As reported by
TIME, AUGUST 2, 1999
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The 60-Second Book
A new high-tech publishing technique is creating a
literary big bang for America's would-be authors


Which of the following claims is not a lie? You can make thousands of dollars at home stuffing envelopes! If you pass along this message to just three friends, you will be rewarded with untold riches! For less than $400 you, yes you, can publish your own book and sell it through,, and thousands of bookstores nationwide!

The answer, budding authors, is No. 3, thanks to a bold new publishing technology known as Print on Demand. Put simply, POD turns upside down the traditional economics of the $27.5 billion publishing industry by allowing books to be produced and sold in small quantities -- even one at a time -- almost instantly. No longer will publishing require behemoth offset presses, hangar-size warehouses and fleets of trucks. With POD the book is digitized and stored until it is ordered by a customer. At that point a whiz-bang printing-and-binding machine whirs into action, creating a slick, high-quality paperback ready for shipping. Indeed, such machines may soon be coming to the bookstore down the block, where they will be able to spit out a new thriller in the time it takes to froth a cappuccino.

For writers, readers, publishers and retailers, POD's implications are enormous, the equivalent of of the cable revolution that broke the monopoly of the Big Three networks. Certainly, blockbuster authors such as John Grisham will still get the conventional treat- ment, with hundreds of thousands of their books printed.

But what about Howard Olsen, a 55-year-old machine-shop owner in Salem, Mass., who completed his first thriller, Diplomatic Immunity, last year, but couldn't find a publisher? Olsen paid $350 to 1stBooks, one of a number of new POD publishers, which is based in Bloomington, Ind. It designed a cover and transmitted Olsen's opus to Lightning Print in suburban Nashville, Tenn. A new division of Ingram, the world's largest book distributor, Lightning Print loaded Olsen's text in its system, thereby making it available to to any of Ingram's customers. In no time, Olsen's local Barnes & Noble called him in to do a book signing. "Other than my children being born," Olsen says, "it was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me."

At Ingram, the POD age is being made possible by a device that resembled half a dozen copiers lined up end to end running at 800 pages per minute. Today Lightning's machine is scheduled to turn out, among other volumes, a single copy each of Luck Business and Destiny's Bride. Neither book seems headed for best-sellerdom, but neither will be returned in bulk, as are 30% to 40% of traditionally published books.

POD means that a book never need go out of print. Even a book that sells fewer than 100 copies a year is financially viable, according to Steven Schragis, who heads New Jersey's Carol Publishing. "It's almost impossible for this not to work," says Schragis. "We really don't do anything. We fill out a form, we send Lightning Print a book, we wait a month,

and we get a check" -- his share of the sales.

POD also allows impatient publishers to rush out red-hot, news-inspired books ahead of the competition. Last week Pocket Books trumpeted the release of a POD edition of Knockdown by Martin Dugard. The book, an account of the 1988 Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race disaster that claimed six lives, won't be finished in hard cover until September. But the POD copies will be competitive with rivals.

For eager authors the possibilities of POD seem too good to be true, but what will this transformation mean for readers? Faced with an ever lengthening list of titles, many of dubious merit, readers may have to turn themselves into literary search engines. On the bright side, personal favorites that are noncommercial will never be more than a mouse click away. It's a confusing, if heartening prospect. And while some industry experts predict that someday all books will be published this way, that day is probably years off. For now, the Howard Olsens of this world will be hunkered down at their word processors, hard at work, armed with a few hundred dollars and a dream.

--Reported by Andrea Sachs
La Vergne, Tenn.

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TIME, AUGUST 2, 1999