The original idea dates back 20 years – and was developed in Norderstedt in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. In 1997, digital printing was on everyone’s lips. Books on demand was the buzzword in those days and the Hamburg-based book wholesaler Libri was among the first to realize the potential of this new technology.
Digitalisation had begun turning the publishing industry upside down. Book sales were no longer subject to high circulation and authors no longer relied on a publisher to publish their work. Libri developed a business idea that led to a new company: Books on Demand GmbH (BoD). Meanwhile BoD has become synonymous with digital publishing especially in the self-publishing scene. But over 2,000 conventional publishing houses also rely on the company’s offer. Over 35,000 authors use the platform and the data of more than 2.7 million books are available for digital printing. BoD was honored in 2006 by the initiative “Germany – Land of Ideas” under the theme “The Heirs of Gutenberg” for the revolutionary business model and the company won the Querdenker Award in 2011.
Democratization of publishing
“BoD has expanded the publishing spectrum and democratized the publishing of books,” said Thorsten Simon, BoD spokesman. His workplace is located in an inconspicuous industrial area in Norderstedt and only insiders know that the halls two floors down contain cutting-edge printing presses. Demand is rising constantly and last year, production capacity increased 50 per cent. “Today, every third new book is self-published. More than 100,000 authors in Germany alone are believed to publish their books themselves,” said Simon. Such books are not reliant on a sufficient print run, but are simply printed and delivered whenever the publisher, retailer or a reader orders them.
The company does not consider itself a publishing house, but a self-publishing platform, which gives the author all kinds of liberties. “With us, the author retains full control over the content and design of his work,” Simon explained. As the book is stored in electronic form only, the content can be changed at any time without having to sell an edition first. This is ideal for travel guides, which have to be updated from time to time and or many technical topics that would otherwise be outdated quickly.
Publishing without limits
“Self-publishing with BoD is suitable not only for fiction, but is also ideal for trending and niche topics. Classic publishers often have problems assessing guide books and non-fictional books that only address a small target group. Newcomers also have the opportunity to self-publish their own dream book,” said Simon. Around 49 per cent of self-publishing authors write because they are passionate about an issue or idea. Economic success is not their top priority. Around 12 per cent are professional authors who live from their work while 39 per cent are experts who write factual and specialist books.
BoD’s four clear-cut pricing models cater to all these authors. The price models range from simply printing a book via e-book formats all the way to printed publications for distribution via trade channels. BoD also offers publishing services, proofreading and editing on request and gives the author the freedom to determine the book’s design and presentation. The author even determines the price, which can be higher than that of a conventional publisher. The stationary book trade still accounts for about 50 per cent of the overall turnover on the book market even in the era of Amazon. All BoD titles are given an ISBN number and appear in online shops and in the bookstore around the corner. And they are available as an e-book, if the author so wishes.
Books still in demand, e-books catching up
Asked whether classic books are an outdated concept given the dominance of cell phones, tablets and e-book readers, Simon replied: “We do not see the end of the printed book at all. The rapid growth of the e-book market has slowed down in recent years. Reading behaviour is changing and mobile reading is becoming increasingly important.”
E-books are also facilitating entirely new formats such as books with interactive content. “Interactive content is interesting especially for non-fiction books. However, you often reach hardware limits because the classic e-book readers only offer restricted opportunities for such content.”
Co-existence with traditional publishers
Does BoD see itself as a rival to established publishers? “On the contrary,” said Simon. The company provides services to over 2,000 traditional publishers across Europe. Digital printing is important for backlist titles that no longer feature on bestseller lists. Publishers also use BoD to reissue out-of-print titles, to test new releases without taking big financial risks and for publishing niche topics.
Nearly every single science publisher produces per print-on-demand. University publications are also a flourishing market, as more and more universities are becoming publishers. Books with personalized content, technical documents and operating instructions cannot be overlooked either. Change has come to the publishing world and especially for self-publishers, BoD epitomises the democratization of publishing and the emancipation of authors. This highly creative company with around 180 employees is located right at the heart of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region.