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The Perils and Pains of Short-Run Digital Printing: Contest Entries

I’m glad CLMP is making this forum available. I’d like to take this opportunity to gripe or grouse about organizations that run prize competitions for already-published books but have not quite moved all the way into the 21st century.

imagesTo wit: They usually (but not always) exclude self-published books. OK, we can argue that one either way. But how about the ones that say POD books are excluded unless they have a print run of 500 books? What are they smoking? The whole point of POD (when it means “publish on demand”) is to print only when you have a sale. But POD can also mean “print on demand,” otherwise known as short-run digital printing.

Mayapple Press does what most publishers do – we stock books, we fill bookstore orders with a decent discount and return privileges, we keep things in print, we don’t require authors to buy books, we provide royalty copies and sometimes money royalties, we help with publicity, etc., etc. What we DON’T do is print 500 books at a time unless the author wants to buy that many (we discourage that, because it’s not necessary) or unless some other contingency, such as the cost of color printing, makes it necessary/cost-effective. Our typical first run is 151 or higher. Our typical sales for a single-author poet would leave a lot of a 500-book run on the shelves and racking up tax bills. Only one of our poetry authors has exceeded 500 copies in print (most of which are sold).

Haven’t contest organizers ever heard of “just in time inventory”? It’s been good enough for most of American commerce for several decades. And doing things this way means I can keep books in print indefinitely – I can always print another 25 if the author needs books, even 10 years later.

I understand that some presses solve this problem by ignoring the requirement and entering the competitions anyway. While I understand this decision, I don’t like to do things that way.

I’ve had this conversation with someone at a prize competition more than once, and the person always said, “Sure, no problem.” But calling every time the issue comes up is tedious. It would be nice to have common sense begin to take hold. What does it take to get prize competition managers to be sensible about the economics of printing in the Computer Age?

Comments welcome.


maylogoJudith Kerman is the publisher and editor of Mayapple Press.

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One thought on “The Perils and Pains of Short-Run Digital Printing: Contest Entries

  1. Yes, this is a frustrating problem! At The Word Works we also use POD as the way to avoid static inventory, books going out of print too soon, and storage issues. We always write into our contracts that we guarantee a minimum run of 500 books, additional runs to be determined by further demand. However, we also state that this “run” may be spread over time in multiple smaller printings, depending also on demand.

    This clause sets us apart from some POD contracts that may require that a certain number of copies be sold each year in order for the publisher not to pull the book from its active lists. All of our titles remain active regardless of sales.

    But with that clause we hope to alleviate the work involved with contacting individual contest managers, since we can say with a clear conscience that we always guarantee a minimum run of 500. Just because we don’t have all 500 copies sitting (twiddling their thumbs…) on the shelves in an expensive climate-controlled warehouse doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t qualify for awards.

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