How Small Publishers Keep the Creativity Flowing

Today, the criterion for what it takes to get published isn’t the same one that applied to American literary legends like Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Similarly, publishing companies are now beginning to print books as needed instead of carrying a large inventory. These books are called print-on-demand POD, and can be delivered with perfect covers within the same day they are ordered online.

Sometimes the best way to understand something better is by looking back at its origins. It can be difficult to appreciate how revolutionary it is to talk about single copy book printing unless we first appreciate the long history of writing and publishing books.

A Brief History of Book Publishing

In the medieval age, it took months, even years, to publish a book because a scribe had to copy from another book. Usually, the scribe received a payment for faithfully copying everything by hand.

Then along came Gutenberg’s printing press, which changed the world of literacy and book publishing forever. The Holy Roman Empire was still going strong when the German, Johannes Gutenberg, invented the printing press. This new technology emerged from the extant screw presses. Sadly, although he changed the world, Gutenberg died broke and unappreciated. He was a man ahead of his time; and it would take centuries for the Western world to understand the extent of his contribution to humanity.

Now books could be mass produced. Instead of literacy restricted to the fortunate few, it slowly spread to include the many. This new enthusiasm for the written word, rather than the spoken words of teachers and speakers, encouraged the brightest minds of the day to pen their ideas to paper. Publishers, for their part, envisioned the possibility of mass sales around popular books.

The Risk Factor

Over time, the risk increased for both authors and publishers. While authors risked their reputation, publishers risked their financial resources.

Although the printed book was more popular in general, it was now something of a gamble whether a particular author’s book would be well received.

On one hand, if too few books were published when demand was high that would leave money on the table. On the other hand, if too many books were published when demand was low, then publishers would be stuck with unwanted copies filling up their warehouses.

Since figuring out demand ahead of time was based on guesswork, then publishing a book was something of a gamble. If the book sold well, the author and publisher could make a fortune. Conversely, if it didn’t sell as much as hoped, the publisher would not be able to cover their costs and take a loss.

Publishing In the 21st Century

Now there are two types of books available—e-books and paper books. From a technological and business perspective, e-books are far cheaper to produce and distribute.

However, a large segment of the public still loves paper books. This could be due to nostalgia; many people still like to highlight, annotate, earmark, share, and gift paper books. These features are also available with e-books, but there isn’t the same tactile quality that people have grown to love over the generations.

Paper books are still around although it’s now possible to publish books without cutting trees, running a printing press, and distributing them to stores and libraries, many people still refuse to read e-books, believing that watching a bright screen detracts from the joy of cozying up with a great book in a comfortable chair. Aesthetically, paper books with lots of photographs, say, a photography book showing some of Horst’s famous photographs, are much more pleasing to the eye.

The book publishing industry in the 21st century print both types of books to satisfy different types of readers. E-books generally cost less and are delivered instantly to e-reader software, and paper books can be printed on demand.

Keeping Profits and Creativity Flowing

For publishers, POD resolves the problem of trying to figure out how many books to print using offset printing. There is now no discrepancy between the number of books sold and the demand for it. A small publishing company has a much better chance of surviving because risk has been reduced. In the past, publishers had to print a book ahead of demand, guessing what it might be. Now print-on-demand technology makes it easy to print a book after an order has been received.

For authors, POD allows them to express more creative freedom. Non-fiction authors who discover that certain information in their book was either erroneous or out-of-date or that their theories need revision can update their online version at will. While fiction authors don’t face the challenge of providing accurate information or updating their theories, they, too, have the option to improve characters, scenes, or plots if they have some “aha” moments after their book has been published.