POD vs Print on Demand Publishers

I was all geared up to write a mind-bending post about the difference between the subsidy presses who have been given the POD publishers label, and the print-on-demand technology used by trade publishers, academic presses and independents alike. I used to get all worked up when I saw POD being used as a generic term for books from companies like iUniverse, Lulu, PublishAmerica, xLibris and AuthorHouse, but I've concluded that it's silly to fight against the tide of language usage. I imagine there are some lawyers at Google who are bothered that using their Google as a verb will result in trademark dilution, so compared to them, I have nothing to lose by going with the flow. Too bad I was born a salmon.

A couple years ago, I put together a list of a thousand or so random books that were printed and distributed by Lightning Source, including titles from some of the biggest trade publishers and academic presses. I thought that today I'd sit down and list them all, and then ask the question: Do you define this title from Wiley or the Cambridge University Press a POD book? Unfortunately, I can't find the list in the clutter of my hard drive, so I decided to try to recreate it (the publishers’ part) from memory by looking up random titles on Ingram and checking for the Lightning Source On Demand emblem.

After checking a few titles I was sure were published with print on demand and coming up dry, I began to worry that my memory is even less trustworthy than I imagine. It finally occurred to me to check some of my own titles, and the Lighting Source emblem was gone from them as well. I don't know if this is a temporary Ingram glitch or if it's a permanent change, but it's a bit inconvenient for people studying the spread of POD through the publishing world. On the other hand, if Ingram has decided to keep confidential which titles are printed by Lightning Source, it will put an end to bookstore clerk snobbery based on the "POD stigma."

Personally, I'd rather have the emblem back. The deciding factor as to whether or not a store will order a book through Ingram when requested is their store policy on special orders and the discount assigned by the publisher. If the publisher assigned a 55% discount at Lightning Source, the book should show up in the Ingram catalog at the trade discount, usually resulting in a 40% profit margin for the store. I'm firmly in the short discount camp. I currently assign a discount of 25% at Lightning Source, which means some bookstores will not special order, or will add a service charge. I've written a great deal about that business model on this blog, and I've indexed a bunch of the posts with excerpts.

Back to the semantics argument. If you asked me the difference between POD (subsidy) publishers and small publishers using whatever printing technology, it comes down to marketing. Subsidy and other non-traditional presses don't market books unless you pay them, and that kind of marketing just doesn't work. You can hire editors, proofreaders and book designers who are just as good as any large trade staff (if not better) on a freelance basis before signing with a non-traditional publisher, but you can't buy meaningful book promotion. You have to do it (or be it) yourself. What bothers me more about language use in the publishing industry than the abuse of the POD acronym is the confusion between self publishing and paying to get published. Self publishing is a business for the author. Paying a subsidy to get published is a business for the subsidy publisher. The only way you can be a self publisher is to be the author and the publisher.

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