Acronyms can be confusing. POD stands for both print on demand and publish on demand. The terms should not be used interchangeably but often are. Unfortunately in the publishing world, POD has come to mean the business model of publish on demand or vanity publishing.
Print On Demand
Print on demand is a technology that allows one copy of a book to be printed and bound at a time. It's no longer necessary to have offset print runs of several thousand copies. The technology is used by major publishing houses to keep books in print that are still selling, but not at a fast enough rate to justify the expense of an additional print run. Print on demand is used to print galley or review copies to send out to reviewers, book editors, and publications 3 to 6 months before the book's official publication date.
Print on demand is used by small publishers for small runs of 50 to 200 copies. The books cost more per copy, but less money is tied up in inventory.
Authors who self publish use print on demand when the market for the book is small or if they don't want to tie up their money in an offset print run. Consultants and speakers use print on demand to print copies of their books to sell at their speaking engagements.
When print on demand is used, it's not necessarily disclosed to the bookstores, other retail locations, or to online booksellers. If the terms offered to the retailers reflect industry standards, the bookstore won't be concerned what printing method was used to print the book. Industry standards include a competitive suggested retail price, a discount of 40% to 55% from retail, 90 days to pay after ordering, and accepting returns.
Publish On Demand
Publish on demand has come to mean a business model rather than a printing technology. A copy of a book is only printed after it has been ordered and paid for. The book is not returnable and usually has a higher price than conventionally published titles. Publish on demand publishers use the print on demand technology to print the books.
Most bookstores, retailers and online booksellers, will not stock publish on demand titles. The title may be in the database the bookstore orders through, so while it is available in bookstores it's not stocked in bookstores. The online booksellers show the title as part of their website but it isn't stocked and won't be ordered until the book is paid for by the consumer.
Some small and micro publishers use the publish on demand model to see if there is enough demand for a title to justify a print run. Others use it to cut their risk since they receive payment for a title before they have to pay to have the book printed. In these cases the primary market for the book are consumers, not the authors of the title.
Vanity publishers have transformed themselves with the publish on demand model. Their market is selling copies of the book to the book's author, along with various other publishing and marketing services.
While the book may be available at online booksellers, or available to order in stores, the primary revenue stream is from authors buying their own books.
Sometimes these companies will say they assist authors to self publish, rather than state that the company is a vanity publisher. Whoever owns the ISBN, International Standard Book Number, is the publisher of the book. For authors who don't have the knowledge, desire, or time to co-ordinate the process of publishing their book, publish on demand can be a good alternative.
Publish on demand companies provide a number of services, such as editing, book cover design, interior formatting, printing, and in some cases marketing. These services can be in addition to the basic package fee to publish the book. When comparing the company's pricing make sure you compare a package of the same services. For example: Company A might provide editing, cover design, and printing of 10 copies for a fee of $xxx.
Another company may have a much lower fee for the printing of 10 copies but charge for the editing and cover design, as well as a fee to get the title on online booksellers. Finally there may be a company who provides the basic package of cover design, ISBN, and formatting the book for a very low fee or free. Those companies add a surcharge to the price of the book to make up the difference.
Both print on demand and publish on demand can be used by authors who want control of the publishing process.