To Print (on demand) or Not Print (on demand); That is the Question

quinnzoo4I’ve been doing a lot of print-on-demand editions here of late. The majority of my clients are using CreateSpace, and a few use Lightning Source/Ingrams. I haven’t had anybody reporting huge print sales or widespread placement in bookstores (yet). I think bottom line for most (right now) is they like having the option, but moreso, there is immense satisfaction in having a tangible copy of their creation. Quite a few, I think, are looking toward the future. As indie publishers increase both their physical and financial presence, brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries will have no choice except to look to indie publishers to find the stock their customers demand. As demand increases, the technology is going to get better and it will get cheaper. (On a personal note, I’d love a future where EVERY book is print-on-demand, because I hate waste and I hate the idea of books being pulped.)

On the practical side, is it a good idea for YOU to issue a print-on-demand version of YOUR book?

  1. Is it difficult?
    Not at all. You give two pdf files to your printer. (Two most popular right now: CreateSpace, an Amazon company; and Lightning Source/Ingrams.). One pdf is for the interior; the other is for the cover flat. Spend an hour reading the FAQs and specs at your printer’s website, and you’ll have all the information you need for your project. Both CS and LS offer templates for cover creation. They’re easy to use. Once you have your files, you upload them, go through the review process, take care of any little issues that might arise, order a proof copy, make sure it’s just right, then publish. It takes a little longer than does digital publishing, but it’s no more difficult.
  2. Is it expensive?
    It can be. You could spend thousands if you choose. You can also do it yourself and spend nothing at all, except time. If you use CreateSpace, you can layout your interior file in Word and generate your pdf from that. (Lightning Source will not accept those). There are book design templates available. Joel Friedlander (thebookdesigner.com) offers a wide range of templates specifically for Word. They are inexpensive yet beautiful. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, you can hire a professional. For most fiction projects the price will range from around $.25 to $1.00 per finished page.
  3. Do I need an ISBN?
    If you use CreateSpace they will give you an ISBN at no cost or low cost (but it’s not free, so read the terms and conditions). Lightning Source requires you purchase your own. In the US ISBNs are provided by Bowkers. They are expensive. (My biggest gripe with Bowkers is that they’ve recognized that the more clueless an author is, the bigger a cash cow he/she becomes–DO YOUR RESEARCH!)
  4. Can I use my ebook cover?
    A well-done ebook cover can be modified for a print cover. Your cover designer is probably adept at that type of work. If you did your own cover or want to do it yourself, as I mentioned above, both CS and LS offer templates.

    Ebook Cover

    Ebook Cover

    Same cover modified for print.

    Same cover modified for print.

  5. What about distribution?
    This ranges from no muss/no fuss to pounding the pavement one bookstore at a time. Being an Amazon company, Createspace will automatically list your POD edition on Amazon. They also have expanded distribution. Lightning Source uses Ingrams and there are some costs involved. You are free to order copies in any quantity you desire and sell direct. Unlike vanity presses, the books belong to you. You set the price, you control the distribution channels.

The thing to remember is that print-on-demand is in its infancy–in technology, in acceptance, and in price. Even if it’s not a huge revenue stream for most writers right now, that could easily change in the very near future. With production costs as low as they are–especially if you are a Do-It-Yourselfer–there is no real reason to NOT create print-on-demand editions of your books.

What about you, readers? Do you have POD editions? Do you think the effort and added expense is worth it?

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15 thoughts on “To Print (on demand) or Not Print (on demand); That is the Question

  1. I do indeed have POD editions of my books, and find the whole process a breeze. Of course I have a goddess in Colorado Springs doing all my formatting and production. Could I do it myself? Perhaps, but I hope I never have to find out.

    POD is a slow way to get rich, but that’s true of all other aspects of my writing life, so why should this be different? I have more money coming in with it than I’d have without it.

    And there is, I think, another plus to it: The simple existence of a POD paperback edition makes the title appear to be of more substance than if it were only eVailable. One feels slightly more comfortable buying an ebook when one knows it has a counterpart in the physical universe.

    • I forgot about that aspect, Larry. I don’t know about other people, but when I see multiple editions available the book does actually gain some “weight”.

      And one cannot forget the collector market. I have special books that I don’t want to handle because they are pristine and I would like to keep them that way. So I have a print copy for my shelves and an ebook for reading. If I want to pass the book around to friends and family, I gift them with the ebook.

  2. Jaye… When did you become QA Productions??? I love it! POD is working well for me, and yes, you make it a breeze. Interesting observation – my print sales are picking up. They’ve quadrupled over the past six months. Larry’s right- the mere presence of a print version gives your ebook more heft.

    • Ah, you must have been out of town, Julia. Like the logo? Scott Barrett did it for me (no relation to you).

      In Colorado the library districts throughout the state are indie friendly. I first encountered print on demand editions at the library about five years ago. I discovered some indie authors that way.

  3. Thanks for the informative post. I hope you don’t mind that I reblogged it. I use Createspace for print on demand and find it really helpful and quite easy to understand. If I have any problems I email the team and they are pretty quick to respond. I use their template to paste my file into and sometimes even type my book directly onto it. I upload my own cover images into one of their cover templates too and so far, so good.
    I did manage to get some of my books into small bookshops but on a sale or return basis. One of my books was taken on by a branch of one of the major book chains in Ireland but they too are sale or return. It’s a pain in the neck having to physically go there so I haven’t bothered replacing them. All of these stores can order directly from Createspace, so I figure if they want them that’s what they will do. I think you are correct in saying all this is in it’s infancy right now and the more Indie books that hit the top best selling categories on Amazon, the better the chances are that bookshops will think about print on demand themselves.

    • Prejudices die hard, but they do die faster when there is money to be made. 🙂 B&M bookstores will come around. I don’t see how they have a choice. Some smart fella is going to realize that having a POD machine in a location (where I live would be great–we’re heavy readers) to supply local businesses. Or wouldn’t it be something if a library invested in a machine? Find an author you love, then buy their entire backlist right there on the spot.

  4. I use CreateSpace for all my books. They provide a version for readers who like paper, and they’re also useful for local booksignings,

    I would love to use Ingram, but I don’t have InDesign, and to test whether my PDFs work would require purchasing ISBNs, and I’m reluctant to spend $$$ to find out. By the end of the year, however, I’ll bite the bullet and find out, because I have the types of books that mystery bookstores want. (My local bookseller has told me she won’t buy from CS, but she wants the convenience of buying my books from Ingram.)

    Anyway, for CS I do all the work, so my costs are minimal. I was in journalism, where I picked up my mad photoshop skillz. I use Word 2007, the free Photoshop CS2 and PDF995 with CS’s templates. I also have the Chicago Manual of Style to help make the books look professional, and if I have any questions about format, I look at what the commercial publishers do.

    The best thing about the trade paperbacks is that I have the freedom to execute any ideas I want. I love putting in graphics, maps, illustrations, and photos. I can put a full-page ad in the back advertising my other books. In an old book, I found a frontispiece featuring Uncle Sam, and a note urging readers to buy the company’s other books, so I modified that and put it in the front.

  5. A man after my own heart. Yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer that LS will not accept Word files. (Truly, unless I am really looking hard, I can’t see huge differences between pod generated in Word and those made with ID–even Joel Friedlander admits Word does a good job, which is high praise.)

    But you bring up a really good point. Genres and who/where/how to distribute them. I have some non-fiction writer clients who purchase large quantities of their own books to sell at conferences, seminars and other events. The price per unit is higher than an offset print run, BUT, they make it up by reducing waste and storage. If they need only 500 copies, they don’t have to print 2000 and store 1500 after the event.

    Specialty bookstores need stock. With the big publishers killing off the mid-list the way they are, indies will be the way to go.

    As for ISBNs–what a racket. One thing indies can do is pool resources and come up a publishing entity, then buy a 1000 block of numbers that all the members can use. That could have benefits that go far beyond cost.

  6. Pretty much agree with what Larry says about POD versions here, and am happy to share the benefices of the same formatting and production goddess. And equally have no intention of changing any of that. (And I did like the cover you used an as example here.)

  7. The best reason to have a POD edition is to make your ebook look less expensive by comparison. Seriously. Amazon gives you a nice little psychological sales tool when you have a print edition. Also, you give Amazon more reasons to give you free advertising. I’m not sure if authors are aware of this, but Amazon sends advertising emails to highly qualified leads on your behalf. In the real world, companies pay big bucks for that. You get it for free. If you have a print edition, you have effectively doubled the chances of getting the best free advertising possible for your story.

    • Knew about the first, William. Hadn’t occurred to me to think about the second. Totally failed to connect the emails (and advert screens on my Kindles) with having multiple formats.

      Writer/publishers should never discount the power of perception in this biz. The higher your production values, the more editions you offer, the wider your distribution, the more important your book “appears”.

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