Print or print-on-demand?

Print or POD?Authors often ask me whether they should get a quantity of books printed or simply sign up with a print-on-demand (POD) company and avoid the cost of printing altogether. Which choice is right for you?

Working with a book printer
You can choose to have your book printed by a printer. A reputable printer will provide you with a quote and samples of other books they’ve printed. Your book can be printed digitally or on an offset printing press, depending on the quantity you require. Some printers offer both; some do not.

When your book is printed at a book printer, it usually means you’ll be handling your own fulfillment. This includes storing your supply of books and keeping your booksellers (stores and distributors) stocked with your book. You’ll receive checks, money orders, and credit card payments (perhaps in different currencies) from your customers and readers, and ship your books as they are ordered.

Handling your own printing can really have benefits if you don’t mind the extra work of fulfillment, and if you enjoy having direct contact with your customers and readers.

  • your time: this is the most time-consuming way to print your book as you handle every aspect of your book’s sales and distribution
  • cost: printing is cost-effective, you can choose the quality and size of your print run to suit your budget
  • benefit: you have direct contact with your customers
  • quality: you choose the quality of your book based on your requirements and budget
  • book price: you set your book’s price based on your costs
  • shipping: you handle all your book storage, sales, distribution, and shipping

Print-on-demand (POD)
POD companies offer several packages, depending on how many or few services you require. A basic package will include getting your digital files set up, providing you with some copies of your book, and selling your book through an online book seller such as Amazon. (Many POD companies also offer POD publishing in which their ISBN number is used on your book, but here I’m discussing just using their services as a printer and distributor.)

When your book is ordered online, the POD company prints a copy of the book, ships it to the buyer, and deposits your portion of the sale proceeds to your account.

  • your time: you won’t spend any time on printing, fulfillment, or shipping
  • cost: relatively low because you’re not paying for printing or shipping (each book will be printed after it is ordered and paid for by your reader)
  • benefit: lower startup costs, fast publishing (could be within three or four weeks)
  • quality: book quality can vary, limited choice of book size and paper thickness
  • book price: POD companies set higher prices for POD books, and take a percentage for both printing and distribution. Therefore you’ll keep a much smaller portion of the book’s selling price (for a thick book, you may only get $1 or so per book)
  • shipping: POD companies handle all shipping

In summary
As you can see, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of each method of printing and decide which one best suits your lifestyle and budget. Some authors enjoy taking orders for their books and shipping them, as it puts them in direct contact with their readers (and perhaps gives them an opportunity to build an email list and sell some of their other products or services). Other authors prefer to have someone else look after all the details, particularly if they travel a lot or live in a small space with limited storage.

Before you decide, be sure to shop around. Make sure the printer or POD company you choose is reputable, and that you feel comfortable working with them. And don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions.