Print on Demand (POD), as the name suggests, is about printing things only when there is a demand; instead of keeping an inventory. So, what is the big deal you may ask. In order to understand why Print on Demand is a game changing technology, we need to put it in contrast with the currently used printing technologies.
The most common printing technology used these days for printing books and almost everything else is offset printing. You can read more about the offset printing in this wikipedia article. The most relevant thing we need to note is that there is a high upfront cost involved in offset printing. Something called "plates" need to be prepared for every page that is to be printed. This plate-making process is costly. After the plates are ready, copies of the pages can be printed at a very small additional cost. What this means is that if you have to print a large number copies (generally 1000+), the cost of plate-making is distributed over them and per copy cost becomes very low.
This printing process works fine for books except when the need is much less than 1000 copies. There can be many reasons for this. The book might be catering to a niche market and hence may not require a large number of copies. Or while the book has a large market, as an individual, you may not want to invest upfront in the large number copies and then maintain an inventory. Yet another reason may be that you are experimenting with a new book and want to see the reception in the market with a small number of copies. Publishers may want to send out a few early copies of forthcoming books to the critics and reviewers and use these to build up the buzz. And of course, it may be a book created out of your grandmother's poetry to be distributed amongst family or friends. So, a large print run may not work in many cases.
Print on Demand changes the scenario. With POD you can print directly from the files created and stored on computers. You can print one copy or a thousand copies--- it doesn't change the cost of the book very much. You can not store plates needed for offset printing indefinitely, but you can store the computer files for as long as you please.
Print on Demand is essentially digital printing with high end production printing machines supported by a system which can streamline and automate the process of printing books and documents. While digital printing has been around for a while, its application was limited to document printing. The primary reason for it was that the cost and quality of digitally printed books couldn't compete with offset printed ones. However, with time, the cost of digital printing has gone down and the quality has gone up. Now we have production level digital printing systems in place, which can do high quality printing at reasonable prices. The cost per copy with digital printing would still be higher as compared to what you will get by printing 1000 copies with offset. But when it comes to short run printing or one off printing, digital printing wins hands down in terms of the total investment involved.
Apart from addressing the issue of short run printing, Print on Demand also introduces some exciting new possibilities. Because copies can be printed one at a time, each copy can be different and personalized. So, you can print books having personalized messages for the recipient.You can mix and match content from various sources and print them in a book. You can pick particular chapters from a book to print. All of these become possible from a technical point of view.
For self-publishers who are often operating on shoe-string budgets, POD comes as a big respite. No longer do you need to invest tens of thousands of rupees in printing thousands of copies and have them stored in your house for years. With POD, you can put money into preparing a better book and then, using the power of the internet, market it to the readers world over.
At Pothi.com, our self publishing platform is backed by Print on Demand infrastructure. So you can print your book one at a time, and print it only when you need it. You can personalize your copies too. Since we take care of collecting payments and shipping the books, you can concentrate all your energies on promoting and marketing the book. Get your imagination to work, and enjoy the world of possibilities that the POD opens up!