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BCcampus Open Education Print-on-Demand Guide: What is Print on Demand?

An excerpt from the Print-on-Demand Guide, by Lauri Aesoph

Print on demand (PoD) is a service or process by which individual copies of a textbook or other resource that is usually available as a digital file can be printed upon request. This method allows publishers to provide books for a fixed cost per copy regardless of order size, be it one or one hundred copies. Prior to the digital age, most information was available in books that were printed by publishers in large (and expensive) allotments using offset printing.[1] The idea of requesting — and printing — a single copy of a book was unheard of.

The PoD model began in the 1990s as digital press technology — as well as printing and binding methods — developed and improved, allowing publishers to retreat from printing large runs of books and then dealing with unsold copies.[2] Replacing the standard large-book-inventory method with on-demand book printing afforded publishers other savings, too, including a reduction in storage costs, less labour needed for handling inventory, and lower inventory management fees. In 2008, UBC Press — Canada’s third largest university press[3]— began using the print-on-demand and short-run digital printing models as part of its workflow to keep book inventory at workable levels.[4]

While the price of each print-on-demand copy is typically higher than those produced with offset printing, the average PoD cost is lower for small print runs because setup costs for digital printing — including technical configuration — are much lower than those for offset printing. This advantage not only reduces the publisher’s risks, but also leads to more choices for the consumer, such as the ability to order a discrete, professionally produced book. Still, less publisher liability can also mean lower quality control of the printed book.[5]

Nevertheless, the PoD model aligns well with open textbooks. For instructors who take full advantage of the open-copyright licence (the tool that makes a textbook open) by customizing the book to suit their teaching methods and curricula; updating it regularly to keep the material current; and/or inviting students to contribute to the book as part of a course assignment (in line with open pedagogical practice), printing textbooks on demand is the ideal way to go.


  1. “Offset Printing,” Wikipedia, last modified April 17, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offset_printing. 
  2. Edmund Chamberlain, “Investigating Faster Techniques for Digitization and Print-on-Demand,” New Review of Academic Librarianship 18, no. 1 (2012): 64, https://doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2012.660769. 
  3. “About UBC Press,” About Us, UBC Press, accessed April 8, 2020, http://www.ubcpress.ca/about-us. 
  4. Sara Xue Ying Chang, “A Case Study of Print on Demand and Short-Run Digital Printing at the University of British Columbia Press” (master’s project report, Simon Fraser University, 2017), https://summit.sfu.ca/item/17530. 
  5. “Print on Demand,” Wikipedia, last modified April 26, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Print_on_demand. 

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