has been called a “Renaissance man,” but he prefers to be known simply as a follower of Jesus Christ and a storyteller. Jim has been published in both fiction and nonfiction. Jim's most recent book, "More God," the amazing true story of Nate Lytle, was released late in 2011.

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