Book Printing Options: Offset versus Print-On-Demand

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1106 Design

February 23, 2015

This blog post is the first in a two-part series that aims to demystify book printing, outline your options, and give you the information you need to manage your own printing and avoid extra charges from self-publishing companies for managing these services.

There are a couple of ways to print your book. By “print,” I mean actual printing, not eBooks.

Offset Printing

The first printing method is offset printing: print a large number of books all at once. The cost per book is lower, so you keep more revenue per book. The downside is that you are stuck with a number of books that you have paid for up front and you’ll have to figure out how to get them into the hands of your buyers, either via direct sales (e.g., from your website, book retailers, conferences, book fairs) or an Amazon Advantage account. Not only are you responsible for sales, but also shipping (known as “order fulfillment”). Offset printing is a good solution if you have sold, or are highly confident that you will sell, a guaranteed number of books and have the funds to pay for printing up front. If you require a print run of one thousand or more books, consider offset printing.

Print-On-Demand

The second method is print-on-demand (POD). With POD you avoid investing money upfront because books are not printed until they are sold; you only pay for the books you sell. The downside is that the cost per book is higher, and your profit is lower. The POD company will also ship your books. Some publishers believe that this built-in fulfillment more than makes up for the extra expense of POD as compared to offset printing. Once your title is set up, there’s nothing further to do except review the monthly deposits to your bank account.

Who Does POD?

A confusing array of companies is associated with the publishing marketplace.

Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and other online bookstores are retailers, just like any brick-and-mortar bookstore. They offer your book for sale and take a percentage of the cover price as a commission. The buyer pays for shipping at checkout and the bookstore ships the books.

Many self-publishing companies sell print-on-demand services, but in truth, only two firms actually DO the printing and also distribute to online retailers, wholesalers and other outlets: IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing. After your cover and interior files are uploaded to their websites, they accept orders from retailers, print and ship your book to the buyer, and pay you. They consolidate all the financial details of the transaction, so regardless of where your book was sold, you will receive payments from only these two firms once a month.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is Amazon’s print-on-demand company. IngramSpark is the new interface for Lightning Source, an independent print-on-demand company owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the world. By setting up your title at IngramSpark, your book is automatically listed in their database, used by bookstores to special-order books.

Extended Distribution and Book Returns

We need to veer off here for a moment and talk about Extended Distribution and the issue of returns. Extended distribution means that your book will be available at retailers other than Amazon, and also available for special order in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Bookstores, understandably, won’t special-order a book that is nonreturnable, because they don’t want to get stuck with it.

The Extended Distribution at KDP is run through IngramSpark. KDP charges you, the author, 60% for the privilege of Extended Distribution, but—and this is critical—the books are nonreturnable. In effect, this means that you’re paying for Extended Distribution but not getting it.

At IngramSpark, the books can be marked “return/destroy” so bookstores will be happy to special-order for a buyer.

For this reason, we recommend using KDP for POD to feed Amazon, and IngramSpark for extended distribution.

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