Why Print on Demand is the future of book publishing in Africa?
There are so many ways how a book can be published and one of them is Print On Demand (POD for short!). You might have come across the confusion that Print On Demand is self-publishing, but this is definitely not the case! Print on Demand is in its simplest form a printing technology that lets publishers print as little as 1 copy per run, as close as possible to the book buyer. Nothing here prevents publishers from offering before and after publishing activities such as manuscript revisions, promotion, and distribution –all important aspects to successfully publish a book.
Let me explain. Instead of printing a few hundred copies of a title and then shipping them around to be promoted and sold, the publisher would keep only the electronic version of the book. He promotes the book by spreading the metadata around and creating awareness. Once there is a confirmed order for a specific title, he would then have the print file sent to a print company as close as possible to the end customer and print in the exact amount required. No more exorbitant shipping rates and days spent on custom procedures!
Now that have we cleared the misunderstanding that Print on Demand is not compatible with traditional publishing, let’s get into the details on why Print On Demand publishing is the future of book publishing in Africa.
According to Victor Nwankwo a Nigerian publisher, who started to make books available using POD in the early 2000s,- POD ease product accessibility to users, increase publishing capacity and make books available that would not be otherwise economically viable².
The traditional publishing mindset and technology sidelines and keeps so many high-potential titles in the dark because they are not willing to take the risk on behalf of a “not yet known” author nor do the author has the financial power to support his own project. Print on Demand quashes any of these obstacles and let publishers easily take a leap of faith.
Ironically POD is not just a way for African authors to export their ideas beyond Africa, to the European or the US market, but to encourage sharing of knowledge within their own continent. Take an example from James Currey mentioned in his article “A model for an African scholarly network press” – The books published by The Africa Institute of South Africa are distributed in Europe, USA, but scarcely available elsewhere in Africa¹ due to non-efficient distribution channels and complicated trade implications. Considering the fact most of the academics write on local issues they can research; not only it is important to put their work out there for their community to read it, but it is also important to have access to already published titles.
While POD might not be the solution to every difficulty faced by publishers in Africa today, the following advantages are already a good start.
No more unsold printed copies or warehousing costs; no physical distribution problems or unexpected issues with customs and transportation.
According to Emma Shercliff, British Council in Abuja since February 2014, – one of the key issues in publishing businesses in Nigeria, is governments lack to understand what publishers do.³ Print on Demand would help them focus on their core business: helping authors get published.
E-Book distribution and subscription were long thought to be the savior of the publishing industry in Africa, yet today we see how difficult it is for the end customer to get access to ebooks due to prohibitive pricing models or sporadic Internet access. Even when they do get access, it is then to content unrelated from their main research area. Printed books will not disappear from the market no matter how advanced our technologies become, in fact, it will become more efficient with the use of Print on Demand as we print books to meet the exact needs of the market and exactly where it is in demand.
African governments have already committed to using green technologies and innovative solutions to help protect our planet, Print on Demand would be just another step towards this laudable initiative.
¹ “A model for an African scholarly network press” by James Currey, Chapter 20, available on Scholarly Publishing in Africans edited by Solani Ngobeni, ISBN: 978 0 7983 0227 2;
² “Print-on-Demand: An African Publisher’s Experience” written by Victor Nwankwo;
³ “The Possibilities and Challenges of Digital African Publishing” written by Emma Shercliff