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Online Print On Demand Space Heats Up

Last July, while the seventh Harry Potter book was setting sales records, we wrote a post detailing how to write and publish a book from start to finish. At the time, Lulu was easily the best self-service print on demand option available to fledgling authors. With limited fees, a thriving community, and distribution options that made it easy (relatively speaking) to get your book on store shelves, it was a no-brainer for many writers. Since that time, though, things have changed, and the burgeoning print on demand industry is starting to come into its own.

There have been three major developments in the self-service POD industry over the past six months. In August, Amazon relaunched its Custom Flix service as CreateSpace (our coverage) and included for the first time book publishing. This was significant, not only because America’s third largest bookseller was getting into print on demand publishing, but also because it meant that authors had a guaranteed way to get their books placement on Amazon’s web site.

Then in January of this year, Author Solutions, Inc., who own AuthorHouse and iUniversere — both POD publishers on the full-service end of the spectrum — launched a new Lulu-esque service called Wordclay. Wordclay offers a menu of do-it-yourself and premium services including, printing, distribution, editing, and design (or, the iUniverse package offered a la carte). Wordclay currently only offers black and white paperback publishing, with hardcover and color publishing coming later this year.

Earlier this month, Lulu made waves by announcing a partnership with Borders — the second largest bookseller in the US — to power kiosks in new concept stores where customers can upload and sell POD books. They’ll also provide the muscle for an online print on demand service called Borders Personal Publishing. Participants in the program may have the option to take part in in-store activities, such as author readings and book signings.

It is also probably worth mentioning that along with the release of their Kindle eBook reader (our coverage), Amazon has provided a method for authors to self publish books to the Kindle Marketplace, which has prompted some authors to take rather innovative approaches to the publishing process.

Why all the sudden movement in the POD space? Wordclay president Dave McCauley equates it to the evolution of the music industry. “Really, it’s like music,” he told me. “10 years ago it was all about big labels, now it’s all about the independent artists, with MP3s and MySpace.” The book publishing industry is just a little behind the times.

“I think what the industry is trying to do is remove all the barriers,” he said. According to McCauley, in the traditional pubishing industry publishers put in a lot of time and money to overcome barriers to get to market — things like editing, layout, design, distribution, and marketing. What POD publishers are doing, is using web 2.0 tools to try and break down those barriers and put publishing tools in the hands of authors.

For less serious writers, who don’t want to get their books on store shelves but rather just want to publish a few copies for family and friends, there are casual POD publishers as well. CafePress has offered print on demand books since 2003 without all the bells and whistles of more author-centric services, and Blurb, which launched at DEMO in 2006, specializes in more visual books and books based on blogs and photo sharing sites.

While there is still a certain negative stigma associated with self publishing, the tools to do it cheaply, easily, and effectively are continually getting better. It’s also nice to see that even though, as Steve Jobs says, people don’t read anymore, at least what people are writing is being given more of an opportunity to be read.

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