Print-on-demand (POD) is a method of printing using digital technology to print books in quantities as few as one. Rather than printing a large quantity of books using traditional offset printing methods, books are printed "on demand" as needed.
The term POD typically refers to printing very small quantities of books to fulfill orders as they are received. Digital technology is also used in "short run" book printing, where books are printed in quantities of approximately 25 to 1,000. In larger quantities, offset printing (applying ink to paper on a printing press) is usually more practical.
Many new authors misunderstand the definition of print-on-demand. Because subsidy publishers like iUniverse use POD printing, they are often called "POD Publishers." But POD is a printing strategy that is used by publishers of all types and sizes, from independent publishers and small presses, to subsidy publishers, to large publishing houses that use POD to keep their backlist titles in print.
In the past few years, the quality of digital book printing has improved to the point where the typical consumer can't tell the difference between a black and white digitally printed book and one printed on a printing press. If your book's interior has photographs or illustrations, or is printed in color, you will need to consider whether POD printing will be of sufficient quality. I recommend ordering a sample to test the quality.
Advantages of Print-on-Demand for Independent Publishers
• Although the cost per unit is higher, the upfront cost of printing and shipping is greatly reduced.
• Authors no longer need to store the proverbial garage full of books.
• POD is more environmentally friendly because publishers don't have to dispose of unsold books from a large print run and the need to transport books from printers to storage facilities is reduced or eliminated.
• You can order books in quantities as small as one.
Printing Through Lightning Source
Lightning Source is the largest print-on-demand book printer in the United States and they print books for many of the subsidy publishers. Lightning Source is owned by Ingram Content Group, which also owns Ingram Book Company, the largest book wholesaler in the U.S.
Printing through Lightning Source offers several advantages:
• Your book will automatically become available through Ingram, giving you access to bookstore and library sales channels. Normally, Ingram does not work directly with publishers that have fewer than ten titles in print.
• You can supply Amazon directly through Lightning Source/Ingram, bypassing the Amazon Advantage program. When a customer orders your book on Amazon, it will be printed and shipped directly to the customer with no involvement on your part and no shipping costs to you.
• If you aren't planning to sell to bricks and mortar retail bookstores, you can set a "short" 20% wholesale discount to maximize your profits through online bookstores and libraries.
• If you need inventory for sales through other channels (such as in-person sales) you can order any quantity you need from Lightning Source.
• If you have already done an offset print run and you want to get availability through Ingram (for bookstore and library sales) you can also set up your book for on-demand printing at Lightning Source.
• You can start off with print-on-demand and then do an offset print run later if your sales volume warrants it.
Keep in mind that Lightning Source is strictly a printer – they do not provide editorial, design or marketing services to authors. You will need to hire your own editor and book designer and then upload a finished file, ready for printing. To create a professional looking book, it's important to hire an experienced book designer, especially for the cover. You'll also need to form your own publishing company, purchase ISBNs for your book, and handle other tasks of a publisher.
It's more work, but if your book has good sales potential you have the opportunity to earn a much higher profit per book by publishing independently and printing through Lightning Source than working with a subsidy publisher. Of course, the best solution for you depends on your overall publishing and book marketing strategy and the sales potential of your book.
In his book, POD for Profit, Aaron Shepard explains how to profit from print-on-demand. This detailed how-to manual walks you through the process of working with Lightning Source. You'll get tips for setting up your publishing company, technical advice on preparing your files for printing, and details on getting your book listed in important databases and online bookstores, plus advice on setting the list price, wholesale discount, and returns policy for your book.
POD for Profit also includes information on filing your copyright, tips and resources for publishers outside the United States, advice on making changes to your book file, price or distribution options, and much more.
Aaron Shepard has been publishing through Lightning Source for years and is a leading authority on working with them and on selling books through Amazon.com. However, he recently wrote an article explaining why he's now publishing his four-color children's picture books through CreateSpace.
In 2011, there were reports of some Lightning Source books being listed as out of stock on Amazon. This article from Joel Friedlander has more details, and be sure to read Aaron Shephard's latest views on this topic.
Printing Through CreateSpace
CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, is another good option for self-publishers.If you are planning to produce your own book files, rather than hiring a professsional book designer, CreateSpace may be easier to deal with because they are geared to do-it-yourself authors. However, if you are not pursuing retail bookstore sales, you can earn a higher profit per book by using Lightning Source and setting a 20% wholesale discount.
CreateSpace offers two different services:
1. Subsidy publishing - the author pays CreateSpace to produce the book files and the book is published by CreateSpace using their ISBN.
2. Printing and distribution - the author provides the properly formatted files and CreateSpace serves as a POD printer and makes the book available on Amazon and other channels. In this case, authors can provide their own ISBN and be listed as the publisher of the book, or they can use a CreateSpace ISBN.
The advantage of having your own ISBN is that you are the official publisher and you can choose to have the book printed elsewhere in the future. For example, you could use CreateSpace to supply books to Amazon and also do a print run at another printer to provide books for your direct sales. The disadvantage of using your own ISBN at CreateSpace is that your book won't be available through book Baker & Taylor, the major library wholesaler.
CreateSpace provides templates to make it easier to produce the book interior and cover files. Be sure to sign up for the expanded distribution on CreateSpace, which will give you a higher royalty and wider distribution options.