Publishing methods have changed dramatically since the days of record keeping on clay tablets in ancient Sumeria. Until the invention of the printing press, and movable type in the 15th century, original manuscripts, and later, copies of them, were written by hand. Materials consisted of papyrus, then, parchment or vellum and, eventually, paper. Their format evolved from scrolls into codices, which provided the basic structure for books as we know them, today.
Print shops began to appear in the 16th century. They sold printed editions of hand written classical and religious texts to the Church and the Aristocracy. By the end of the 19th century, reading materials were also in demand by the middle classes, prompted by public education, and the spread of literacy. The growth of the publishing industry kept pace with the public’s increased desire for books, and the existence of commercial publishers was well established by 1900.
During the 20th century, many smaller publishing houses were bought up by ever-larger ones and, increasingly, by global media empires. Now, profitability, not artistic merit, often determines an editor’s choice of manuscripts. Commercialization has forced publishers to make their decisions based on proven track records, or successful formulas. It’s often difficult for new authors, or fringe topics to find a place in the industry.
But, POD is a way of addressing those issues. Print-on-demand publishing is digital. It begins with a computer, and a digital version of the author’s manuscript. Formatting and graphics are added; copies are laser printed and the book is bound. No expensive printing presses, no publishers, no middlemen. Print runs are on-demand, and affordable; the books are sold by the author online, or at book-selling events.
For authors, a printed work can be the first step to building an audience. For consumers, an independently published book increases our choices, and allows us to access original work that may not fit within the boundaries of commercial literature. That can only be a good thing.