Print-on-demand books and what it means for the book industry

What is print on demand and how does it work?

Print on demand is a book distribution method made possible by, and inseparable from, digital printing. It prints books only in response to orders, and only prints the exact amount ordered. Due to the capabilities of digital printing, print on demand is capable of filling an order for one book profitably.

Print on demand suppliers maintain databases of books on behalf of their publisher clients. Publishers submit books to the print on demand supplier in the form of PDF files for each book. When the files first arrive they are logged into the database system, examined for technical errors, and a proof copy of the book is created for the publisher to review. The publisher places orders for the number of books to be printed and the printed books are distributed to booksellers, other offline and online retailers, chain stores and library suppliers etc.


The Book Designer, 2009

What does this mean for industry publishers?

Print on demand technology has helped revolutionise the book publishing industry. Previously, books had to be ordered in bulk copies for it to be printed. This required a large amount of risky investment because publishers would not know how well books would be received in the market, especially during the first print. This technology also eliminates the need to keep unsold books in inventory and reduces the wastage incurred when unsold books are pulped and thrown away.

There are some drawbacks to print on demand technology as well. They cost more per unit than books printed offset and it is not economical to use this technology for books that are required in bulk.

However, given the shrink in demand for physical books in today’s society, it might be more economical for publishers to use print on demand technology instead. Publishers need not spend money on bulk printing books which might not even be sold. Instead, print on demand guarantees that money will not be wasted from unsold stock and publishers can diversify their titles by publishing more varied types of books with lower quantity.

What does this mean for self-publishers?

Not only is print on demand technology beneficial for industry book publishers, it has also made things easier for self-publishers. Budding authors who want to sell their books need not go through the traditional route of sending their manuscript to publishers and go through several rounds of administrative work before their work gets published. Print on demand allows authors to skip all these processes and go straight to the printing process. Authors will also have complete control over their book and no one is going to edit their work and take out their “personal style” or omit sections they know to be important.


Infographic on how print on demand works

GraphicsPedia, 2018

While print on demand technology is not a new discovery, it is still relatively uncommon in Singapore. With this alternative printing option now available, we’re excited to explore new ways of publishing and printing our books. 

For one, we’ve started to think about bringing back some of our most popular but out-of-print titles, such as Love Stories from Ancient China, and maybe even the Return of the Condor Heroes series! What other ideas can you think of for print-on-demand books?

We’re looking forward to seeing how POD technology shapes the future of Singapore’s publishing and printing industry.



  1. Friedlander, J. (2009, December 04). How Print-on-Demand Book Distribution Works. Retrieved from