Print on Demand

Note: This post is adapted from a paper by the same title originally published in The International Journal of the Book, vol.7, no. 1

Regardless of education or career path the question of how to find an audience eventually becomes a singular concern for many photographers. For those entering the commercial world this is a marketing issue: how to locate clients willing to pay for services rendered. The traditional solution for fine art photographers is exhibition and publication, where cost and access are predictable barriers.

Exhibition and publication function as levers for cultural gatekeepers (those who decide what and whom will be exhibited or published). But evolving and converging technologies are creating new opportunities for artists to exercise control unfettered by publishers, editors, curators, and gallery owners. Web sites can function as virtual self-curated exhibitions, for example, and print on demand (POD) is changing access to publication and redefining self-publishing.

The first section of this paper briefly summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of POD compared to traditional offset publishing. The second section offers suggestions for using POD pedagogically to enhance existing or develop new curricula for photography education in the digital age. The information in the second section will also be useful for photographers wishing to gain as much advantage as possible from POD.

Print on Demand Overview

By the mid-1990’s converging digital technologies began to change photography. The pace, unprecedented in the history of the medium, accelerated over the next decade. Digital sensors replaced film as the dominant method of image capture. The digital darkroom (characterized by powerful CPU’s, larger and improved color accurate displays, inkjet printers, and advanced image editing software) pushed wet darkroom practice into an alternative process. The practice of photography was reorganized around the ability to produce high quality digital image files. One consequence of moving from wet darkroom practice to inkjet printing was a substantial increase in print sizes.More important, digital imaging requires photographers to gain expertise with a variety of professional software applications. For instructors this mandated a thorough review of teaching methodologies to account for inherent differences in how students learn photography and gain visual literacy through a digitally mediated environment.

Simultaneous technological changes have reshaped the prepress and printing industry. Initially the transformation of book publishing from an analogue to digital system was centered on back-shop operations. Scanners replaced process cameras, digital files replaced film matrixes, graphic design and assembly software replaced traditional make-ready practices, and digital presses began to appear.Digital presses have a unique two-fold production advantage compared to traditional offset presses: single copies or more of a book can be printed as needed, and fulfillment from submission of completed or archived digital files to bound and ready-to-ship books can be measured in hours.3 The technology that makes POD possible has generated a new business model based on democratizing book publishing through direct to consumer sales. This model appeals to consumers by offering cost effective and convenient access to self publishing, including:

  • POD vendors are accessible through the Internet (geographic limitations are reduced or eliminated). In most cases only Internet access is needed to create an account with a POD vendor.
  • Many POD vendors provide free graphic compilation software designed for ease of use. These applications feature “wizard” user interfaces, preformatted soft and hard cover options, and page layout templates.4
  • The larger POD vendors (Lulu and Blurb, for example) sponsor on-line user forums that promote social learning, extensive “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) resources, and (painfully slow) email based technical support.5
  • Some POD vendors offer writer assistance and other preproduction services, a broad range of printing options (paper choice, bindings, and cover options, for example), and post-printing marketing and sales services at additional cost.6
  • The cost per unit significantly favors POD for small press runs.7

In most cases the cost associated with the production of a book printed on an offset press can be organized in three stages: preproduction (author advance, design, make-ready, rights acquisition, proofing, and ISBN registration, for example), printing (ink, paper, press time/charges, press checks, binding, packaging, and shipping), and post-production (inventorying, warehousing or storage, promotion and marketing, and fulfillment). Simply put, the traditional offset printing business model requires a considerable financial commitment before a single copy of a book is printed or sold.

This business model was built over time, primarily through relationships between printers and publishers (predominantly commercial publishing houses or scholarly publishers) and, to a lesser extent, a variety of subsidy printing schema. Subsidy printing includes many variations of self-publishing ranging from individuals (but also groups or institutions) that function as their own publisher; those that pay commercial publishers to produce a book (the book is one among other titles the publisher distributes); and vanity press.8

There have been notable historical exceptions, but subsidy press is rarely profitable and typically does not lead to commercial publication or success. This holds true for POD, as well. In 2002, Barnes & Noble owned a 49 percent share in POD publisher iUniverse; from 10,000 titles six had been selected for retail sale.9 A competitor, Xlibris, had also published approximately 10,000 POD titles by 2004; 20 subsequently found a commercial publisher.10

Beyond the cost of offset self-publication, credibility is a persistent issue associated with vanity press. As a pure form of self-publication vanity press circumvents editorial control, the role of publisher as cultural gatekeeper, and the peer review process used by scholarly presses. As such, it is generally viewed as less serious, noteworthy, or credible. Vanity press books are rarely reviewed, for example, and the absence of a vetting process discounts their effectiveness as scholarly resources (nor are they useful for academic tenure and promotion).

Despite credibility issues the POD business model has encouraged a significant increase in vanity book publishing. Blurb, a prototypical Internet-based POD vendor, reported in January 2009, that: “The company… achieved nearly 3X (200%) year-over-year sales growth, with sales of nearly $30MM. With nearly one million books produced, over 750,000 registered users, and a global footprint that extends to 60 countries, Blurb continues to experience high growth amidst challenging economic times.11 Lulu, with a technology platform, web presence, and demographic similar to Blurb, reported in March 2009: 820,000 published titles (5,000 new titles added each week), representing 80 different countries, over two million registered users, and two million site visitors each month.12 These figures suggest that credibility, commercial or academic, is likely not an issue for the majority of POD authors.

POD is clearly transforming the traditional publishing business model for all forms of subsidy printing, with vanity press the most compelling example. Excluding the author’s time and expertise, POD preproduction costs are eliminated or significantly reduced. There are few if any post-production expenses related to inventory and storage. Promotion and marketing can be contracted out if desired (usually to the POD vendor or other third-party service), handled by the author, or simply ignored.

The cost advantages of the POD business model is prompting traditional publishers to adapt it to their needs. Commercial and scholarly publishers are currently using POD to print advance copies and reprints (to keep backlists viable without the burden of warehousing hard inventory). In the near future publishers will increasingly use POD for first editions. This can be an attractive option when small press runs (decreased up-front costs) and active backlists (possible residual earning without the burden of a physical inventory) are advantageous and justify the higher POD per unit cost.

POD is also being grouped with other non-traditional publishing strategies including e-books (accessible through an assortment of hardware platforms including dedicated readers—the Amazon Kindle, for example—PC’s, and cell phones), Adobe PDF documents, and emerging digital subscription services for both audio and text-based books. Two examples illustrate how POD, combined with other digital initiatives, is changing the traditional publication business model:

Rice University Press:

The Rice University Press, a traditional academic publishing platform, was phased out in 1996. In 2006, it reemerged with a new business model based on electronic publishing featuring collaboration with other scholarly presses and implementation of web-based, PDF, and POD services. One component of the new Rice publishing model is Connexions, an open source web site.13 Currently, Rice University Press is working with Stanford University Press. The Rice business model provides Stanford access to electronic and POD publishing. In turn, Stanford provides the necessary vetting process.

The Caravan Project:

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the Caravan Project is designed to concurrently publish books across media in five formats: “…books will be available in traditional hardcover or paperback editions along with e-books and audio books, both available for download, in their entirety or in chapters. A large-print POD (print-on-demand) version is also under consideration as an additional format.”14 The Caravan Project is based at the University of North Carolina Press and is partnered with other commercial and academic presses. POD fulfillment is managed through The Ingram Book Group and Lightning Source, Inc.

Despite these developments the adoption of POD for publishing commercial and scholarly books is tempered by at least three factors: 1) The evolution of POD is associated with consumer and business web-to-print publishing, including vanity press; 2) POD, combined with open source initiatives, can potentially affect every link in the traditional offset business model raising concern over potential economic consequences; and 3) Image reproduction quality has been suspect, an important consideration for illustrated books where accurate image representation is paramount (art, art history, photography, visual studies).

Nonetheless, the economics of publishing will continue to encourage commercial and scholarly publishers to assimilate POD; particularly as it gains distance from vanity press, becomes increasingly integrated into existing business models and new models are formed, and the questions surrounding reproduction quality are addressed. Fortunately, none of these issues impede the use of POD for developing a self-publishing curriculum for photography education. The POD business model is ideally cost effective. The standard POD graphic compilation software provides an accessible, if limited, point-of-entry. The existing POD model provides a convenient if not completely open platform for innovation and predictable reproduction quality—acceptable to many users—can be enhanced.

Print on Demand Curriculum:

By the mid-1990’s, degree programs ranging from vocational schools to colleges and universities began a protracted process of managing the integration of digital imaging into existing curriculum (the alternative was to risk becoming irrelevant). Educators were initially confronted with a predictable set of adaptation issues including: securing adequate physical space for digital imaging facilities, purchasing equipment, staffing, budget, developing and encouraging faculty expertise, and establishing a teaching philosophy and pedagogy suitable to a program’s reputation and ambition. For many institutions the infrastructure issues presented formidable challenges that have been managed in a variety of ways. Because the technology supporting digital imaging constantly evolves, these challenges diminish but never disappear. Initial curricula strategies necessarily focused on modifying existing courses and developing the first generation of digital courses in a changing educational environment. Authoring new curricula to address the specific challenges and opportunities inherent to digital imaging define the second stage of integration. These courses reflect the experience gained by educators over the past fifteen years.

There are two overlapping characteristics of digital imaging and the digital darkroom that require a pedagogy different from that used to teach and learn film-based/wet darkroom photography: digital imaging requires fluidity with, if not mastery of, professional software applications, and the digital darkroom (the activities leading to a finished product after a digital image is recorded) tends to be a reflective or passive process compared to the physicality of the traditional darkroom.

Learning software is an issue of emphasis and time; it can overwhelm other instructional considerations. The less physical nature of the digital darkroom has a tendency to emphasize conceptualization over the hands-on craftsmanship required to make visual objects. It also affects the collaborative learning structure that characterizes, and is assumed in, the teaching of traditional photography. Combined these characteristics of the digital darkroom affect learning styles, change the way instruction occurs, reemphasize time management in the classroom and lab, the workflows used, and the skill sets taught. Software competency is primarily a result of repetitive sequential learning and is relatively easy to assess. At a given point in the learning process a student can or cannot produce the expected result using a given application (moments of insight and synthesis are more difficult to assess but the linearity of software always remains intact and a student’s progress is discoverable). Digital photography classes, particularly introductory courses, require a thoughtful balance of time devoted to image making versus software instruction. One approach increasingly used in second-generation digital courses is to subordinate software instruction in favor of image making and projects. The intent is to encourage students to master software as needed.

Put another way, in second generation digital classes finished images or projects define the outcome rather than learning software, per se; learning software becomes a means to an end. This strategy works, in part, because current students typically have an enhanced familiarity and facility with computers compare to ten or fifteen years ago; the base learning curve is shorter, allowing digital imaging curriculum to be targeted. However, it also requires instructors to be exceptionally fluent in the software applications being used (an instructor must identify the student’s path, evaluate, and prescribe the next step in the process).

Emphasizing finished images and projects accommodates differences in student learning styles and can help to mitigate the passive tendency of the digital darkroom. There is ample opportunity to counter the tyranny of the computer display by incorporating formal and informal opportunities for social learning; students can be encouraged to collaborate, one-on-one or in small groups, within the formal construct of the classroom or lab, or informally outside those settings. Designing assignments and projects that move images from the computer display to paper also enhances the physicality of the process. This is usually accomplished by making inkjet prints, or by designing projects that require printing and assembly, typically the most physical activity in the digital darkroom.15

Self-publishing projects are a logical and compatible extension of this teaching strategy. Opportunities exist to exploit the physicality of making photographs and other visual objects, the software instruction is scalable, and the workflows are adaptable. Assignments, lectures and presentations, demonstrations, individual and group learning activities can be accommodated. A basic self-publishing model should provide a flexible structure that can be adapted to a wide range of projects. The model includes: production of a body of work for publication, processing images from digital capture or from scanned film and prints to produce master files, repurposing master files for use, image editing and sequencing, preparation of text, design and layout, editing and proofing, printing and binding, and fulfillment.

There are many opportunities to structure core curriculum around this model. It provides for shooting, editing, and printing; any software instruction required; and easily incorporates a range of physical activity. Following are outlined descriptions of self-publishing models that can be adapted to digital photography curriculum:

Model #1: The POD Pipeline

With variations in the graphical user interface (GUI) and features, POD vendors promote a common workflow consisting of:

  • An account is established with the POD vendor.
  • The vendor’s application is launched (it can be a stand-alone program that is downloaded to a computer, or Internet-based). The book is titled and initial format decisions are made (book size, orientation, and soft or hardcover).
  • An image library is loaded into the application. Templates are used to format the book. Images are “dragged and dropped” and text is added.
  • When complete the file is uploaded to the POD vendor for printing.
  • Order confirmation and shipping information is completed. Typical fulfillment time varies from three to five days excluding shipping.

The proprietary software functions as a virtual pipeline, allowing book projects to be assembled on personal computers (without expertise in professional software) and uploaded to the POD vendor. These applications can be mastered in a single teaching session. The emphasis on convenience and accessibility comes at the expense of limited creative options, control over design and typography, and image quality.16 However, instructors can use this self-publishing option to develop teaching strategies that lead students to the use of professional software including: image browsers, camera raw processors, and graphic editing applications (Adobe’s Photoshop and/or Lightroom, or Apple Aperture, for example). These applications are used to teach digital asset management (DAM), organization strategies, image processing techniques, and image repurposing strategies. Instructors can also incorporate a proofing step in this workflow that requires students to make inkjet or laser prints of pages before the completed file is uploaded to the POD vendor. Shooting, organizing, and processing image files and incorporating proof printing into the POD workflow improves opportunities to learn professional software, enhances the physicality of the process, and generally results in a better finished product. A significant curricula advantage is gained when an instructor views the POD book as a strategic goal, the end result of a process that can be structured in a variety of ways. The next POD model illustrates this.

Model #2: POD Pipeline Work-around

An alternative workflow can be used to move the book design and assembly process outside the POD-supplied application. With this model the book is created with other graphic compilation software(s) and imported back into the POD pipeline. This workflow can be modeled as:

  • An account is established with the POD vendor.
  • The vendor’s application is launched, the book is titled, and initial format decisions are made to determine book size, orientation, and soft or hardcover before exiting the application.
  • An image library is prepared using professional software. Based on the specifications (and limitations) of the vendor’s application, the book is formatted using a professional graphic compilation software application (Adobe Indesign, for example). The book is designed and assembled. When complete the individual book pages are exported as JPEGS. This image set becomes the library that will be imported into the POD application.
  • The vendor’s application is re-launched. A “Blank” page template is selected.
  • The image library consisting of the book page Jpegs is imported into the POD application. Images are “dragged and dropped” into the blank template pages. When complete the file is uploaded through the POD pipeline for printing. Order confirmation and shipping information is completed. Fulfillment time is identical.

Within this POD workflow design principles and typography can be emphasized and students can be taught to use professional graphic compilation software. Implemented properly this expands the work that is performed outside the POD workflow and can significantly enhance the quality of the finished book. Students can be encouraged to explore the relationship between words and images beyond what is possible with the POD application.

It should be noted that opportunities exist, varying by vendor, to improve the physical and reproduction quality of finished books in both workflows described thus far. Blurb, for example, offers two options that can impact quality: a better paper stock is available (at extra cost) and an ICC color profile for the HP Indigo presses that produce Blurb books can be downloaded and used to prepare images (the profile is generic but can be used to teach students soft proofing techniques). Blurb, like other mainstream POD vendors, does not own or operate presses.17 Instead jobs are contracted out to printing houses for fulfillment. While cost effective to the POD vendor this leads to inconsistent color management and unpredictable quality control issues. Driven primarily by the competitive nature of the POD consumer market future quality control enhancements can be anticipated. As will be seen in the last model other opportunities to improve quality already exist.

Model #3: The PDF Workflow

The Model #1 and #2 workflows described thus far have a shared restriction; they require users to process books through a POD vendor’s proprietary pipeline. A better solution is to create books that can be submitted outside the constraints of a vendor’s graphic compilation application. The current solution is found in Adobe’s Portable Document Format technology (PDF). PDF in July 2008 became an open source application (certified as ISO 32000-1:2008).18 Since the mid-1990’s, PDF has been used in the prepress industry (Agfa was the first company to integrate PDF for full-color commercial printing in 1998). PDF is a “page description application” that encapsulates text, fonts, images, and 2-D vector graphics into single or multiple page documents.

There are two advantages of using PDF: it has become a standard cross-platform application that is remarkably easy to use, and the current implementation of PDF for the graphic arts (PDF/X) is predictable and virtually transparent to the user. In practice this means that POD books can be assembled in a variety of professional software applications, saved as PDF documents, and submitted for printing via the Internet. Prior to submission the PDF document can be proofed on any inkjet or laser printer. Learning software becomes increasingly product-driven and the physicality of the process is enhanced.

Increasingly, mainstream POD vendors, and smaller companies that have similar technology platforms, are providing PDF options allowing more customer control over book design. This workflow can be used by instructors to author curriculum that takes full advantage of professional software, and to teach a wide range of skill sets and workflows. This model can be outlined as:

  • An account is established with the POD vendor. The vendor may provide a book compilation application, but this workflow bypasses this option.
  • An image library and text for the book project is prepared.
  • The book is formatted using a professional graphic compilation software application (Adobe InDesign, for example).
  • Image editing, sequencing, text preparation, and laser or inkjet proofing is completed.
  • The book is saved and submitted to the vendor as a PDF document.
  • Order confirmation and shipping information is completed. Fulfillment time varies.

At this writing Blurb offers three “pipelines”: Bookify, an easy use Internet-based application; BoorkSmart, an easy use downloadable application appropriate to either Model #1 or #1; and PDF to Book, allowing for professional design and improved color management during the book assembly process. PDF to Book works best with Adobe InDesign and results can be enhanced, a increased cost, using Blurb’s ProLine options.

While the extensive and generally well organized FAQ’s and User Forums found on the larger POD vendor web sites provide information and customer support, the effectiveness is inherently limited. A disconnection remains between the customer and vendor. Email support is slow and phone support is discouraged, automated, and generally ineffective. Color management can be viewed as both a technical and customer support issue. There are no inherent or embedded technical barriers to digital inkjet print quality. Rather, persistent POD color management issues are related to implementation. For example, Blurb provides an ICC profile for the HP Indigo press and their paper stocks but color management is compromised: the profile is necessarily generic and printing is sub-contracted to printing houses making quality control problematic. To fully exploit the potential of POD printing customer support must be improved and the printing systems must be properly color managed (calibrated and profiled for the ink and substrate used), tenaciously supervised by skilled operators, and accurate ICC profiles must be provided to the customers that want to use them. Three examples serve to illustrate the current capabilities of the POD platform beyond mainstream vendors:


MagCloud publishes POD magazines rather than books. Utilizing the same technology as POD book vendors (HP Indigo presses), their workflow is a model of simplicity. They offer one service with one workflow (completely PDF-based; MagCloud does not provide an assembly software application), and one paper stock (an ICC profile is available). The cost per printed page is twenty cents (less than the cost of an inkjet print). Customer service is by email.19

A&I Imaging:

Like mainstream POD vendors, A&I provides a book assembly application (“Book Creator”) that can be downloaded free from their website. They also accommodate the PDF workflow. A&I operates HP Indigo digital presses in-house. In addition to the standard perfect bound soft and hard covers offered by mainstream POD vendors, other binding options—in-house or outsourced—are available. Compared to one or two paper options, A&I currently offers over thirty choices in printing stock (a sample books is available at modest cost). Client to vendor communication is handled by phone or email. They can provide an ISBN number at additional cost. A&I operates an open shop, welcoming visitors and potential customers.They do not provide an ICC profile and charge eleven dollars per page for proofs. 20

Edition One Books:

Edition One Books does not provide a book assembly application. Their production sequence is entirely PDF based. Similar to A&I, Edition One operates digital presses in-house (Xerox Docucolor), encourages client contact by email or phone, and does not provide an ICC profile (they do provide ten free test prints from customer files). A sample book of paper stock and cover options is available on request. Edition One offers a range of auxiliary services including film scanning, editing and layout assistance (for an additional fee), and cover options including hot foil stamping and Insert cover images. Edition One actively promotes color management but the current generation of laser-based digital presses does not handle grayscale printing well. They operate an open shop.21

Mainstream POD vendors advertise their product to the general public and to the serious customer (institutions, visual artists, and photographers where reproduction quality is of paramount importance). While some may provide elements of a color managed workflow, such as ICC profiles, none at this point can claim a workflow taking full advantage of the technological capabilities of their digital presses. Boutique vendors (MagCloud, A&I, and Edition One are examples) also have not created workflows to fully exploit digital press, but they provide several advantages to the serious customer by:

  • Supporting and encouraging a PDF based workflow.
  • Offering more choice and enhanced creative options.
  • Providing better live customer support by phone.
  • Improving reproduction quality by operating presses in-house and providing a more reliable proofing stage in the production sequence.

To meet expectations for high quality image intensive publication for commercial and scholarly presses, and an increasingly discerning consumer base, POD vendors must continue to evolve. They must provide enhanced costumer support and maintain quality control procedures similar to best practices of offset presses. (Keeping this cost effective will require further advancement in the technology platform and will place more responsibility on the user.) The current POD business model does provide an adequate platform for integrating bookmaking into digital photography curriculum. The discipline of photography requires learners to travel parallel tracks: the technical process of making images, and acquiring the discernment to make evaluative choices about their relative success. POD can be used to address both tracks.

With traditional film based/wet darkroom photography instructors typically manage learners’ progress along these tracks and the relationship between them. Properly managed the tracks complimented each other. A student may be better at one than the other, for example. This can be a source for encouragement to stay involved in a process that eventually requires them to become better at the other. The physical track—using a camera properly and the darkroom processes for developing film and making prints—is based on learning patterns of movement that become uniquely choreographed by each student in turn. It is a social and structured learning environment that provides opportunity for demonstration, interaction and dialogue, encouragement and critique from instructors and peers.

The traditional arrangement, where initial emphasis is necessarily placed on learning basic skills and workflows, works well because learning discernment is an involved process. Connoisseurship—as compared to having an opinion—takes time and a willingness to commit one’s attention to a goal that is less tangible compared to the physical act of making an object. It involves mastering a vocabulary that allows increasingly fine distinctions; understanding the deep structure of visual meaning and how that structure functions in a cultural context; acquiring knowledge about the history of the medium and it’s relationship to other forms of creative expression; understanding the tension between subject and form that is the basis for composition, and more.

Particularly in beginning photography classes the interplay between making images and a constructive dialogue about image success functions as rehearsal for advanced classes (that may emphasis one track over the other). If the learning environment is properly managed, through making objects students learn how to critique. As students progress they discover the two tracks becoming increasingly interwoven. The skill a photographer brings to making an image becomes an integral part of it’s aesthetic.

Digital photography alters the technical track in fundamental ways. Although the basic camera controls on a digital camera are virtually identical to a comparable film camera, the digital darkroom does not replicate the physical learning that characterizes the traditional wet darkroom. Processing digital image files requires students to sit, more or less physically passive, in front of a display and learn to use software. Their ability to produce a print is directly linked to software competency.

Instructors teaching digital photography face two dilemmas. How can physicality be introduced or enhanced, and how much time and effort should be devoted to learning software? The simplest way to increase physicality is to have students make prints or print-based objects (it is important that students have access to printers). If an instructor demurs to critique an image until it is printed, for example, students learn a whole sequence: images are processed on-screen (software skills being put to use), printed (hopefully leaving their chair to make the print), and perhaps pinned to a well lit board where student and instructor stand, discuss, and evaluate. The critique of a print invites casual or formal group participation, an additional benefit of making the process physical.

There is no single answer to how much time and effort should be devoted to learning software. Clearly defined goals are essential. If an instructor outlines the software skills a student should master (as compared to simply stating that students will “learn Photoshop”, for example) it can be used as a road map to gauge student progress (and provide a criteria for evaluation and grading, as needed). Instructors must be fluent with the software being used, and have invested the time necessary to structure assignments that introduce and reinforce the desired skills. The question then becomes how software skills are best taught.

There are predictable issues associated with learning professional software beyond the physicality problem. Despite advances in the design of user interface, software is inherently linear. Some students are well suited to linear learning while others are not. Learning software also requires the student to know a little about a lot before achieving something close to a satisfactory result. Improperly managed, this inevitably leads to confusion and a sense of failure. What a student may know, from common or prior experience, doesn’t necessarily translate into learning software; a transfer of experience and knowledge is not guaranteed.

Lastly, how does a student know if an image is “correct” if they do not know what a correct image looks like? This conundrum is a good argument for making prints (traditionally or digitally) and critiquing, but more importantly for contextualizing the learning of software. One way to create context is by introducing students to traditional photography first and adopting a strategy to encourage the transfer of that experience into the digital environment. A rich body of research literature on transfer suggests that it occurs best when the connection between old and new is made concrete rather than assumed. David Perkins in Making Learning Whole comments “…certain conditions facilitate transfer. Strong cues help. Once the possibility of a connection is in our mind, it helps if we can elaborate the connection readily rather than figuring it out as a complicated puzzle.”22 This is a prescription for instructors seeking to bring traditional practice into the digital environment. The complicated puzzle is software. The cues that facilitate transfer, and insight, come from the instructor.

Instructors can encourage and reinforce the transfer of knowledge from one setting to the other through instructional design of in-class exercises, homework assignments, and projects. Beyond bringing learned practices (traditional processes) into the new (software), transfer provides a working vocabulary for both tracks. This can be a significant advantage. With this approach an instructor can ask students: How is this digital process like processing film or making prints in the wet darkroom? How can we use the software to accomplish that? How is this digital print like or different from a wet darkroom print? Is it a good print? Properly done, inquiry of this kind has several learning advantages. Students gain confidence and a sense of personal ownership of the software and process. The software is still complicated. What has changed is the student’s attitude towards using and eventually mastering it.

Another way to provide context is to emphasis making images and design projects that subjugate the learning of software to the task at hand. (This is the only option when it isn’t possible to begin students traditionally.) Ideally, this approach would incorporate a brief introduction to the software, a step-by-step guide that allow students to process an image file to completion without getting lost in minutia (including printing), and a progressive introduction to how the software can be used to accomplish in the digital darkroom what students typically accomplish in beginning traditional photography classes. Involvement in the software deepens in relationship to processing image files and making prints. Success builds confidence and enthusiasm. Projects, which can be structured over weeks, provide a background activity that short-term exercises and assignments are designed to build toward. The instructor provides feedback and technical assistance, and remains vigilant to the whole process; that is, directing and guiding student attitude towards the software. It is worth keeping in mind that embedded in this approach is the idea that learning software is not the point; learning to be a good photographer is. Software for accomplishing this through digital imaging is simply a complicated means to an end. The complexity is a given. It falls to the instructor to develop strategies for how this complexity is approached.


Recognizing the potential of the technology base supporting POD, the current state of POD development and it’s potential moving forward, an opportunity exists to create pedagogy for teaching digital imaging that can potentially accomplish three associated goals: it can address the learning issues that characterize digital imaging by subjugating software learning to process and product; it can be used to strengthen the components of photography curriculum dealing with editing, sequencing images, and the critical relationship between words and images that define visual literacy; it inherently amplifies a student’s familiarity with emerging technologies that will continue to impact and define their career choices.

To master the POD workflow and fully exploit it’s potential, students learn in a digital environment to make images, organize these digital assets, process images to completion and repurpose images as needed, edit and sequence images, explore the relationship of images to text, and gain familiarity with how images and text can best be displayed as an organized visual field (on-screen and on paper). To accomplish this they must learn a variety of professional software applications. The task repetition necessary to mastering software is contextualized within the process of building the book. The PDF-based POD workflow enhances this process by rendering finished products that are multifunctional; a PDF book can be printed, viewed on-screen, emailed, or made available as a download from the Internet.

The practical result is finished products that have increased student skills while enhancing portfolios. Students can be taught to use POD magazines and books as a cost effective way to market their skills, reach clients, secure work as freelancer or staff photographers, and promote their ambition to publish and exhibit as artists. For college and university photography programs that have integrated business training into their curriculum, the POD strategy is a logical and empowering extension. Teaching photography students to use POD has two additional long-range advantages. First, they become familiar and facile with an important technology that is closely aligned with their professional interests and intentions. Second, those who continue their education, and may aspire to be the next generation of college or university instructors, will be grounded in the emerging business model of commercial and scholarly presses.

It would be unwise to ignore the changing relationship between print and electronic media. “Publishing in the future will look very different than it has looked in the past,” Laura Brown and members of the Ithaka Strategic Services Group write in a report released July 2007, entitled University Publishing In A Digital Age. “Consumption patterns have already changed dramatically…Transformation on the creation and production sides is taking longer, but ultimately may have an even more profound impact on the way scholars work…We believe the next stage will be the creation of new formats made possible by digital technologies, ultimately allowing scholars to work in deeply integrated electronic research and publishing environments that will enable real-time dissemination, collaboration, dynamically-updated content, and usage of new media.”23 Understanding the implication of new formats and new media is the key to developing pedagogy for teaching digital imaging that anticipates a dynamic and changing cultural and employment landscape. POD, particularly PDF-based POD, is a technology and process that creates a bridge from current practices to future developments.


  1. Large photographic prints are difficult to produce in the wet darkroom. Digital printing technology makes this relatively easy. Many schools have 44-inch inkjet printers installed. Commercial labs offer the Durst Lambda and Oce Lightjet machines, capable of writing digital files to large traditional wet darkroom paper.
  2. The first commercial digital presses, the Hewlett Packard Indigo E-Print 1000 and the Agfa Chromapress, were introduced at the IPEX trade show in England in 1993. Kleper, Michael L., The Handbook of Digital Publishing, vol. II.
  3. “Revolutionary Espresso Book Machine launches in London”, by Alison Flood. Published on, Friday 24 April 2009. Also see:
  4. The Apple’s iPhoto book, Lulu, and Blurb provide variations on this approach.
  5., and
  6. iUniverse and Xlibris are examples.
  7. POD is currently estimated to be less expensive than offset printing for press runs smaller than 1,200 copies. The Economist (print edition), “Unbound”, June 5th, 2008.
  8. The line separating the various forms of subsidy and vanity press is often unclear. However, in the first two instances an ISBN number is typically assigned to the publisher; with vanity press, if an ISBN number is used, it is assigned to the author. This can be an important distinction. An ISBN number linked to a reputable publisher makes distribution and point-of-sales, especially through brick-and-mortar retail stores, more likely. A useful description of these variations, “Writer Beware: Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers”, is found at:
  9. The New York Times, “Books for the Asking”, October 17, 2002.
  10. “Writer Beware: Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers”, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American, Inc.,
  13. “New Model for University Presses”, Inside Higher Ed, by Scott Jaschik, July 31, 2007.
  14. “The Caravan Project”, PR release April 3rd, 2007.
  15. The printing process at most schools is directly related to infrastructure and budget. Digital programs allowing student access to printers encourage physical movement and interaction (the alternative, implemented by some programs, is the “service bureau” model where students submit image files for printing. The rationale for the service bureau model is based primarily on economics; it is felt there is less waste and fewer equipment problems when staff, not students, manage the printers. Unfortunately, this approach creates a disconnection between images on the display and the finished print. It dissuades students from learning how to use the equipment, and it is less physical.
  16. This is particularly true when reproducing grayscale images. Producing a neutral grayscale image with full color ink sets (duotone printing is not an option through POD) is technically challenging and can serve to test print quality.
  17. POD vendors also typically do not write their own software; rather, other companies develop the base product and sell or license the software (including any modifications, features, or customization required) to the POD vendor.
  18. Adobe PostScript is a page description programming language used for generating layout and graphics in desktop publishing and prepress since the 1980’s.
  22. Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins. (pg. 116)
  23. “University Publishing In A Digital Age”, Ithaka Report, July 26, 2007, by Laura Brown, Rebecca Griffiths, and Matthew Rascoff. Preface by Kevin Guthrie.



  1. Allen, Nancy. Art Museum Images in Scholarly Publishing.
  2. “Applying What We Know: Student Learning Styles”, Dennis W. Mills, 2002.
  3. “Books for the Asking”, Eric A. Taub. The New York Times. October 17, 2002.
  4. “Cambridge University Press: dons step in as digital age threatens jobs at world’s oldest publisher”, Terry Macalister. The Guardian. April 6, 2009.
  6. (Connexions)
  8. “Good Books: When, Where, and How You Want Them,” Peter Osnos. April 5,, 2006. The Century Foundation.
  12. “Learning: Peering Backward and Looking Forward in the Digital Era”, Margaret Welgel, Carrie James, Howard Gardner. International Journal of Learning and Media, Volume 1, Number 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  15. Perkins, David. Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education, Jossey-Bass, 2009.
  16. “Print-on-Demand”, Hilary Ballon, Mariet Westermann. Connecions.
  17. “Print On Demand Self-Publishing Services,” Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., 2009.
  18. “Portable Document Format,” Wikipedia.
  19. “Publishing Genius”, Scot McLemee,
  20. (The Century Foundation)
  21. “The Generation Beyond Print-on-Paper,” Michael Kleper. A Research Monograph of the Printing Industry Center at Rochester Institute of Technology. September 2002, No. PICRM-2002-01.
  22. “The Platform: The Future of Books, Spring Edition,” Peter Osnos. April 7, 2009. The Century Foundation.
  23. “The Role of Electronic Publishing and Print-On_Demand”, Lawrence McGill. The Connexious Project.
  24. “The Original ‘For a Fee’ Print-On-Demand Publisher Database,” Dehanna Bailee. 2001-2009.
  25. “Unbound: Publishers worry as new technologies transform their industry”, The Economist, June 5, 2008.
  26. “University Publishing In A Digital Age”, Laura Brown, Rebecca Griffins, Matthew Rascoff. An Ithaka Report, July 26, 2007.

POD Resources:

  1. Publish Your Photography Book. Darius D. Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson. Princeton Architectural Press. 2011.
  2. How to Make & Publish a Photobook. Chris Dickie. Picture-Box Media, 2008.
  3. Creating Digital Photobooks: How to Design and Self-Publish Your Own Books, Albums and Exhibition Catalogues. Tim Daly. Aurum Press, 2010.
  4. Print-on-Demand Book Publishing: A New Approach To Printing And Marketing Books For Publishers And Self-Publishing Authors. Morris Rosenthal. Foner Books, 2004.
  5. Selecting a Print-on-Demand Company: Comparing CreateSpace and Lightning Source for POD Self-Publishing. Kevin Sivils. A Southern Family Publishing, 2011.