Self-Publishing and Print-on-Demand

Among the many questions that we receive from authors wishing to self-publish is one that compares apples to cars: “What is the difference between self-publishing and print-on-demand?”

There is a world of difference between the two processes although one often encompasses the other. First let us consider self-publishing.

Self-publishing is when the author takes it upon himself (or herself, although henceforth, for convenience sake, only the masculine pronoun will be used) to publish his own book. Unlike the traditional mode of publishing, where the publisher invests its money into a book written by the author, here the author invests his own money. Consequently, he has to ensure that the book is properly produced, and distributed.

During this production process, the book, should the author choose to have printed copies of his book, needs to be, well, printed. Here’s where print on demand, a technology that allows as many copies as needed, even one, to be printed, can be employed. An alternative to printing on demand is to print a large quantity of books (print in bulk).

So when would one choose to print on demand? Consider the following instances:

a. An author, unable to meet the costs of printing in bulk, decides to list his book for sale on a web portal and gets the book printed post-sale.

b. An author employs a digital-first approach (i.e. primarily producing the book as an e-book) and prints only a few copies to promote the book, or for family and friends.

c. An author decides to limit sale of his book to just a few bookstores in the vicinity (probably because the book touches on a very local topic) and prints only a few copies for that purpose.

d. An author, in order to avoid shipping, arranges for the book to printed in the buyer’s location and shipped to him.

e. More importantly, an author opts to print on demand because POD allows copies to be printed and distributed while still limiting investments. So while the unit costs of a copy printed using POD technology will be more as compared to the cost of copies printed in bulk, the total cost of printing will be lesser.

So, imagine you have written a book and have decided to take the self-publishing route. You get your book edited, lay out your text, design your cover and approach the printers. You see a market for only 100 copies (for argument’s sake) but your printer says you must print a minimum of 500 copies. The cost of each copy is small, say Rs. 40 per book, but having to print 500 copies means a total investment of Rs. 20,000/- upfront. You are not sure if all the copies will sell but that is a gamble you are forced to take. Besides the money for printing, you also have to pay for its transporation and have sufficient space for its storage. And hope to God all copies sell.

Or imagine your book is made available for sale on a few online bookstores. When a book is sold on these platforms, the book is printed (on demand, POD) and dispatched to the buyer. Because the buyer has already paid for the book, you, the author, do not have to spend on its printing. In this case, the same book that cost Rs. 40 when printed in bulk might, for example, cost around Rs. 120/- when just one copy is printed (using POD technology). But because 500 copies have not been printed, the author has to spend lesser (Rs. 120 instead of Rs. 20,000/-) and not have to worry about shipping and storage costs, or about whether or not the remaining copies will get sold.

To exercise the option of printing on demand or not, is a choice that you, as an author, has to take very seriously, as your decision will impact the MRP of the book. While POD is a term sometimes used to denote small quantities (“print runs”) upto even 500, note that a company promising POD should give you the option of printing even one copy (maybe a maximum of two) at a time. The cost of this one copy should then dictate your MRP, even if you choose to exercise this option (of POD) at a later date. That means, if you print 500 copies at X and plan to print one copy at a time at, say, 3X, after the 500 copies are exhausted, your MRP should be governed after factoring in 3X as cost of printing.

POD, when used judiciously, can prove to be an excellent tool to get your book to market fast and at a low cost. You can make it work well for you.

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