How Print-on-Demand Book Distribution Works

Print on demand suppliers maintain databases of books on behalf of their publisher clients. Publishers submit books to the print on demand supplier acim in the form of two files for each book: one digital file for the book interior and one digital file for the cover.

When the files first arrive they are logged into the PODS’s system, examined for technical errors, and a proof copy of the book is created for the publisher to review. Once the publisher signs off on the proof, the book is listed by the PODS throughout its distribution channels including booksellers, other offline and online retailers, chain stores, library suppliers, and in some cases exporters.

Advantages for the publishers include:

  • eliminates the need to keep books in inventory;
  • allows books without substantial sales to stay in print;
  • vastly reduces the investment needed to maintain a large backlist;
  • eliminates the waste and expense of pulping thousands of unsold books.

Disadvantages for the publishers are:

  • digitally printed books cost more per unit than books printed offset;
  • digital printing is not efficient for books that will sell in volume;
  • digital printing’s quality and flexibility of formats is not as good as offset printing.

The Distribution Chain

The title is now listed for sale to all wholesalers and retail outlets. If the book is of sufficient interest it may be stocked in advance of orders. In this case, these “preordered” books do not differ from books produced and distributed by other means. The advantage in the distribution chain is that any number of books, even a very small number, can be ordered for restocking at any time.

However, the title may not be stocked in the distribution chain at all, but remain as a listing available for order.

The Book Buyer

An interested buyer may find the book in an online listing, for instance at an online retailer such as Amazon.com or BN.com. The buyer places an order and, if the book is not physically stocked at the retailer’s warehouse, the order is sent back up the distribution chain to the PODS.

Computers at the PODS pull the correct files for the book’s cover and interior text block and send them to the appropriate digital printers. The two parts may bear barcodes that allow the PODS printing system to automatically match the cover correctly to the interior.

The two elements come together in the automated binding process, where the back of the book is trimmed and the cover glued onto the spine. The entire book is then trimmed to size and is ready for shipment to the retailer who placed the order, or, in some cases, directly to the customer.

This tightly integrated supply chain is a basic feature of the print on demand book distribution model. It allows books to be printed for a consistent unit cost regardless of how many are ordered.

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