How Print-on-Demand Book Distribution Works

by | Dec 3, 2009

A new way of printing and distributing books

A new way of printing
and distributing books

We’ve all heard about it, we talk about it, we call it by the wrong name, but do you really know how print-on-demand book distribution works? You will by the end of this article.

I’ve written in an earlier post about the confusion over the terminology commonly used to describe print on demand book distribution, but let’s describe it briefly before we get to the actual processes involved.

Print on demand is a book distribution method made possible by, and inseparable from, digital printing. It prints books only in response to orders, and only prints the exact amount ordered. Due to the capabilities of digital printing, print on demand is capable of filling an order for one book profitably.

But how does print on demand work?

The Publisher’s Side of the Print on Demand Equation

Print on demand suppliers, like Lightning Source, maintain databases of books on behalf of their publisher clients. Publishers submit books to the print on demand supplier (PODS) in the form of two files for each book: one digital file for the book interior and one digital file for the cover.

When the files first arrive they are logged into the PODS’s system, examined for technical errors, and a proof copy of the book is created for the publisher to review. Once the publisher signs off on the proof, the book is listed by the PODS throughout its distribution channels including booksellers, other offline and online retailers, chain stores, library suppliers, and in some cases exporters.

Advantages for the publishers include:

  • eliminates the need to keep books in inventory;
  • allows books without substantial sales to stay in print;
  • vastly reduces the investment needed to maintain a large backlist;
  • eliminates the waste and expense of pulping thousands of unsold books.

Disadvantages for the publishers are:

  • digitially printed books cost more per unit than books printed offset;
  • digital printing is not efficient for books that will sell in volume;
  • digitial printing’s quality and flexibility of formats is not as good as offset printing.

The Distribution Chain

The title is now listed for sale to all wholesalers and retail outlets. If the book is of sufficient interest it may be stocked in advance of orders. In this case, these “preordered” books do not differ from books produced and distributed by other means. The advantage in the distribution chain is that any number of books, even a very small number, can be ordered for restocking at any time.

However, the title may not be stocked in the distribution chain at all, but remain as a listing available for order.

The Book Buyer

An interested buyer may find the book in an online listing, for instance at an online retailer such as Amazon.com or BN.com. The buyer places an order and, if the book is not physically stocked at the retailer’s warehouse, the order is sent back up the distribution chain to the PODS.

Computers at the PODS pull the correct files for the book’s cover and interior text block and send them to the appropriate digital printers. The two parts may bear barcodes that allow the PODS printing system to automatically match the cover correctly to the interior.

The two elements come together in the automated binding process, where the back of the book is trimmed and the cover glued onto the spine. The entire book is then trimmed to size and is ready for shipment to the retailer who placed the order, or, in some cases, directly to the customer.

This tightly integrated supply chain is a basic feature of the print on demand book distribution model. It allows books to be printed for a consistent unit cost regardless of how many are ordered.

The Revolution is Live

Commercial digital printing has given us the print on demand book distribution model, and it is in the process of changing the book publishing industry.

Although most books are still printed by offset, print on demand makes it unnecessary to invest thousands of dollars in printed books before a market for the book is established. In some cases this eliminates much of the economic risk involved in book publishing.

If good quality manuscripts—or previously printed books—are available, there is little reason to not put them into distribution. And for small publishers, independent publishers and self publishers, print on demand book distribution has democratized the publishing process. As more book buying moves online, this effect should be more and more pronounced.

Combined with a rapid acceptance of ebooks, print on demand promises to change the book publishing landscape forever.

We’ve now followed a book from publisher to print on demand supplier, through the distribution chain to the final book buyer, and back again. If you have any questions or comments on this process, please leave them in the comments area. I look forward to hearing from you.

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65 Comments

  1. Jack

    I have been informed that Print On Demand books will not be purchased by bookstores because they cannot return the books that are not sold as they would with a normal book distributor. Even public libraries are reluctant to purchase the print on demand books. What can be done to relieve the risk that bookstores must endure? That’s the answer to POD distribution, especially in the worldwide arena.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jack, this depends on your print on demand vendor. For example, I publish with Ingram Lightning Source, where you can choose to make your books returnable or not, so it’s really up to you. Libraries are more likely to select books based on whether the subjects they address are covered by other books, are of interest to their readers, or other strictly editorial criteria.

      Reply
  2. David

    If I were to set up a POD service for books sold on my own website, how would I do this? Would my web developer have to set up some sort of notifier to the POD distributor every time a hard-copy book is sold, or would I have to manually make an order with the POD distributor whenever an order comes in?

    Hope someone can clear this up for me soon, before my website goes live. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  3. Al

    Thank you very much for the great article. If someone self publishes, does the PODS charge a royalty when the book sells, or is it simply a flat fee for printing?

    Thanks for your consideration.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      HI Al,

      They just deduct the printing cost from the net revenue from the retailer.

      Reply
  4. Frank Gerace

    I have a book of 250 pages and cover all proofed and formatted. Unfortunately it has about 5 pages that have color LINE drawings – NOT 4 color. Any ideas where I can get this done POD with placement on amazon and some other distribution channels? I really appreciate any leads you guys can give me. Frank

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    In a nutshell you have taught me a new language! That of producing a book! I am so happy to have found you!
    I have written a memoir which I want published for my family only – I do not want to sell it. From you I have learned what paper, font, binding etc etc I would like…..now I need a publisher of small books!
    Any suggestions? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Bob Hesselberth

      I was very happy with CreateSpace, an arm of Amazon. My memoir, Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tail, is available on Amazon for anyone to buy, but I can order author’s copies for much less for my family or for promotional purposes. CreateSpace guides you through the process, and the most onerous chore for the author is doing the formatting. Even that is made simpler on the CreateSpace website. They show you the book onscreen as it will look when you push the GO button.
      -Bob Hesselberth

      Reply
  6. James Jean-Pierre

    Great article. I didn’t think I needed to know much about POD from what i’v read, but this proved me wrong, glad I landed on it. Thank you

    Reply
  7. daythinguyen@yahoo.com

    Hi Dennis,

    I was reading your comment and I was wondering if you ever got Amazon and Lulu’s “mess” sorted out? I’m new to self publishing and your story history with Amazon and Lulu sounds like a history I could really learn from. I am a little confused by the distribution of your book. If your book was with Lulu, how can Amazon sell your book? Did you upload your book to Amazon as well to sell your book there? and if so, why would Amazon have to buy it from Lulu. Then, once you get down to the ” Used book affiliates” and everybody else taking there share of your book, it sounds like your wouldn’t make any profit but maybe even be in the negative.

    Hope to hear from you soon thanks a bunch.

    Cheers,
    Day

    Reply
  8. daythinguyen@yahoo.com

    thank you for the post. it was very helpful. I am very new to self publishing and want to publish a children’s book. though I am wondering when you say one file for the book interior and one file for the book cover, does the book interior include the interior sides of the book cover or should that file be part of the book cover. because when I go to the LS site for a quote, it asks for the number of pages and I don’t know what to put type in. Do I put 38 pages not including the cover or do I put 42 for each side of the cover page? Thank you so much. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Daythinguyen, the page count is only the interior pages and has nothing to do with the cover. Most print on demand suppliers won’t be able to print on the inside of the covers in any event.

      Reply
  9. Scott Pfeiffer

    Thanks Joel. That makes good business sense. They would be pretty foolish to operate otherwise.

    Reply
  10. scott

    @Robert, when you get answers to this, please share ([email protected]). Thanks

    Reply
  11. Robert Rioux

    Or, could I for example try to self-publish in Canada (Smaller market) and if it doesn’t work I try a publisher for the US and rest of the world?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Robert (and Scott),

      Book publishers, editors and agents are looking for books that will make a profit. This frequently depends on the ability of the author to sell books. When you self-publish, you provide evidence of whether you have this ability or not. Keep in mind that many novels sell quite well with little marketing, but it’s not the rule. If your book sells well, publishers will be interested. If it doesn’t sell, they much less likely to be interested.

      Reply
  12. Robert Rioux

    There’s something I have been trying to find out everywhere but I couldn’t find the answer. What if you try to self-publish but it doesn’t work very well because it turns out that you may be a good writer but your marketing skill are… let’s say, mediocre. Is it still possible after that to go see a publisher and try to do business with them or they are going to say: just too bad, you should have come to us first?

    Cheers,

    Robert

    Reply
    • Tim

      As long as you maintain the rights to the book, another publisher can make an offer and pick it up at anytime.

      Reply
  13. Scott Pfeiffer

    Hi,
    I like what I have read on this site regarding how PODS works. I am a first time writer/author and have found the traditional publishing part of all of this to be more difficult andmorecostly than the writing process.

    My book is complete. I have the book in .jpg format and a 8.5 x 5.5 .jpg of the cover, spine, and back as well. I am ready to go. Please tell me more regarding how I can get this going.

    I would like to print them all in paperback. The book is 513 pages. The book is a biography titled “The Antisocial Manifesto” and I would like to be known as “The Author”. I have already undergone extensive social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, WordPress, Flickr, Pinterest, and a link to the book via Dropbox (for a limited time). And I am receiving more followers everyday with a promise (“Coming to paperback soon”). Hits to my WordPress blog demostrate a wide range of countries around the world. And the most popular hit in Pinterest is to the temporary free book link.

    Currently, If you type in “The Antisocial Manifesto” into a google search, my work will appear 2nd and 4th on the list. One question I have is how much would an 8.5 x 5.5 book cost the consumer and how much would I receive per book?

    Thank you for your feedback.

    Scott Pfeiffer

    Reply
    • Michele DeFilippo

      Hello, Scott: You say you have the book in .jpg format and it’s 513 pages. Did you lay out the interior yourself? In my experience, authors who lay out their own books wind up with a much higher page count (and higher printing costs) than they would if they had hired a designer to professionally typeset the interior. Also, POD printers will require a PDF file, not a .jpg, to manufacture your book. I recommend LightningSource.com for POD printing and extended distribution, but first, make sure your book looks like a real book by hiring a book designer for the interior and cover (and consider other services as well, such as editing and proofreading) so that your book will get good reviews. It only takes a few negative reviews to chase away buyers for good.

      Michele DeFilippo, owner
      1106Design.com
      Book Design and Self-Publishing Advice. With Hand-Holding. Great Reviews Start Here.

      Reply
      • Scot Pfeiffer

        I was a sleepy knucklehead last night. I meant both files were complete in a PDF format. The cover, spine, and back is in an 8.5 x 5.5 format. And the book is written in 12 font, Times New Roman, 1.5 spaced. I had it edited already and I thought I was ready.

        The attached link to a website is to my drop box. If you are able, could you scroll to page 20 or so and tell me if that looks like the appropriate typeset? I googled this term and I think I understood its significance.

        Thanks for your speedy reply. And I am really glad I came across you guys. After seeing all the fees from traditional publishing, I almost quit (which is why I posted it on the net for free).

        Thanks again,

        Scott

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Scott, since your book is already typeset and ready to go I suggest you go to createspace.com and have them print it, their prices are very reasonable. Good luck.

          Reply
          • Scott Pfeiffer

            @ Michele and Joel, if I failed to say so, already, thanks for your feedback. My final product looks great. Now I am facing the problem that Robert Rioux is facing: how to market successfully. I am also going to publish to all e-books because my paperback (576 pages) costs $19.40 (not including S/H). Ouch. I’m not even sure I would pay that for a book by a no-name author.

  14. Michele DeFilippo

    As Dan Poynter says, the self-publishing companies have “hijacked” the self-publishing industry. You shouldn’t use templates from Lulu or anyone else, and you should NEVER use their ISBN numbers to publish your book.

    Self-publishing doesn’t mean self-designing and self-editing. The results are usually abysmal. Hire an editor and a designer. Get your own ISBNs, and obtain POD printing, distribution, and fulfillment (included extended distribution) from LightningSource.com. Self-publishing means you, yourSELF are the publisher, and publishers have always hired experts to craft beautiful books.

    If you can’t afford these things, (or more accurately, think you’re the exception who can fool buyers into accepting an inferior product) then you shouldn’t publish until you can amass the necessary funds, period. POD companies don’t give a damn if you sell one book. They just want to up-sell you on worthless marketing packages. Due to their search engine dominance, tens of thousands of authors have been reeled in and subsequently disappointed while an army of small companies and individual experts who CAN help them craft a beautiful book must spend their time trying to educate the world about things that used to be understood.

    For more information, visit http://1106design.com and download our free eBook: Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing, and an Insider’s Look at a Misunderstood Industry.

    Buyers understand quality and when they don’t get it, they’ll retaliate with bad reviews on Amazon that cannot be expunged. Please don’t allow the “POD Publishers” to kill your dreams.

    Reply
  15. Angela

    Is it true that with POD you have to sign over the rights of the layout to Lulu and Createspace in the form of templates? In other words all illustrations become the property of POD companies?

    Reply
  16. Mary DeDanan

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for posting so much useful information on your site. I’m a professional editor and writer, now in the early stages of becoming an independent micro-publisher (that is, self-publishing three titles for a good friend). My author is talented, his topic is unique, I’m a fabulous copy editor/proofreader with moderate design skills and years of niche marketing experience. (We’d be interested in hiring your polished design/layout skills when we get to that stage.) So far, all good. But I’m boggled by the new printing and distribution processes. I’ve been dipping my toes into the cold rapids and am quickly over my head. It’s not that I don’t understand what I’m reading, but there are SO many choices and options and cons and claims. How to sort it all out and get it right the first time?

    Is there such a thing as a Consumer Reports-equivalent for PODs? We are leaning to Lightning Source, but after reading your blog, above, I’m concerned about quality. We have original art for our three planned covers, truly gorgeous work that would be ruined by off colors or bad registration.

    LS’s web site, as of April 2012, claims it prints colors perfectly. Your regular commentator, Michael N. Marcus, wrote somewhere on his blog that he thought the quality of LS’s covers was sucky, and said even worse about LuLu. Meanwhile, I found this very useful comparison on the National Writers’ Union site, but it’s five years old: http://wwwriters.com/podhome.htm
    Do you know of anything similar, with more current info? Or maybe it’s a hot topic for your next blog?!

    It looks like you send your clients to Lightning Source. Is that because of their print quality, their distribution network, their pricing, or…? Are there other serious contenders? (It would be nice to find a POD/distribution company closer to home. We’re in the north Bay Area — a bit up the map from you, actually.) And how do you find LS’s ebook conversion services? Would we do better to go to an independent ebook maker like these folks? http://ebookarchitects.com/index.php

    I have other questions about distribution options too, but I’ll look for another, more appropriate thread on your site.

    Thanks for your insights!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Mary,

      Keep in mind this article was written at the end of 2009, and a lot of things have changed since then. I’ve sent many books to LSI for clients and I’ve been very happy with the quality. It’s important to remember that digital printing is not the same as offset printing, and cannot produce the exact same results.

      In my opinion the POD books I’ve seen recently are excellent and unless the interior of your book heavily relies on the reproduction of graphics, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them. Having said this, it’s impossible to make a blanket recommendation because each book and each author are different. What works for one book could be a disaster for another.

      I’ve been sending single-book authors to CreateSpace.com, the Amazon subsidiary, for POD since they are easier to deal with, offer more support services and charge about the same for printing as LSI.

      Check Mick Rooney’s blog for his extensive reviews and index of companies that serve self-publishers. The only POD I know of in Northern California is Fast Pencil, but I wouldn’t rely on proximity as a reason to hire/not hire a POD company, since it’s largely irrelevant.

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
  17. Rhapsodie McClintick

    Would you please share your suggestions on how an individual with a wonderful book, limited resources, and limited free time, can work to publish and market a book to the audience that will buy the material. I have set up a blog for an author’s book, and there is a partnership in the works to share the book with the world, but we are all trying to find the least time expensive method for the most success. For ex. the author desires to remain anoymous, how can we do this, is it better to use a self-publishing source, or some business like lightning source.

    Reply
  18. Robert Okin

    Dear Joel,

    I have just completed writing a book of photographs and first person narratives of homeless, mentally ill people in San Francisco, with an extended introduction and conclusion focusing on the social stigma attached to this group of people. I had intended to use a POD approach to publishing it. I have printed copies through Blurb and Amazon’s Create Space. The quality of Blurb was high, but so was its cost ($100 for a 200 page book). Create Space is clearly not designed for photography. The quality is low.

    Do you know of any POD publishing houses that might print a photography book at high quality but reasonable cost? How does Lulu compare to Blurb in this respect?

    There are several printing companies in Southeast Asia that print photography books with high quality at low cost. These sell retail in bookstores at $30, but these are printed using an offset process, which I recognize can print at higher quality than POD. Do you know of any companies in that part of the world that use a POD approach, without sacrificing quality.

    If I can’t find a suitable POD publisher, I’ll have to sadly give up my wish that this be a “coffee table book,” and instead use an e book approach. Do you know of any e-photography books I could use as a point of reference?

    Also, are e books generally read on e book readers or on computer screens? I’m assuming the first, which works better because my book is in a portrait format. The landscape format of a computer screen wouldn’t work as well.

    Thanks for your help.

    With best regards,

    Bob

    Robert Okin, MD
    Professor Emeritus, Psychiatry
    UCSF School of Medicine

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Robert,

      Thanks for the inquiry. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any suppliers who are able to delivery print on demand color printing at anywhere near the price needed to sell the resulting books in the retail channel. These books are still salable, but the price is high and the markup low. A PDF e-book would work well, and you would eliminate all the problems and costs of printing. To get decent offset prices, you will need to print in Asia and probably use a designer or print broker to best arrange this.

      Hope that helps, even though it isn’t good news.

      Reply
    • Neill Thompson

      Hi Robert,

      You might want to look at a service like Kodak’s oFoto, Shutterfly or HP’s SnapFish. While I haven’t used any of these services, they have a facility to produce books from photos. There may be enough flexibility for you to create that coffee table book.

      Since they centre their service around photography I would expect the quality of the printed book to be better than some other POD companies.

      Cost per copy may still be a factor here, though, as this service would tend to be aimed more at the novelty market.

      Either way, it is certainly worth looking into.

      Good luck,
      Neill.

      Reply
  19. Anthony

    Dear Joel,

    Here is the main dilemma I see with publishers of POD — at least the one I’m currently negotiating with. The company will not be physically displaying any copies of my book in any bookstores. The book will be listed only on the websites of Amazon and BN. Now here is my question: how the heck will anybody know that the book even exists if they can’t see it in a bookstore? Are there large numbers of potential book shoppers out there who scan the Amazon pages for new releases — and then buy them sight-unseen? I, personally, don’t know anybody who buys their books this way. Here’s another question I have about my publisher. He has “published” around 20 books, which he features on his company’s website. Now, assuming that he sells maybe 20 copies of each (mainly to friends and family of the author)…how does he make any money?

    I would appreciate your input on these matters.

    Reply
    • Michael N. Marcus

      To Anthony:

      I’m not Joel, but I will reply.

      If you are going to use POD, the normal assumption is that you will forget about sales at terrestrial bookstores, except for special orders, and instead concentrate on sales through online booksellers. Physical bookstores are becoming less important every day, as their number decreases and online sales of both pBooks and eBooks increase.

      I buy a great many books on Amazon.com without having seen the physical books. I buy because Amazon suggests books to me, or because I search for a subject, author or a specific title. If I hear an author interviewed on NPR and want the book, I don’t have to touch it before I place an order.

      If you have a nonfiction book, it should be found by people searching for the topic, whether it is ravioli making, bungee jumping or Iowa history.

      If your book is fiction, poetry or a memoir (and you’re not famous), sales depend almost entirely on your promotional efforts. Nonfiction books should be promoted also.

      I would be suspicious of a publisher that will get your books on only its site (which will sell no copies unles you send people there), plus Amazon and B&N. While Amazon and B&N are the most important online booksellers, most POD books are available from dozens of online booksellers worldwide.

      As for your question about how the company makes money, the answer is probably very simple. It makes money by selling often-overpriced services and trinkets to authors — not by selling books to readers.

      Michael N. Marcus
      http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
      http://www.Self-Pub.info
      — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
      — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Anthony,

      Since you don’t name the company, it’s difficult to determine whether this is a good deal for you or not.

      However, all self-published authors face exactly the same challenge: how to market their books. Amazon has millions of books on its site, from the largest publishers to the single book self-publisher. When you decide to self-publish you take on the marketing responsibility.

      There are many, many articles on this website about book marketing for self-publishers, and there are many other resources around the web on this subject also. No matter which publisher or subsidy press or author-services company or printer you use to create your books, this challenge will be exactly the same.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  20. Michael N. Marcus

    >>The two elements come together in the automated binding process, where the back of the book is trimmed<>and the cover glued onto the spine.<<

    Semantic question: I've always used "spine" to mean the narrow strip that is part of the cover material between the back and front covers. Are you saying that the left edge of a stack of pages, with no cover attached, is also a spine?

    Reply
  21. Dennis Hooker

    I can’t respond to the part where you say you are leaving the conversion efforts to a “Publisher” to put your books on Kindle.

    In actuality, If your book is in pdf (not hard to go from Word, etc. to pdf) then in a manner of minutes you can upload your own book into the Kindle process. It is actually quite satisfying. In a short time (a day or two?) you will get an e-mail telling you of the acceptance of the book (or not) on Kindle.

    Re: the date: My solution has been to make a slight revision in the book and applying this year’s date as the publishing date. I don’t think the book even requires an ISBN on Kindle (I think it does with the new Apple Reader system – see Smashwords. They have a wonderful system for going into their bookstore, conversion to most book readers, then possible acceptance into their “Advanced Catalog” – not sure exact name) Then, possible acceptance into the Apple’s new system for their Reader.

    I’m not an expert on these matters – I’m just telling you how I do it – and it’s been working for me (Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords, Google, etc, etc.)

    Lots of luck and hang in there,

    Dennis

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the tips, Dennis. Many people are using Smashwords for their distribution system. The current consensus seems to be that you apply one ISBN for all ebook editions.

      Reply
      • Dennis Hooker

        Hi Joel,

        A mistake I made on Lulu (and couldn’t get it corrected) is that I made a couple slight typo corrections on several of my books – and THEY pulled my ISBN from the book. Their rationale? That I had made a revision in the book, so I had to assign a new ISBN to each of the books. I couldn’t get them to change it back. At $30+ per ISBN I decided to not buy a new ISBN per book. (It’s as if a horse auctioneer required me to buy a new saddle for the horse I am selling – yet me knowing that horse will not be sold at that auction anyway – good money after bad.)

        My suggestion for you at Lulu – keep on revising your book on-line – ONLY THEN apply your ISBN when you have corrected everything and it’s ready to go. Correcting typos does not qualify as “a new edition”!!!!

        Dennis

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          It sounds pretty heavy handed of them, Dennis. Correcting typos definitely does not produce a new edition. All the more reason to own your own ISBNs rather than buying them from someone else. That way you will always be listed as the publisher rather than Lulu. Thanks for the additional info.

          Reply
  22. A Valentine Joseph

    Hi Joel,
    I have 3 books published and signed up with my publishers since April to have them converted to Amazon Kindle. After two months one of the books was converted. I inquired about the other two books and I was told that they are too old to be put on. The books were published in 2004, 2005, 2009? Do you know how I can rectify this situation.
    Allison

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Allison,

      You should check your contract or publishing agreement. There may well be a clause by which the rights to the ebook format will revert to you if the publisher declines to publish them. With the rights you’ll be free to publish them to Kindle or other ebook formats yourself, and as Dennis points out below, it’s not that hard. I hope this works out for you, and you may actually be better off. Thanks for your question.

      Reply
  23. Joel

    Lisa,

    I looked at your drawings and they are charming. I’m not sure how you would change the contract to reflect the POD printing since in POD only the books that are ordered are actually printed, so there is, in effect, no “print run” to exhaust.

    The bad news is that digitally-printed books (the kind that are sold through POD distribution) are not as good quality as offset printed books, and this is most notable in color printing. Additionally, the cost of the books to the publisher will be much higher, which could have a devastating impact on their ability to resell the books at a profit.

    My advice would be to study the pricing and get some samples of similar books from the proposed POD vendor. These two elements will go a long way toward helping you make a decision about how to proceed. This is an area in which digital printing has a ways to go to catch up on quality and price.

    I can’t comment on your contract question since I don’t have any information about how POD distribution might affect an author’s contract.

    Best of luck, and let me know what happens. If you’d like to communicate privately, you’ll find my email address on my About page. Thanks for stopping by!

    Reply
  24. Lisa Alcorn

    Hi Joel, Great info. Thanks for stepping up to share your advice!
    I’m a new author/illustrator working with a small publishing house to produce a children’s picture book/primer for creative visualization. We are nearly complete and the book should go to press (or POD printer) within the next month. The publisher is having financial problems and we are considering POD. I have a draft contract (written for traditional/press publishing) that will be modified for POD before we sign. I like the idea of POD because I hate to see boxes of books wasting away, and it seems to make sense for this publisher. It may also be good for me because the duration of the contract typically ends when the run of books is sold and there are no plans to rerun it. If the publisher’s situation continues to decline, without a large inventory, I would be released to go elsewhere sooner.

    Now, I’m new to all this and wondering if you might have some advice for me. Specifically, I’m curious whether the quality of a POD picture book would be noticeably inferior on the shelf next to one from an offset printer. Another question is: does POD trigger limitations in distribution – say with libraries, etc. Finally, do contracts with author’s usually change with a POD arrangement? If so, how? Any other advice? Frankly, I may not know enough to ask the right questions.

    Reply
  25. Joel

    Alisha, Lightning Source is an excellent resource, particularly if you plan on publishing more than one book. But many self-publishers have done well with Lulu, and use their own ISBN to establish themselves as the publisher of the book. Lulu books will generally cost more, and you will not have the same control to set your retail price. It really depends on your situation and the goals you’ve established for your book and your publishing program. Research both, I’m sure you’ll find the right place for you. And if you still have questions, send me an email and I’ll try to help!

    Reply
  26. Alisha

    So it would be safe to say that using lightning source is beneficial for self publishers? I’m this close to using Lulu, but I’m trying to have a more direct way of selling the books through my personal business website and have shipping and printing done in one place. I also plan to buy my own ISBN from myidentifiers.com to keep all my “royalties” in one basket. I’m checking out LS now… thoughts?

    Reply
  27. admin

    Dennis,
    Wow, that’s quite a story. Maybe on the next title you might try going direct to Lightning Source, who prints for Lulu. You’ll get lower prices, no “add ons” and direct uploading of your books to Amazon and B&N. Good luck!

    Reply
  28. Dennis Hookera

    ps that’s “Hooker” not Hookera”

    Reply
  29. Dennis Hookera

    Hello Joel,

    I just ran across your page – good vibes and info!! Let me tell you a bit about lulu.com. Yes, it’s awesome to get books printed with no upfront costs. They do a beautiful job if I send a quality pdf or ps. I have 11 books on my lulu “storefront”. Total sales in 2 years about $100! (yes, barf). The BIG problem is in their “distribution system”. All my books ended up over on Amazon.com. Get this – just the titles, no descriptions, no how-to buy them, not how much it costs, just a blank page with the title.

    I’ve added most/all that info MYSELF at Amazon.com (who have yet to get one thing straight – tho’ they are nice and respond to e-mail) I’m finding my $15.00 (example) books being sold on “Used Book Stores” and at DOUBLE the price off Lulu.com. In short – the distribution “system” (that I describe to them as their “mess”) is insanity. I am now in the process of asking Amazon.com reps if they have a “button” that totally wipes out all “Dennis Hooker books” from their site. There will never be a way to clean up the mess there. I will hear in a day or two – probably they say “No! – never, you are seriously disturbed, Dennis” And hopeless messed up for years – for nothing is real now.

    I am now brainstorming ways to start from scratch on getting my books “out there”. e-books at reasonable prices, etc. Don’t know the options yet.

    A book of mine through lulu is approx. $15.00 and I make a couple dollars “royalty”. If Amazon sells that same book they buy it from lulu, add about another $5.00 for their share – plus the $4.95 s/h. That’s $24.95 for an overpriced $15.00 book! Then top that off with the “Used Books Affiliates” adding another $5.00 to it – and I doubt if I get a penny if it’s sold through one of the Used Book dealers.

    Thanks for listening to the “Just the facts, Maam”. It’s 10x easier writing books than selling them. I’m used to publishers buying my rights and selling into schools (which now are broke/bankrupt/stupid).

    God bless and pick up the pieces.

    Dennis

    Reply
  30. betty ming liu

    Thanks, Joel! Will def reach out for you when I’m ready. And thanks for commenting about my class!

    Reply
  31. admin

    Hey Betty, I’ve added you to my blogroll too! When you get to brainstorming if you want to throw ideas around, let me know, I love to help out that way.

    Reply
  32. betty ming liu

    I have no idea when I’ll be ready. But 2010 should be an interesting year for brainstorming! Btw, I just added your blog to the blog roll on my home page. Reading your site keeps me motivated!

    Reply
  33. admin

    Hey, Betty. Your book sounds great, I’d love to see you combine your writing with your artistic abilities, because you’re good at both. Yes, the plan makes sense, but… the ground is shifting so quickly right now that if you are not ready to actually go to press, there’s no way to predict which will be the best way to proceed even in the near future. When you are ready, the choices may be quite different than they are today. What’s your time frame? Are you thinking 2010?

    Reply
  34. betty ming liu

    Thanks, Joel, this is really helpful! I do have an idea for a book about writing. I want to include drawings and limited text — sort of a graphic novel approach. This is really ambitious considering the fact that I’m still learning how to draw! But if I ever get around to it, I will definitely ask you for help. I’m thinking that black&white could work for me. That would save money too, right? I almost think I should do a little chapbook. We’re not talking best-seller ambitions. More like, selling it for $10 and making $5 off of it. Does that make any sense? Obviously, this is all pie-in-the-sky at the moment.

    Reply
  35. admin

    Hi Betty!
    Lulu is a good resource if you want to get a book into print for very little money up front. This works if you just want books for your own use or to sell yourself, or for gifts, that kind of thing. Because they don’t charge for the basic service you will pay on the back end with higher per book prices, which can make it difficult to nearly impossible to sell books through the book distribution channels. The book will simply end up as too expensive. But it’s great for other things and you can either get an ISBN through them or get one yourself and use your own. I believe their books are printed at Lightning Source anyway.
    Blurb has neat software you download and then use to layout your book. They specialize in illustrated books and do really a pretty good job! The number of formats (sizes) is pretty limited and, again, the books will not be cheap enough to go into distribution, but I know artists who do books there and sell them to clients more as advertising for their work or to enhance their standing as artists or photographers, which makes sense.
    If you’re thinking about doing something like this Betty, you should let me know and I’ll try to help! Or maybe it’s for your students? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  36. betty ming liu

    Very interesting, Joel. Since I’m still trying to figure out how this stuff works, your explanations are really helpful. Now I’m wondering how to apply this info…..E.g., a friend of mine just told me about lulu.com and blurb.com. Lulu provides apparently puts an ISBN code on its books so that they can be sold via can Amazon. Blurb is more for arty-y books (my friend is a photographer). So my question is: Are these two companies examples of digital publishers? Or do they fall into another category?

    Reply
  37. Joel Responds

    Thanks, Christy. I’m amazed at how fast the technology is developing. It’s going to be a whole new world soon, but that also means new opportunities too.

    Reply
  38. Christy Pinheiro

    Great post, as usual, Joel. POD is changing every day– the technology gets better and better. The book quality is improving too, and it’s becoming easier for anyone to publish. It’s a revolution of sorts.

    Reply
  39. admin

    @Michelle, thanks for your comment. You make an excellent point, and this is the route I recommend for most of my clients. They get far better pricing and flexibility from this arrangement, and have much better leverage as they go to market. Your perspective is always appreciated!

    Reply
  40. Michele DeFilippo

    Wonderful explanation, Joel. Authors also need to understand that they can establish an account at Lightning Source on their own and become true self-publishers without the so-called services of a self-publishing company. As they hire editorial and design specialists to produce the quality books that buyers demand, they can realize greater profits and satisfaction from the entire venture.

    Reply

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