Xlibris (http://www.xlibris.com/) provides a kind of "publishing on demand" service for authors. One can actually publish real books at no cost to the author. Extra services are available relatively cheaply, like $250 for professional copy editing.
The books are printed individually as they are ordered. They are more expensive than mass-published books (about $15 for a paperback, and $25 for a hardback). Authors get a 25% royalty from sales (or a 25% discount on orders).
Given the quality of several excerpts, I think the biggest audience for these books are the authors themselves. There are a few interesting non-fiction books, however.
Here's a sample from Planet Movers Inc.:
[read more of the excerpt (or buy the book :-) at http://www.xlibris.com/xl/container.asp?show=b&description=&excerpt=%2D3846&title=&element=display%2Easp&sku=1214&viewby=&author=&filtered=&subject=]
I hope that this kind of publishing will be adapted to out-of-print books. There are a lot of good books that don't sell enough copies to compete against shelves of popular authors. For now I get these books from used bookstores, but sometimes I'd rather pay for a fresh copy than tenderly handle a 40-year-old book. --CliffordAdams
Random House now owns 49% of Xlibris. (http://xlibris.com/about/pressroom/random_house_purchase.asp)
I heard of a service going into pharmacies (I believe) that allowed customers to print and bind books "while you wait" that would be otherwise unavailable. This would allow books that would otherwise be uneconomical to print and shelve to be available to people anyway. Also, since the purchased product is atom-based, copyright controls would remain enforceable.
Of course, it would be trivial to just place the material online in the original PDF, MS Word, or whatever format so people could just download it. Except there would be no strong potential for revenue. DeathOfCopyright?. -- SunirShah
The "just download it" model would be better if such places became commonplace, because then I could ask them to download it and print it. For anything of length, I'd rather have a printed book. I am suprised the cost is so low despite not having economies of scale.
From the New York Times: Barnesandnoble.com Pushes Into Digital Books:
This appears to be available now at www.iuniverse.com. Iuniverse seems more like a conventional publisher than Xlibris, however--Iuniverse requires an exclusive 3-year contract. New authors also have to pay a $99 fee for the basic level of service. (The Xlibris basic service is free and non-exclusive.)
See http://philip.greenspun.com/wtr/dead-trees/story.html for a story about modern publishing. Lots of interesting details about the (computer-book) publishing industry from an author's perspective.
I agree. I just don't have the mental energy to do it. -- SunirShah
I've started making a few preliminary notes, especially regarding the way I see this. I don't think I have enough context yet to know if I'm on the right track, though. Is there a way of stating an appropiate focus that I can start thinking about? -- HansWobbe
There is an ongoing confusion between the technology of Print on Demand and a subset of the publishers using it. The "vanity" or subsidy publishers who have widely adopted print-on-demand technology to produce tens of thousands of new titles per year are actually the fringe users. Most major trade publishers and academic presses use print on demand for some of their backlist, and in the case of academic publishers, frontlist books. It's just a way to minimize printing and warehousing costs. There's a complete case study of publishing print on demand books with Lightning Source, the 800 lb gorilla of the on-demand world, at
The important factor with all publishing is that books do not sell without marketing. Since none of the subsidy publishers actually do any marketing (though some have add-on services they sell as "marketing"), print on demand books have gotten a bad rap as books that don't sell.