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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is Print on Demand Really a Bad Idea?

Back in May, 2010, I blogged this post about POD printing. At the time I had just read an article mentioned below that was extremely critical of POD printing. I wrote some things back in May's post that I re-read the other day and I think they're worthy of another mention for my new followers.

Here's the post. I hope you find it useful.

May, 2010

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. Thanks for this post. I am seriously considering POD publishing, chapbook-length poetry and prose, but am befuddled by it all; publishing choice and formatting issues, of course.

  2. abitosunshine,

    Thanks for stopping by. There are many decisions to be made...but you can do it. When you get to specific questions, email me if you want my suggestions. My email address can be found on my home page at



  3. Wow, five bucks? What company are you using?

    Thanks for this rebuttal. It helps me remember why I decided to do it, when so many pros or would-be-pros don't think it's a good idea.

  4. KD,

    Thanks for stopping by. I use CreateSpace and pay the $36 up front for their "Pro Package." That reduces the author cost of books substantially.

    All the best!


  5. Thank you for this post. I've been researching the option to indie pub. So, your cost per book with CreateSpace is $4.37?

  6. Linda.

    That is correct. My author cost for the particular book in question is $4.37 per book, plus shipping to my destination. In quantities of 50 or more, shipping costs are about $.50 per book.

    You can also go through the motions of signing up your book for CS without ever committing to them. Then you would know the exact royalties, costs, etc. for your specific book. Until you publish your FINISHED book you're not obligated to publish through them. But you can get all the details.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  7. Nice! I've published a book with Create Space too, for an experiment, even tho I'm also trying for a traditional publisher. I'm happy with the quality and the set-up.

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