Print Up a Book, While You Wait
by James Norman
The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia,
April 2, 2002
World Press Review, June 2002
What will the bookstore of the future look like? It may well
do away with rows upon rows of shelved titles and look more like
an Internet cafe with digital printing and binding facilities
out the back. It may allow customers to select virtually any title
in the history of publishing from massive databases, and automatically
print and bind that book in the time it takes them to drink a
cafe latte. Print on demand (POD)) is rapidly changing the way
books are printed, published, and consumed worldwide.
The first POD facilities are already up and running in Australia,
both at point-of-sale and publisher level. The easiest way to
understand how POD works is to recognize that books have been
digital for as long as there has been word processing and desktop
publishing. Once a book is laid out and stored digitally, it can
be distributed worldwide online within seconds, with little additional
expense. New data storage tools, combined with digital library
and advanced print-and-bind technologies, make it possible to
quickly manufacture a book which looks like a traditional hardback
Some international newspapers utilized early print-on-demand
technologies at airport and hotel kiosks, which allowed people
to choose their favorite newspapers and have special versions
printed on the spot-cutting worldwide distribution costs dramatically
and beating time zones.
POD eliminates the need for large-scale initial print runs
of high-risk titles, such as first novels or pop culture tie-ins:
the type of titles which often end up rotting in the back rooms
of second-hand bookshops. From the customer's perspective, print-on-demand
opens up the possibility for personalized publishing, particularly
useful for students, where only specific chapters of a range of
titles might be compiled into the one book.
The University of Queensland (UQ) Bookstore last month rolled
out a print-on-demand facility in one of its campus bookstores,
and Penguin Books Australia is only weeks away from unveiling
a list of previously unavailable Penguin titles which will be
available exclusively on a print-on-demand basis. The UQ POD Center,
a collaborative project between University of Queensland Press,
UQ Bookshop, and UQ printery, is now functioning in-store, producing
direct orders mainly for educational titles that were previously
The in-store equipment from Fuji Xerox uses high-speed, high-resolution
scanners to store content digitally for ongoing use-once a book
is stored, it is always available to other customers. The hardware
dismantles the book, feeds it through the scanner, and then re-binds
the book into a version that is generally stronger than the original.
Once the book is stored digitally, copies can be produced in 10
to 20 minutes-color or black and white-all bound and ready for
According to Greg Bain, UQ Press deputy general manager, POD
has been very well received since being installed in February.
"Due to the multipurpose use of our infrastructure, high
quality of production, turnaround time exceeding expectations,
and systems working smoothly, we've had a very positive response
to POI) to date," he says. Bain says that the cost for customers
buying POD titles ends up being substantially less than expected."
As an example, we just printed a limited run of a U.S. hardback
(out-of-print) book for UQ students, which we printed in paperback
and delivered to the market at less than half the original book
price- this included copyright clearance costs and royalties to
Bain also noted that with course materials increasingly moving
online, expensive imported textbooks would become an endangered
species. "lncreasingly, content owners will work closely
with facilities like our POD Center to deliver books directly
to customers-in a variety of formats, at significantly lower costs,
with far less financial risk, and no wastage," says Bain.
Robert Sessions, publisher of Penguin Books Australia, said
his organization was vitally interested in and engaging with print
on demand. "Penguin is known for its strong and enduring
backlist, and it has been frustrating not being able to supply
people with the backlist books they want because sales do not
justify an economic print run," he says. "We have been
looking for the right facility for some time.
"We have solved the technical problems, and we will have
a fully functioning facility up and running within weeks. We have
a list of about 100 out-of-print Penguin titles we aim to make
available first up," he says.
Penguin has tested and costed the production of titles through
its sister company, Pearson Education Australia, with what Sessions
describes as encouraging results. "The books look almost
the same as any books, except the paper is a little different,"
The books will be clearly labeled as "POD editions,"
he says, but will give Penguin the opportunity to produce reprints
for certain slow-but-steady sales titles. POD would also enable
Penguin to offer a catalog of out-of-print titles which the company
will bring back into print in single or minimum numbers of copies.
"lt will have the effect, potentially, of keeping books in
print indefinitely. That would be good for authors, good for readers,
good for publishers and booksellers," says Sessions.