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Digital Publishing & POD: What's "Good Enough"?

Over the course of this summer I've read a couple of great Yankees books: Munson and The Bronx is Burning.  The former was read on my iPad and the latter, because it's not available digitally, was read from a dead tree.  After seeing countless references in both to another Yankee classic, The Bronx Zoo, I decided that should be on my reading list too.  Unfortunately for me, that's another book that's not available digitally.  I also was unable to find a copy at the local brick-and-mortars or even the second-hand bookstore, which got me thinking...

What's the definition of "good enough" in the digital and print-on-demand (POD) worlds?  Ideally, when I couldn't find The Bronx Zoo in my local bookstore they would have offered to create a POD copy for me while I sip a cup of coffee.  On-site POD solutions like the Espresso machine have been "a year or so away" and I'm starting to think they always will be.  Not only are they prohibitively expensive but I'm also told they require 24x7 on-site tech support; think of the copy machine guy who's frequently at your office, only worse.

Are we over-thinking this?  I don't need an offset-quality (or near offset-quality) copy of The Bronx Zoo to be happy.  I'd take a copy machine-quality one.  And with FedEx/Kinko's outlets everywhere, why hasn't a partnership between brick-and-mortar bookstores and Kinko's developed by now?  Borders doesn't have the book?  No problem.  Pay at the counter (or online) and pick up a copy machine-quality version as you pass Kinko's on your way home.  No time to stop at Kinko's?  They'll be glad to put your copy on a FedEx Ground truck that's heading to your neighborhood later today anyway; for an additional small fee they'll bring it to you, that same day.

Isn't this Amazon's worst nightmare?  Btw, yes, I know I could order the book on Amazon and have it tomorrow.  That's not my point.  I'm trying to address those situations where you're looking for instant gratification but the local brick-and-mortar stores can't help  Again, I've seen plenty of POD-produced boks and they're great, but they require a hefty investment in hardware.  So what about an option that creates something that's not quite as elegant?  It would still be bound with a cover, although that cover might just be one-color.

Then there's the "good enough" question in ebook readers.  Thanks to competitive pressure from B&N Amazon recently reduced the price on their Kindles.  And then they announced the $139 wifi-only Kindle.  I think Amazon realizes they can't compete with the flexibility of the iPad; there's only so far the monochrome, animation-free Kindle can go.  And a lot of people are interested in a one-trick pony like the Kindle, so perhaps they'll continue to have that niche...until Apple creates smaller and less expensive iPads.

Yes, the $139 wifi-only Kindle is sold out, but if Amazon really wants to create an ereader for the masses they should come out with a sub-$100 device with no connectivity other than a USB port.  Just about everyone on the planet now has a smartphone.  Why not let this bare bones Kindle tether to a smartphone (or computer) for content purchases?  Imagine how many $79 tethering Kindles Amazon could sell.  Heck, I'd buy one for each of my kids.

An ereader with built-in connectivity is nice; market dominance is nicer though.

P.S. -- Btw, Amazon, if eInk is still the production bottleneck, get that problem fixed before it's too late.  You've still got a chance to own what's left of the dedicated ereader market, but if you don't act soon Apple will completely clobber you.



I think the POD idea of partnering with a Kinkos is brilliant. Sure the quality of book may not equivalent, but when someone wants to read it immediately, that's of less importance. The pretty packaging of books is essentially the marketing. Once someone already wants to buy, the seller just needs to get the book in their hands.

Thanks for the insight.


Nicola Furlong

Hi Joe,

Your question of 'good enough' is very topical, especially in the e-book world. Given that there are many formats to suit the various e-readers out there, formatting can cause multiple issues.

Fortunately, the readers of e-books are pretty tolerant of minor formatting glitches, which is great as it allows authors, not expert in e-book formatting, to put up their digital works in a 'good enough' form for a reasonable price and everyone wins.

Appreciate your position. Cheers.

Nicola Furlong

Matt Steinmetz

Great post, Joe. I think the sub-$100 reader is merely months (weeks?) away.

And while I love the idea of PODing a "just good enough" copy of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" when I couldn't get it because it was sold out at the B&N down the street, I worry that brick-and-mortars by and large just aren't innovative enough to implement such a strategy anytime soon. Not saying they can't -- only that my money says they won't.

Wayne C. Long

Thank you, Joe!

As a writer/editor/digital publisher of short stories, my digital archive holds nearly 75 delightful short stories for the adult reader. Why wait for my POD hard copy anthology when you can simply subscribe and receive one of my LongShortStories every 12 days in your e-mail inbox for a year (or two years).

My subscribers love this service and it doesn't break their piggy banks. It is also totally earth-friendly, direct from me to you, with no (OK, maybe a nano)carbon footprint.

Joe, I invite your subscribers to go to to see what all the excitement is about. Thanks for the great blog!

Wayne C. Long
Writer/Editor/Digital Publisher
Where the Short Story LIVES!

Book Calendar

I was reading about Dorchester Publishing, they are combing Print on Demand with Digital Publishing. Apparently, they will release the majority of their titles as ebooks, if people want them in the stores they can order them through print on demand. Dorchester publishes mainly mass market paperbacks.

I sometimes wonder if this is not happening already for some titles. The publisher waits until they get a certain number of orders through print on demand then prints and distributes them in a batch once they have reached a certain number of orders. For every 100 to 200 orders, they put out a print run for a trade paperback or mass market paperback-- if they are a small publisher maybe they wait a week or two before releasing a print run. Otherwise it is get the book as an ebook. What would be the break even for a short run of books.

Bill Seitz

Uh, if the book is available for POD, then isn't available as a pure-digital version?

Ed Renehan

I believe Espresso is a nonstarter. I observed one "at work" at the Harvard Bookstore and was unimpressed.

Book Calendar

My understanding is that Espresso Book Machine will be a starter for cheap public domain works. Google Books is partnered with Espresso.

I am waiting for Dover Publications to enter the ebook markets, they already sell books for $2.00 each. Buying well formatted classic books for $1.50 each would be interesting. Bargain ebooks would be interesting.

Espresso Machine

I find this POD technologuy kind of ironic. Its new and old at the same time. It seems to me that digital publishing is the future, making the POD obsolete as soon as the technology is perfected.

Account Deleted

I agree. This (POD at Kinkos or somewhere) was my big idea 10 years ago. Think about my additional pain when I order a book at Amazon from Korea. Add shipping, which is usually more expensive than the book itself, plus it takes a much longer time until delivery.

But I gave up recently on this, as the mobile devices are finally coming, as it's cheaper and faster to get a digital delivery. Someone could still implement and dominate this market though. It won't disappear soon.

Christopher Greenaway

We mostly print with Lightning Source who have facilities in UK, US, France and soon Australia. It seems that their new Espresso POD machine which prints a copy of a book while you wait (or have a coffee in the book store) is exactly what you're talking about. We've seen machines that churn out DVDs, burned to order, too. The print quality of our POD books easily rivals offset for the interiors, the only noticeable difference is cover print quality, and that's only evident if you have gradient colours, so we now design our covers purposely to fit round digital limitations, with the result that our covers look as good as offset.

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