Don't call it self-publishing: print on demand hits the net in China

If you want to see your words professionally printed and bound but don't want to go through the hassle of finding a traditional publisher to take you on, there's a solution available now that doesn't require having an in at the local university's print shop. A start-up print-on-demand service called Inker (印客网) has begun to attract the attention of the Chinese media.

The company's name seems to be a conscious attempt to establish the term 印客 as the online POD analogue to blog (博客) and podcast (播客), and a number of recent news reports have followed their lead. The connection to blogging is also evident in the company's composition software, "Intelligent Bookmaker" (印客通), which has the ability to automatically import blog entries from Hexun, MSN Spaces, Donews, Tom, and ci123, though the absence of Sina, Bokee, and Sohu makes one wonder whether they have their own POD solutions in the works.

The site itself is very careful to avoid making any mention of "publishing" - clients can "put out a book", or "see their words in print", but they do not "self-publish". According to GAPP regulations, printed material may not circulate without authorization, and "publication" is strictly defined as encompassing only those works that have a registration number.

Here's how Inker situates itself legally (from the FAQ):

Q: Are services like printing a collection of my personal writings legal according to publishing regulations?
A: Inker provides professional one-stop DIY printing, binding, and delivery services. For the time being it does not provide any publishing-related business. All of the items you create on Inker meet your own needs for collecting and saving, and do not meet the publication requirements to circulate in the larger marketplace.

Q: If I print a personal anthology, after I print it on Inker, can I still take it to a publisher for publication?
A: Absolutely. Inker only provides one-stop, personalized printing, binding, and delivery services for authors themselves. Your text is not a common published work, but only a personal memento. You are absolutely able to publish it with another publisher.

Q: I'm paying to publish, and I've already acquired a formal book registration number. Can you print it here?
A: No. At present, Inker is authorized to provide personalized printing serivces only. Printing formal published material requires a book and periodical publication license. Application is underway for this certification, but at present we cannot provide printing services for books and periodicals.

So if Inker cannot produce "books and periodicals", what does it call the stuff that gets printed? Interestingly, rather than putting "publish" in scare quotes as is typical in US reports on POD, Chinese media puts quotes around "book", though there doesn't seem to be any alternative label available for this kind of bound, printed matter.

A manager at the company explains the idea of printing a "memento":

Many people want to publish their own books at times, but not with the aim of sales or profit. These users only need to publish a few dozen copies, or maybe even just a single copy. The barrier to entry for traditional book publishing is quite high. Inker provides specialized print on demand to satisfy that group of users' craving for publication.

The fact that it is illegal for these authors to actually sell the books they print using POD services effectively sidesteps the argument over what constitutes "publication" that surrounds POD and vanity presses like Xlibris and PublishAmerica. Likewise, suggestions on how conduct sales and marketing of your POD book are conspicuously absent from Inker's website. The company had originally provided a sales framework that allowed anyone to purchase a copy of any book, but that was scrapped earlier this season when people speculated that it could be illegal. It was replaced with a simple messaging system that allows users to hash out deals on their own.

Will those deals be made? At 38 yuan for a 200-page paperback (hardback runs 148), a POD book from Inker runs quite a bit more expensive than traditionally-published books - comparably sized and bound mass-market fiction currently is in the neighborhood of 20 yuan. And your local copy-shop can hook you up for cheaper still if you don't need a glossy cover.

Danwei will report on the quality of Inker's process and finished product once our sure-to-be-classic anthology is delivered from the printers.

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There are currently 1 Comments for Don't call it self-publishing: print on demand hits the net in China.

Comments on Don't call it self-publishing: print on demand hits the net in China

This is great! Really, it's the minkan for the 21st C.

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