POD: Some Very Good Questions

Most of my readers know that POD publishing and POD printing are not synonymous. It’s entirely possible for anyone to set up a publishing company (which is totally trivial to do), and send a file into a POD printer. And you’ve probably heard that it’s a much better idea. The questions that many of you may still have include:
–Why is it a good idea?
–Would price per copy be the only reason for not printing with a POD?
–Is there a marketing or PR reason to use one POD over the other?

Why is it better to use a POD printer than a POD publisher?
Sometimes it’s not. Those times are when you expect to sell fewer than a 100 copies in the life of your book. This might apply to a gift edition of Aunt Peggy’s early poetry, or a family history.

When you have valid reasons to expect sales of a few thousand copies over a couple of years, then you should be using offset printing, and an inexpensive warehousing option. Or perhaps an inexpensive fulfillment house.

In between those areas, and in a few other special circumstances, you will probably do best with a POD printer. POD publishers charge much more per copy (although those charges are often unclear to the new author — they’re certainly not broken out for you). No one in this business can afford to give away part of their profit. It’s a very low margin industry!

Would price per copy be the only reason you would avoid a POD publisher?
No. POD publishers tend to charge very, very low rates for their design and layout services, but you’re not getting more than you pay for. The quality, although good enough to a besotted author’s eye, tends to seem “a little off” to regular readers who don’t know you, and to show glaring problems to the educated eyes of the people (reviewers, buyers for bookstores, etc) who stand between you and large numbers of readers.

Is there a marketing or PR reason not to use a POD publisher?
There’s the company you’re keeping. Most books produced by POD publishers are, I’m sorry to say, dreadful, in design and in writing. They’re often labors of love, but that can’t save them from an audience of people who don’t know the author. If your book is classed among these “book-shaped objects,” it’s easy for gatekeepers to dismiss it, without a single second’s examination.

And gatekeepers must weed out most of the books submitted to them immediately. There were 3,000,000 books published in the US last year. That’s one every other second, for the every working hour. Reviewers and buyers don’t get to look at books all day, every day. At some point, they have to read some and write reviews, or look at some longer, and decide how many to order, for which store or library branch, or do whatever else justifies their paychecks.

Oh, and one last reason why you may want to go to POD printer: your book might actually do well!
If your book “breaks out,” you’ll probably need print runs of several thousand copies each month. You can’t afford to give away half of the possible profit, or more, by not switching to offset. But if you publish through a POD publisher, when you want to change printing, you have to change the publisher. That means changing the ISBN (because the original one came from your publisher’s block), and that means starting over with all the marketing, reviews, and other momentum builders.

Most POD publishers also don’t sell you the rights to the cover or the layout. You pay for these things, but you don’t own them. So, when you need to start printing more inexpensively, you also have to get a new cover and a new text design, and that, too, will damage your sales momentum.

There are other reasons, of course, for any decision. And there are exceptions to every generalization.

When you’re making decisions about publishing:
–DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST! There’s usually a simple, obvious solution that’s quite wrong for your book and your bank account.
–Read books before you make books, because even blogs like this are much too short to cover all the important things you need to think about.
–Crunch your numbers. Your P&L spreadsheets should be at least 2 pages, if they’re to include all of the important variables.
–Be aware that the popular press is an unreliable guide to the complexities of something like this industry.
–Don’t blindly follow the herd. It may be thundering over a cliff.

6 Responses to “POD: Some Very Good Questions”

  1. Ashish says:

    If I expect to sell a couple thousand books through Amazon, isn’t the 20% “short discount” available only through Lightning Source a better overall deal than offset printing, warehousing, and then being forced to give Amazon a 55% discount? 35% of my list price (55-20) is much more than the potential print cost savings from switching to offset, even before getting in to warehousing and shipping costs.

    (I realize that for brick and mortar channels, a different calculation applies.)

    • You have to crunch the numbers, to be sure. It may be. But it’s very hard to imagine a trade book that wouldn’t sell anywhere other than Amazon, and that would sell thousands of copies per year. So, if you do take the 20% Amazon-only option, the chances are pretty good that you’re missing the majority of your possible sales. And THAT really will hurt your bottom line.

  2. Looking forward to some more information on this

    • What would you like to know? By the way, most self-publishers are using POD printing in the US. But many of the most successful then convert to off-set as the book takes off.

      Of course, that’s not an option, or not as easy, for those who are using a “self-publishing company” or “POD publisher,” instead of doing real self-publishing.

  3. paula says:

    You say, “Most books produced by POD publishers are, I’m sorry to say, dreadful, in design and in writing.”

    What an unbelievably general and judgmental statement. Some of the best talent lies with small presses, and being less restrained than big publishers, far more creativity is possible. A good publisher can print either way, POD or offset, but it is more realistic (and more environmentally friendly) to print on demand until a title is highly successful.

    It is very unprofessional of you to make these broad, biased statements based on maintaining outmoded ways of thinking about publishing. Readers are not judging through your criteria. They are looking for good books that are attractive and exciting, which many POD publishers excel at. POD is a matter of economy of scale, and has nothing to do with the talent of the publisher. Many of the self-published books do suffer in both quality and design, because the writer has not gatekeeper and no training.

    As a writer, I struggled for years until I realized the scam the big publishers and articles like this are perpetuating… trying to maintain that there is only one way to publish, the old way, and anyone who does not do that is degenerated as using POD or vanity publishing. You are mixing your concepts, and I encourage you as a writer, to make better distinctions when discussing publishing options. POD is an economic strategy that is favorable to printing thousands of books that sit in boxes in a warehouses. And it has nothing to do with the quality of writing or design. It is a smart choice to find a good small publisher who uses this option and you can scale up if needed with offset with the same publisher under the same ISBN.

    • I’m sorry, but I must have failed to make my point clear:

      You should self-publish with a POD printer instead of with a POD publisher. You can get much better quality, and many other advantages.

      BUT this is only true if you have reason to believe that your book will sell more than the 50-100 copies that an average book from one of those companies sells. Otherwise you’re best off with the least expensive of the pay-to-publish outfits.

      In re your other charge: The reason that old-line publishers and the book business judge books on these standards is not elitism, it is that the public DOES make buying decisions based on them — but without understanding exactly what makes the book look “better.” They don’t need to know what pulls them in, but we do.

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