Guy Kawasaki has been a constant presence at publishing events since launching APE: Author, Publisher, Entrpreneur (featured here along with my interview with Kawasaki: APE-ing Your Book with Guy Kawasaki [Audio]).
After the interview, I forwarded to Guy and his co-author, Shawn Welch, a bunch of suggestions. Guy had solicited feedback on the book all through the development of the manuscript, and told me in the interview he intended to keep improving the book regularly.
So I wasn’t all that surprised at what happened next. I pointed out there was virtually nothing in his book about offset printing. It’s nice to think we can do all our books as Kindle ebooks or CreateSpace paperbacks, but that’s a very limited slice of the publishing pie.
Even today, most books sold in the U.S. are printed offset, and self-publishers have been doing offset books for decades.
After going back and forth, Guy asked me to write a contribution for the book. I really admire his process, which seems open to all legitimate input. That’s pretty unusual.
I highly recommend the book, it’s a valuable resource for any self-publisher. And if you buy it today, you’ll find it includes this primer on offset printing.
Guest Topic: Offset Printing for Self-Publishers, by Joel Friedlander
Guy Kawasaki: Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) is an award-winning book designer, a blogger, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. He’s been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994, and he also writes TheBookDesigner.com, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book. Joel is also the founder of the online training course, The Self-Publishing Roadmap.
When Joel read APE, he pointed out that it did not cover offset printing. My response was, “When would a self-publisher ever use offset printing since print-on-demand (PoD) works so well?” This contribution is his answer.
Joel Friedlander: Digital book printing and print on demand (PoD) started a rush to self-publishing on the part of thousands of writers, memoirists, hobbyists, and home cooks. Guy and Shawn have explained how to use this great technology for print books.
PoD fits the “Amazon model” of book retailing really well, where millions of title are potentially available at any time. When books become files stored on a server, ready for one-off printing and fulfillment, you’ve got a seamless process that takes your book from order to delivery.
However, print on demand only accounts for a small percentage of all the books sold each year (albeit many self-published titles today do start out as print on demand). Most books are still printed by offset printing, an entirely different technology with different vendors and methods of distribution. In offset, books are printed by huge printing presses on enormous sheets of paper in a factory environment.
While print on demand usually produces one book at a time, offset printing can produce thousands of books in a single print run. Depending on the number of books created, the cost per book is usually cheaper using offset printing. In most cases, offset printing produces a higher quality book (especially with color photos), and there are more options available for paper choices, trim sizes, and cover finishing.
(In fact, Lightning Source automatically switches over to offset printing for softcover books whenever an order is received for more than 1,500 copies. So even POD companies see a benefit in offset printing for large orders.)
At the end of the day, offset printing sounds like a win-win: cheaper unit costs, higher quality, and more options. So why don’t more indie authors start out with offset printing? The simple answer is in order to take advantage of offset printing you need to be prepared to invest in a short print run order of your book. Many offset printers require a minimum order, which means you as the author could spend more than $2,000 printing hundreds of copies of your book before you start selling them. Print on demand allows authors to print books as they’re sold. Offset printing requires you pay for the print costs up front, and sell books out of a fulfillment warehouse, or your garage.
With that said, here are some great scenarios where artisanal publishers often choose offset printing over print on demand:
- Art books or cook books. Books that need high quality reproduction of art photography, painting, drawing, or any visual arts. Reproduction quality is outstanding and if you print overseas prices are within reach.
- Books with inserts. Many travel, history, and natural science books, among others, use photos to help tell their story. While you can’t easily mix high quality text with high quality photo reproduction in digital printing, with offset, it’s easy. Each part of the book is printed separately on appropriate paper, and is then bound together.
- Books with unusual size or paper. CreateSpace allows you to print on any trim size, but custom sizes can only be sold on Amazon.com—Lightning Source only offers industry standards. Offset printing allows you to print on any size paper like CreateSpace, but since you control fulfillment, you can sell them anywhere. Be advised, however, some companies like Barnes and Noble may require books be a certain size to be stocked on shelves[SW1] .
- Special Sales. Since offset printing is optimized for print run orders, any time you have an order larger than 200 units you may consider offset printing. For example, if you used a Kickstarter to fund your book and pre-sold 500 copies to backers, using offset printing to fulfill those orders gives you more profit per book than print on demand.
- Bestsellers. If you’re lucky enough to have a bestseller with copies flying off the shelves, you’re probably more comfortable with investing $5,000 of your profits so you can have an extra 1,000 copies standing by to fulfill orders. You make more money per book by using offset printing, you fulfill orders faster because books are printed 1,000 at a time, and your risk is lower than a new author because you already know the book is selling.
Finding and Working With Offset Printers
If you find you have one of those books that needs to be printed offset, your best move is to get a professional on your team. Book designers are familiar with the excellent short-run book printers in the United States. Many of these printers have also started to add digital printing equipment so they can offer the best of both worlds.
Here are some tips for working with offset printers.
- Hire a professional book designer. Safeguard your investment by having an expert handle the technical side and suggest book printers for you. She can also communicate with the printer and guide the project through press. This is especially true for books that demand high-quality reproduction.
- Get help from local publishing groups. If you want to do the job yourself, you can still get lots of help from local publishing groups in your area or from the Independent Book Publishers Association.
- Don’t print your book at a local commercial printer. Use a book printer, not a local commercial printer. Although your local printer may tell you they know how to print books, you’re going to get a better-quality book at a lower price from one of the excellent short-run book manufacturers in the U.S. [SW2]
- Create a “Request for Quotation” (RFQ) and get prices from at least three printers. The RFQ will thoroughly describe the book you want to create and the information on it will form the basis for the printers’ bids. This is an important exercise because it forces you to create a description of your book and communicate that information to the printer. Some printers will allow you to do this right on their website by simply filling out a form, but you’ll still need to know the specialized language that printers and publishers use to create specifications for book manufacturing. For more information about estimates, be sure to read “Understanding Book Printing Estimates for Self-Publishers, Part 1.”
- Include shipping and storage charges. The lower cost of offset-printed books comes with added responsibilities. Now you’ll have to have your books shipped to you, and you need to store them to.
Working with an author-services company like CreateSpace, or a print-on-demand company like Lightning Source, is much easier than putting together a team and finding an offset printer that is right for you. But, as we’ve highlighted there are times when you need to deal with offset printing to get the most out of your project. The simple truth is that print on demand isn’t for everyone. (But then, neither is offset printing!)
An additional great resource on book printing including an annotated list of printers is “Top 101 Book Printers.”
Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links use my affiliate code.