For Colorado-based Pioneer Drama, ensuring the availability of its small list of trade titles is tricky. Thankfully, for one of its most popular books, Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out, a guide to improv by comedy instructor Mick Napier, the guesswork has been removed. The book, which has been in Ingram's Guaranteed Availability Program (GAP) since its release in 2015, has been ordered in bulk from time to time. Thanks to GAP, all those orders have been seamlessly fulfilled.

"The demand has been up and down," explains Karen Bullock, book-department coordinator at Pioneer Drama. GAP ensures that Ingram will always have copies on hand through print-on-demand. "Although Ingram fully stocks the title, we've seen our larger orders go through the Guaranteed Availability Program," Bullock says. "We just wouldn't have been able to get [an offset printing] out fast enough."

Kelly Gallagher, v-p of content acquisition at Ingram, says that GAP is ideal for publishers who "are unsure what the demand for a title will be in the market." He adds, "It's kind of like an insurance program; it lets us spring into action when we run out of stock."

Ingram now has POD programs for the entire life cycle of the book. In addition to GAP, Ingram also has an on-demand option for publishers to slot titles into before they do an offset print run. Books can remain in Ingram's GAP as long as they're stocked in Ingram's inventory. When a book slides into backlist and demand drops, it can then go into Ingram's print-to-order program. Instead of letting a book fall out of print, the print-to-order option allows a publisher to fulfill unexpected long-tail sales.

While production costs for POD copies are slightly higher than offset, Gallagher points out that in terms of overall revenue, adding GAP is the best option. A recent study by Ingram, Gallagher notes, looked at a group of titles in GAP and a similar group not in GAP, and found that those in GAP captured more sales.

For publishers, two of the most common causes of unexpected sales spikes are media attention and awards. If a suddenly hot book isn't available immediately, sales are lost. Amy Cox Williams, director of content management at Ingram, says that through GAP, Ingram can get a publisher's titles to retail right away.

"We had a publisher with a major award winner last year who put the title in GAP and, in 48 hours, we were able to ensure it continued to sell for the following weeks," Williams says.

There are other unanticipated events that also drive sales and require immediate availability of copies. "We had one publisher with a number of titles in our Guaranteed Availability Program and one day we got an order from a library that needed a few hundred units of the title," Williams says. "The library needed to spend the money on this order quickly, so if the book had not been in GAP the sale likely would have been lost to another publisher. The library would have had to select another book."

"What publishers need to remember is that this is incremental margin that might have otherwise been missed," Gallagher says. He acknowledges that doing only offset printing may seem logical, since it's a cheaper option than POD. But what publishers gain in those cost savings will likely be lost in uncaptured future sales.

"Publishers often forget that as soon as a title goes out of stock, its availability drops to zero," Gallagher continues. "Most retailers live in a fill-it-or-kill-it world; they don't usually accept backorders. So while it is more expensive to print a POD title, this option maintains demand. With POD, for both frontlist and backlist, you can maintain the demand curve while you wait for less expensive inventory."

Williams recommends that publishers unsure about the pluses of POD test the waters. "Pick 20–30 titles and do a pilot program with us," she says. "If a publisher is interested in working with us, we will work with them on their stocking strategy."