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Author Topic: What Does "POD" and "Short Run" Mean in 2009?  (Read 5082 times)
David Artman
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« on: June 03, 2009, 06:54:45 AM »

In another thread:
... POD board and box making at print runs starting at 100 units.
I couldn't help but double-take. I have always used "POD" as "Print On Demand," with the presumption that it was customer demand and, thus, typically meant one copy at a time. For any quantity worth mentioning (say, above 10), I'd call that "short run." In particular, I'd call a production run of 100 units intended to be wholesaled to a publish a "short run."

Not calling out Ryan--he may merely be the first I've heard use (misuse?) the acronym--but is it accurate, in 2009, to call a 100-unit run that is to be sold wholesale to a publisher a "POD" production? If yes, then what now distinguishes a short run from a POD? More than 200, say? 400? 1000? Does it all come down to how the individual print provider defines its customers; e.g. Guild of Blades might define any customer as a "retail" customer, regardless of size of run and cost breaks for quantity; while Lulu defines a customer as someone other than the producer of the creative content who is paying full retail. (I realize that, regarding Lulu, even a run of 1000, to be sold to the producer or to a total stranger off the street, is "POD"... but they don't make a quantity deal; or, put another way, the creator-purchaser pays full MSRP to Lulu for his or her own product and, eventually, gets the profit minus Lulu cut paid back to him or her.)

Does it merely come down to whether or not the print provider has press plates and, if not, needn't fill ink wells and set paper rolls and, thereby, do a large enough run to offset the setup costs (and the opportunity costs for tying up a $500K Heidelberg)? If so, then is the term "POD" obsolete, as a measure of scale and nature of customer; should it just be called "digital printing" (DP; as opposed to "web press," etc--i.e. defined by process, not customer or scale or price break)?

In closing, I ask (but not expect) that replies be restricted to appeals to authority (definitions) or to those in the industry who encounter the various terms in a variety of places. In other words, this is not a poll of "how I use the words." How does the industry and its clients, large and small, use the words?

Thanks;
David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2009, 08:02:07 AM »

Hi David,

I posted extensively about this very issue in POD vs. distributors. As far as I know, all the points I made there apply in full today as well.

POD literally refers to customer-driven, one-copy printing, but in practice, it is also applied to any digital printer. The digital technology makes short-run publisher-driven printing far cheaper, and since the companies which do the one typically also do the other, the label is applied to both usages. Yes, I know it makes no sense. No one cares.

One quick correction to that older thread, though: I reversed some numerals in my Elfs example. The cost per copy at the time was $2.01, not $1.02.

Best, Ron
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guildofblades
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« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2009, 08:20:17 AM »

From my experience, most digitally printed short run is considered "POD". Ala, print on demand does not necessarily mean "printing 1" as demand is not necessarily defined as "1" either. It is true that printing 100 board games or hard bound books might be a large enough expense to some folks that they might look at it as being practically no different than a more traditional 5,000 to 10,000 run, but for an awful lot of folks, 100 would be the difference of being able to go to print with their item or not. Therein lies the difference.

"Short run" is also a relative term. For us game industry types, that might be considered say anywhere from 100 to 500 or so, with the typical 1,000 being to start of a traditional run. But we all here look thrugh the colored lenses of a industry used to extremely small production runs. I have spoken with a fair number of printers who would consider 10,000 units to be a "short run". So its all pretty relative to your own perspective.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.gobretail.com
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
iago
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« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2009, 12:31:16 PM »

It's mostly a case of POD being catchier-sounding than "short run", and the equipment used to fulfill a one-off POD direct-to-customer order and the equipment used to fulfill a 100-copy short-run sold-to-manufacturer order being (usually) the same thing.  So the consumer's experience of the final product, regardless of the delivery mechanism, is what I think cinched the lingo: "POD quality" was a big concern early on (though that has *generally* improved), and for the end consumer, the method of delivery had no impact on it, since the *source* was the same.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2009, 04:35:11 AM »

POD has the connotation of being able to be done in units of one or a hundred. It is printing via lazer printer rather than offset press. For black and white printing POD is as good as offset printing but with color it lacks that ever loved shinnyness.

If one had a market for 500 or more of an item then switching to offset printing would be advisable both for price and quality. It's a commercial defintion rather than a technical one.

For example: When my dad did his etchings it involved hand inking a metal plate, placing the paper over it, and then running it through an intaglio press (two metal rollers with a slab of boiler plate between them). In theory this could be done one at a time - POD - but no one would call an art process like this POD.

You already know I'm thinking that this craft approach to production might be viable but that is another thread.

Chris Engle
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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David Artman
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2009, 08:19:17 AM »

So the consensus is that "POD" is no longer a distinction in *quantity* or in *customer* or in *distributor*, but is merely a synonym for "digital printing." I could, for example, do a "POD" run of 100,000 copies from Lulu, and sell them from my site and mail any orders myself, and it would still be "POD" (from my perspective, as Lulu's customer) because of the technology employed by my print provider.

Um... OK. As a linguaphile, I shudder at trends that reduce the distinctions between terms, but I've (mostly) given up railing against "term creep" in this particular hobby/industry.

But I'd still wonder if the rest of the printing world concurs with such synonymity.

Yes, I know it makes no sense. No one cares.
Oh, but I do... but then again, I am often "no one," and so I can resign myself to this minor linguistic irritation. After all, we've got a much bigger row to hoe, defending the denotations of GNS against definitional drift. ;)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: June 04, 2009, 08:50:54 AM »

David, no one is defending the current usage. We're telling you how it is, just as you asked. This isn't a Forge-usage thing; it's what we've encountered among the printers and other people in book marketing ourselves when we worked with them. Whether you like it or not doesn't reflect on anyone who's replied to your post.

For clarity, I have no idea whether anyone would call an order of 100,000 books from (e.g.) Lulu "POD." No one here made any such claim.

You're welcome, incidentally.

Best, Ron
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guildofblades
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« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2009, 03:33:14 PM »

Hi David,

from my recollection, POD was never a term "designed" to mean customer driven printing or single unit printing. Obviously, it could be used for both and has been since companies like LULU got started. If you look at where POD started it was with books and Lighting Source. As a division of Ingram, a rather large company, I don't think the original concept was to print and ship books one at a time, it was to be able to produce books in smaller quantities than traditional offset. Print and bundle these shorter runs for delivery to their warehouse for distribution down chain to the retailers. That distribution process, regardless of a how a book would be printed, would be grossly inefficient if done one book at a time. Shipping would kill the concept. But in theory they could do one of this book, one of that book, a dozen of a third book and combine them together to make shipments that made sense.

Publishers working with Lighting Source would have their books enrolled for special distribution through Igrams and these books were traditionally sold through at a tiny discount (ala, 15 to 20% whent he book industry retailers were used to 40-45% or better) because Ingrams recognized the inefficiencies of distribution done via POD initially and offset that cost with a lower discount.

As markets get more competitive and competitive printers came into the POD game the new entrants sought to lower the print barrier further with smaller direct fullfillment runs, leading ultimately to companies like LULU who pushed through the customer initiated printing and fulfillment independent of using the wholesale book distribution channels. But this comes at a price and hence why LULU is so expensive for direct fullfilment orders. The aren't produced by Lighting Source, who arrived at the conclusion that single and tiny prints only worked for them when they could recover the cost BOTH through the raw printing costs they passed onto the publisher and an extra 20% or so of the retail as based on the lower discount offered to retailers.

For most print productions the world over, they are typically produced "on demand". When printing a new Stephen King novel, they don't print 500,000 copies with an expected demand of just 1000 sales. They have historical data to draw upon with an expectation of demand and they judge their print runs based on that expected demand. Magic the Gathering sets, D&D books, etc, etc, do the same. Digitally printed books (or card games) simply makes it so the volumes being printed makes it possible for publishers to still print when the apparent (or guessed upon) demand is significantly smaller than the traditional pricing limits off offset or web presses. Printing only when an end consumer has already paid is certainly an accurate method of judging demand, but far from the only one and only a recent arrival in the printing industry. Items printed in that fashion still only represent a finite number of products that are digitally printed.

I suspect a number of digital printers began to utlize the term "short print runs" when the term POD garnered a negative connotation back in its early days. To me that suggests basically, anything printed in quantities less than traditional print runs, would fall under the concept of POD. Whether the "demand" side of that term is being driven by past sales history, data mining and marketing metrics, polling, or customer initiated purchased done online (or off), its all effectively small print runs designed to meet niche market demands. I think the indie role playing side of the gaming hobby gravitated towards the LULU method of single order fulfillment as a means of judging demand because it allowed a goodly number of publishers to nearly totally eliminate the risk in printing and publishing, especially when you consider most small game publishers and in particular the indi and small press start ups lack the resources or history to be able to judge demand for a title with enough accuracy to be basing their prints runs on much more than a guess.

It has long been my stance that any small game publisher can sell at least 100 copies of just about any game they design and publish. If they are pushing their title much at. So n my eyes, demand starts at 100 anyways. Though for ease of cash flow, we do maintain just 25 units as a minimum starting order for POD cards and 10 units as a minimum re-order. For board games, assuming we can nail down the process, runs would start at 100 simply due to the practical side of how the glue mounting process would have to work for game boards and setup boxes. Its entirely possible we might be able to reduce that down to 25 of an individual item, if say 4 different items all with the same box and board sizes were to be printed at the same time. But not really sure about that yet. Either way, 25 or 100, for board games, definately falls under the spirit of being able to produce in quantities far less than traditional runs (typically starting around 5,000 for board games) in order to meet and fulfill niche market demands.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.gobretail.com
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
David Artman
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« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2009, 07:28:17 AM »

Ron, I wasn't targeting anyone who replied; sorry to seem so. Thank you.

Thanks for the background, Ryan.
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guildofblades
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« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2009, 08:51:57 AM »

>>Thanks for the background, Ryan.<<

No problem. I agree the term can be rather vague. Its come to mean different things to different groups. The differences being levels of expectations, I suppose.

If looking for "print a copy only after one has been ordered by the end consumer" a safer term would be "one off", which too is bandied about a bit in printing circles.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.gobretail.com
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
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