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Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Print-on-Demand really a bad idea?

I just read this article, the title of which is "7 Things to think about before you go with Print on Demand."

I'm all for thinking before leaping. In fact, there are those who would accuse me of over-preparedness.

But my reading of the "7 Things" article is that its author doesn't believe there is ANY good reason to POD publish. I disagree.

Let's look at a few realities that are, indeed, important to consider before you self-publish -- whether POD or via a traditional printer:

1) Don't be guilty of "author discrimination." POD publishing has made it possible for ANYONE to publish a book. The natural result is a dilution in the overall quality of the books being published -- when taken in aggregate. But let's not practice author discrimination by generalizing about the quality of writing in POD books. There are some POD's out there that would compete on every level with many NY Times Best Sellers. They just tend to get lost among the rabble. There are actually MORE GOOD BOOKS out there right now then ever before. Don't discard a book just because it's POD.

2) Publishing costs. "7 Things" says:

"These [POD] companies aren’t really publishers just because they take your book and create digital copies for you. They are printers.

"If they are printers, then they are really charging too much. And, they have control of your book and can charge you 40-50% commission before you get multiple copies of your book. If you go Print on Demand, it’s much better to go with a POD printer such as where you maintain full control of the book."

I'm not familiar with But I have researched various traditional printers and their costs. Traditional printing is not cheap. And you really need to order AT LEAST a couple thousand dollars worth of your book before you know if you'll be able to sell any. The per book cost will not be cheaper than a good POD service. And the quality will not be better than a good POD service. The commission the author mentions should only be charged when your POD printer also markets your book. I don't pay a commission to get author copies of my POD book. My book has a color cover and is a 300 page 6 x 9 perfect-bound trade paperback. I pay $4.37 each -- in ANY quantity. Average shipping cost for my book is $.56 per copy.

Once your book has been printed and shipped to you, a traditional printer is out of the picture. But my POD printer also offers me sales connections. They're not mandatory. But they do cost something by way of commission, should I choose to pursue them. Usually my net take on books sold through my printer is about 30% -- twice what a large publishing house would pay me.

Even when my book is resold through wholesalers like Ingram, my take is still over 15% -- and I have no up-front costs in those sales. I don't need to worry about order-taking, or fulfillment, or non-paying accounts. That's what I pay the extra commission for.

If I want to take my $4.37 books and arrange my own sales channels, I am welcome to do so. And in some cases, that is a part of my sales strategy. But what I typically find is, retailers want a 40% discount off of list. Now with my upfront book cost of about $5.00 including shipping, and the retailer's 40% discount off my book's $15.95 list price, I make less than the 30% I would have made through some of my "printer's" wholesale channels.

So POD gives me choices I wouldn't have otherwise had, with less initial investment, less risk, and less hassle. Huh . . . imagine that.

3) Book Sales. "7 Things" cautions us to "make sure you can sell this book before you spend time and money with Print on Demand."

Personally, I don't find this admonition very helpful. If we KNEW we could sell our book, wouldn't that mean that we already had a contract to sell it? It's sort of cart-before-the-horse thinking.

I would respond that, since we don't know that our book will sell, we should minimize our upfront costs and not spend thousands (or tens of thousands) on traditional printing, when we could spend only a few hundred on POD.

I have a good friend who tells me about his experience self-publishing his book using a traditional printer.

"It's a million seller," he says. "I've got a million in my cellar."

I don't know about you, but I'd rather stick my toe in before I throw my whole self into the pot.

In summary, please go read the above article to receive it's author's unedited sentiments. Then you can for yourself decide if POD makes sense.

Disclaimer: I get no remuneration whatsoever from any POD company and will not benefit financially in any way from the content of this blog. It's all just my humble opinion.

Best regards.


  1. Great post John. You made a lot of good points and I agree with all of them. There are a few limitations with print on demand, from a creative perspective but I had no problem working around them. Unfortunately the quality of print on demand is being judged by the quality of many self-published books which tend to have low, low production values.

    From my perspective, POD technology is liberating and I believe the cream will naturally rise to the top as audiences become increasingly connected and vocal online.

    Best regards,
    Wanda Shapiro

  2. Thanks for commenting Wanda.

    I think you and I would agree that traditional publishing is still something to be pursued. But self-pub can't be disregarded as a legitimate option. There are A LOT of VERY GOOD self-pubs out there among A VERY LOT of poor quality efforts.

    I've been trying to differentiate my book by garnering independent reviews. We'll see if that can lead to some level of bona fides, and then maybe some blog or media coverage.

    That's my hope anyway.

    If you have any creative self-pub tips, please let me know. I would happily include them in this blog and on Twitter.

    All the best! John

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