Print-on-demand advice

PUBLISHERS are increasingly keen on "Print-on-demand". In the past, it's been a way of weaselling out of contracts that specify that rights return to the author when the title is out of print, because it never is. On the other hand, keeping slow-selling titles available is good news. On a third hand, PoD copies may be sold at a very high price, not listed in the catalogue, and/or take weeks between order and delivery. Now, they're proposing to produce books solely to be printed on demand. Kate Pool of the Society of Authors offers some guidance.

If your publisher notifies you that it will be switching from conventional publishing to PoD, here are some points to consider:

  • Works as PoD might never go out of print, but the publisher might be sitting on a moribund title which a new publisher would be happy to relaunch and promote along with its publication of your latest book.
  • You may feel that your work needs extensive revising but the publisher, happy with minimal sales in return for minimal effort, will not make the necessary investment.  
  • The PoD copies may be sold at a very high price, not listed in the catalogue, and/or take weeks between order and delivery.
  • PoD rights should never be licensed to a third party without your agreement.
  • There should be guarantees about the quality of paper and binding of PoD copies, and they will not be sold at a price which differs by more than, say, 20% from the retail price of the traditional-form version without your agreement.
  • Your royalty will be no less than that on traditional copies, and any escalator will continue to apply.
  • The PoD version will be included in the publisher's current catalogue, and orders will be met within a specified time.
  • You have the right, if you choose, to terminate the contract at any time on three months' notice - or if sales fall below an agreed threshold in any two consecutive accounting periods.

If an old work has gone out of print, bringing it back as print-on-demand can be a good idea.  Some points to consider:

  • Be certain that all rights have reverted to you.
  • If the original work was first published less than 25 years ago, you will need the publisher's agreement if you want to make a facsimile reproduction (this is particularly relevant with books involving tables or other highly specific design elements).
  • If you included illustrations or quotations from elsewhere, check whether permission needs to be obtained afresh.
  • Do not underestimate the problems of marketing and distribution.

Publishing a new work solely as PoD is increasingly popular if you cannot interest a traditional publisher. Some points to consider:

  • Company overheads may amount to little more than maintaining a website and servicing prepaid orders. Even if you are not being asked for money, proceed with caution.
  • The more reassurances you can get on production matters (e.g. paper, binding, cover), the better.
  • Get guarantees about the retail price and that orders will be met within a specified time.
  • PoD works will not be stocked in bookshops, so it is vital that they are accurately listed in the publisher's catalogue and on its website. If you have your own website, include details there, too.
  • Limit any licence you grant as much as possible, e.g. 1 or 2 years. Or, preferably, self-publish. That way, you keep 100% of any income, not just 10%, you are in full control over all matters of production, and you are free to go to a conventional publisher if your work catches their eye.
  • Be very realistic in your sales expectations.  
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