I’ve recently had a full collection of poetry released by a small, independent press in Virginia. And though all the online listings for the electronic versions of my book name JMS Books LLC as the publisher, one online listing for the print version of the book names it as CreateSpace. I have one or two perpetually catty acquaintances who no doubt did a little happy dance upon seeing this. “I knew it!” one or the other likely said. “CreateSpace is a self publisher! I knew she didn’t really get a book deal!”
This isn’t the case, but it’s easy to understand such confusion. Print-on-demand technology is inextricably linked to publish-on-demand companies. The converse, however, is not true. Readers who confuse the two run the risk of either missing out on some satisfying literary experiences or digging through a lot of dreck. Writers who confuse the two run the risk of eventual disappointment.
Print on demand is a dirty phrase in the publishing world. Sometimes. Or used to be. Or was it ever?
Generally speaking, print on demand refers the technique of printing one copy of a book at a time. Print-on-demand publishing, also known as POD publishing, reduces costs for the publisher because a publisher who engages in it does not have to pay up-front printing costs or any storage costs. Usually a publisher who engages in POD publishing will outsource its printing.
Because of its obvious benefits, print-on-demand technology is ideal for self- and vanity-publishing ventures. And therein lies the stigma; in the publishing industry, print on demand when used to self publish or vanity publish has become known as publish on demand, also known as POD. Essentially, if an author pays enough money, an author gets published. Print-on-demand technology, as used by publish-on-demand companies, has made becoming a “published” author easy peasy.
But it’s a mistake to think that an author whose publisher uses print-on-demand technology has done anything less than pay his or her writing dues in full. There is a tremendous difference between a company’s use of POD technology as a cost-effective business option and a writer’s use of it to self or vanity publish. In the first instance, the author of the book being printed submitted the work to a publisher; the work then had to pass an approval process, not the least of which included the publisher’s affirmative decision about the wisdom of making a financial investment in the product. (Because, sad as it might make us, books are indeed products and publishers and booksellers sell them in order to make profits.) Although the author surely invested time and hard work in the book, it is the publisher who invested money. In the second instance, the author used his or her own money to buy a service. Period.
Several companies provide POD services to both companies and individuals. CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, is one such company. Although CreateSpace is listed as the publisher of the Amazon print edition of my book, that is only because my publisher contracted with CreateSpace. My publisher owns the ISBN number it assigned to my book and has its own imprint, and my book is available to brick-and-mortar bookstores through reputable distributors.
Whether such stores will have space on their shelves for an unknown poet is another matter.