Print-on-Demand vs. Offset Printing

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1106 Design

January 02, 2024

It’s natural to want to jump right into publishing. However, there are many steps to complete before your book can be printed. After writing your book, it’ll be time to edit, design, and proofread the interior and create your cover (front, spine, and back).

You’ll also have to secure ISBNs (one for each version of your book), set up your copyright page, and create a marketing strategy. If you want libraries to be able to find your book, it would be helpful for you to register a PCN/LCCN with the Library of Congress and possibly even obtain a PCIP. 

Once all this is in place and your book has been professionally produced, it’s time to print. If you’re looking to have physical copies of your work in hand, you’ll have two options: print-on-demand (POD) or offset printing.

So, should you use offset printing? Would it be better to print books on demand? Which is right for you? Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer. Which is better depends on your unique circumstances, budget, and needs. Both have their pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look.

 

What Are Print-on-Demand and Offset Printing?

Offset printing is typically used by traditional publishers and others who order large quantities of books at a time. Print-on-demand uses digital printing, which was developed later than offset printing. 

In digital printing, a computer sends text and images to a laser printer, which then produces each book in one pass. In this way, books are printed per order, or “on demand.” So, if a customer purchases your book on Amazon, a copy will be printed just for them and delivered.

 

Where Can You Print Your Book?

IngramSpark and Amazon KDP are the two key services that will print your book on demand and distribute it to online and physical retailers. It may seem like there are other options, but ultimately, other services that claim to offer print-on-demand go through KDP and/or IngramSpark.

As we discussed here, to maximize your royalties, you can deal directly with KDP and IngramSpark. If you’re not sure which to use, take a look at this article from the Alliance of Independent Authors about why it’s a good idea to use both.

For offset printing, there are many quality services. We can recommend services based on your unique book specifications.

 

Pros and Cons

Quality

The quality of print-on-demand has improved over the years so that it now rivals that of offset printing. That said, offset printing usually produces higher and more consistent quality. With offset printing, books are printed at the same location, unless you order from multiple printers.

With print-on-demand, books are printed at whatever plant is closest to the buyer, leading to unavoidable inconsistencies in color, tone, and saturation. This also makes POD physical proofs ineffective, as the proof you receive will look slightly different than a book sent to a customer on the opposite coast.

Cost

If you plan to order only a few books, print-on-demand is more cost-effective. The intricacies and time requirements of offset printing make it more expensive, and lower unit costs are realized only when you order large quantities.

Some offset printers won’t accept small orders at all. Others will accept orders for a few hundred books, but the cost will be the same as if you had ordered a thousand or more books. On the other hand, many offset printers offer discounts on extra-large orders.

There are no minimum order requirements for print-on-demand, though minimum shipping and handling charges make it advantageous to order a box of books at a time rather than a single book. The per-unit cost doesn’t change according to how many or how few books you order.

You should always ensure that any needed revisions are incorporated before printing. However, print-on-demand is a little more forgiving because books are only printed when ordered. With offset printing, revisions are much more costly and time-consuming.

Similarly, it’s not viable to order a physical proof of your book via offset printing, though you can order an electronic proof. With print-on-demand, you can order as many physical proofs as you’re willing to pay for.

Speed

Print-on-demand is typically faster—though not always. Ideally, you can print a book on demand and expect to receive it within a week or two, possibly sooner. It usually takes 8-12 weeks to receive copies of your books from offset printers.

Supply chain problems and the number of copies ordered at once can drastically increase the fulfillment timeline for both options. Ordering more than 750 copies at once can overwhelm digital printers.

Options

Your trim size, page count, paper selection, and binding type all impact your decision. For instance, you may want to use print-on-demand, but you won’t be able to if your book is over the maximum page count allowed, an unsupported trim size, or if you need spiral binding, etc. For these, you’ll need an offset printer.

Offset printing offers a wide array of options for the interior and exterior that print-on-demand simply doesn’t support. High-end finishes that are not available via print-on-demand include raised lettering (embossing or debossing), foil, die-cutting, holographic covers, and mixed matte and glossy varnishes.

Storage and Distribution

Offset printers may or may not provide storage and distribution services. These are issues you may have to deal with on your own or by partnering with a fulfillment center. With print-on-demand, distribution to retailers is factored into the cost, and there’s no need to worry about storage because books are printed only as ordered, not in bulk.

 

Which Should You Use?

Which printing method is right for you depends on many factors, including your budget, binding/design, page count, storage capacity, distribution/fulfillment ability, marketing plans, and how many books you realistically plan to sell. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

It’s possible to use both print-on-demand and offset printing together. For example, you can use print-on-demand for retail orders that dribble in one at a time and offset printing for a more favorable unit price for direct sales at events or other promotional activities.

Be sure to weigh out the pros and cons, and don’t be afraid to price around. Once you’ve figured up the cost of both options through various sources, combine them with the cost of production and marketing to determine how much you’d need to make to break even and recoup your investment. One method may enable you to receive a greater return on investment than the other.

If you’re still not sure which is right for you, feel free to reach out to us. We love helping authors learn more about the publishing process. That’s why we offer handholding with all of our plans and a la carte author coaching. The more informed your decisions, the more successful you’ll be. 

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