Book Printing

book-printingBook Printing – Offset or Digital?

by Deborah Greenspan

You’ve written a book and you want to publish it, but it’s all so confusing. POD comes up, but does it mean Print on Demand or Publish on Demand?  What are the benefits of book printing through POD? What are the drawbacks?  Should you even consider spending the kind of money for book printing required by offset?

In the interest of laying these questions and others to rest, let’s start at the beginning.  In 1997, or thereabouts, POD entered the world stage.  POD is digital book printing, and the acronym stands for Print-on-Demand. Its advent changed the way books are published and printed, perhaps forever.  At least, some books.

Before the dawn of POD, authors who wanted to self-publish their books would have to spend the money for an offset book printing run.  Offset is book printing in the traditional way, and although there have been advances, it still means an expensive setup and the necessity to print a lot of books to cover the costs of that setup.  Book printing through offset starts making sense at about 1000 books and makes more sense as the quantity rises.

This is why many authors today choose to publish through Print-on-Demand. A book order is a demand, so when the book is ordered, it’s printed.  Simple. It’s possible because digital book printing machines are large scale copy machines connected to computers. Books in two files–one for content and and one for cover–are stored in computers and called up whenever the book is ordered.  It’s then printed, bound, and shipped to the buyer.  This is book printing in the 21st century, and it is amazing. Through POD, book printing of millions of books has been accomplished one book at a time.

It’s a fantastic technology with only one drawback: book printing through POD is expensive. It costs a lot to print books one at a time, and usually, the only way to arrive at a competitive list price is to short the distributor discount.  Distributors don’t like this, and Ingram has even gone so far as to increase the size of their cut from 15% for a book with a traditional 55% discount to 20% if the discount is lower.  This means even less for the bookseller, so as you can imagine, booksellers are not thrilled to stock books by unknown authors that also cost more and pay less.

I discovered this at a trade show where I asked a buyer from Barnes and Noble why they seemed to have a problem with POD books.  After much hemming and hawing, she finally said, “The cost is too high,” and when I asked what we could do about getting books into her stores, she said, “Print offset.”

I was flabbergasted. I had built Breezeway on the idea that the playing field for publishing and book printing had finally been leveled, only to discover that that wasn’t the case at all.  POD was great, and some authors were doing well, but those who wanted to get into bookstores had to have competitively priced books with a traditional 55% distributor discount, a feat that is difficult if not impossible to accomplish when POD book printing is so expensive.

Happily, online booksellers who have only virtual inventory, are less picky and are willing to accept a lower distributor discount.  The problem only arises when we move out of the virtual world of publishing, book printing, and distribution and into the real world of physical, brick and mortar bookstores.

So which is best for you?  I can only answer this with another question: Do you want to concentrate on online selling, or do you want your books to go into physical bookstores?  If the answer is bookstores, then you should consider offset.  If not, then POD will usually work just fine.


Watch for our next blog on pre-selling your print run.

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