Print on Demand Fulfillment

POD publishingPrint on demand fulfillment is also called publish on demand or PoD. Details of your book are stored electronically, and copies can be printed in very small numbers, sometimes individually. Quality is a little poorer than the traditional article, but generally acceptable. Cost per book is higher, but you don't have unsold copies stacked up at home.

Digital printing is already widely used for trade brochures and company flyers, but is only slowly making inroads into traditional printing of trade books: novels, textbooks: DIY manuals and the like. Nonetheless, the new (essentially laser) technologies of Versamark, Docutech and others can produce pages indistinguishable from offset printing, and some experts believe that digitally approaches will eventually replace conventional printing.

Pod has not received a favourable press, partly because it generally uses not wholly satisfactory technology (Lightning Source, Inc.), but also because some companies chase the profit margin by simply converting unchecked submissions to a pdf format and sending them off to the printer. Certainly most of the promotion of a print on demand book falls on the author's shoulders, but that is commonly the case even with conventional publishing.

Pod publishers come in many shapes, from amateur services that mean well but have little trade experience, friendly local printers that offer an independent service, large concerns that provide fee-based Pod, companies masquerading as traditional publishers with token advances, to outright vanity companies that damn your publication in the trade and overcharge all round.

Basically, you have two viable options, to use a Pod company that handles everything for you, or a FoD company that just looks after printing (and possibly warehousing and distribution). The first is more expensive, and may place restrictions on your printing options, publishing rights and pricing policies. The second is a version of self-publishing, giving you overall control but also more hassle. The next section applies to both PoD and FoD.

Digital Printing

First the on-demand-publishing advantages:

1. Costs start somewhere around $150, compared to the $1000+ for conventional printing.

2. Turnaround is a few weeks rather than the customary 18 months.

3. You can send the company the text by email, ftp or on a floppy through the post, and the Pod company does the rest.

4. Your book can feature on Amazon and other online bookshops.

5. On-demand-publishing can produce books of a specialist nature that would otherwise never see the light of day.


Now the on-demand-publishing disadvantages:


1. Some of the cheaper versions look poor: garish covers and fuzzy pages.

2. No quality controls exist, unless you specify and pay for them. Editing, proofing, typesetting, illustration, warehousing, marketing and reviewing can all be skimped, which impacts on sales figures.

3. Many formats tend to be standardized, which may not suit all publications.

4. Publishing rights stay with the Pod publisher, rather than with the author, at least for a period.

5. Bookshops may refuse to stock these products because they are not generally returnable on a sale-or-return basis, and discounts offered are less attractive.

6. The books themselves are generally more expensive than their conventional counterpart, sometimes 50% more.

7. Sales are often disappointing. Publishers Weekly found that of 17,000 titles produced by iUniverse, only 83 have sold more than 500 copies.

8. Pod does not lead to recognition. A 2004 NYT article reported that only 20 of the 10,000 titles published by Xlibris had been picked up by commercial publishers.

Pod Companies

Pod companies are basically middle men, who handle many of the traditional publisher's functions for a share of the proceeds. The best known are are iUniverse, Xlibris, Authorhouse and Trafford, but many companies provide the same service more cheaply. Shop around, and look at terms and prices carefully, especially any exclusivity clauses, book pricing restrictions and royalties payable.

Go Publish Yourself. Advocating self-publishing over Pod

Union Cautions Writers About On-demand Publishing. Points to watch for.

Electronic Book, e-Book, eBook, eJournals, and Electronic Journal Watch. Articles and a good listing.

Book Publishers Compared. Several ebooks/services. $16.95 ebook analyzes and compares 48 Pod companies.

Internet Publishing. Personal view, with much insider information.

Summertime Publishing. Basics, including costs and today's permutations.

Dehanna Bailey. Pod author's homesite, with excellent Pod company database.

Book Printers. Aeonix's 'List of Printers': technical but essential reading for Pod and other printing jobs.

Pocket Guide to Digital Printing. Introduction to the technical aspects.

Print-on-Demand and E-book Producers. Excellent listing.

Some of the better print-on-demand companies:

Virtual Bookworm. Royalties are 50%: from $360.

Lulu. Basic service from $150: royalties 80%.

Pagefree Press. Authors can set their own price: $300.

Wingspan Press. Royalties 100%: from $400.

Aventine Press. Good royalties. $349 plus add-ons.

FoD Printers

Fulfillment on demand (FoD) is the approach used by many small publishing companies. The printer has the same or similar type digital printing setup as a Pod printer, may offer basic services in addition to printing (prepress, warehousing, distribution, order fulfillment) but has a minimum order (10-100) and does not assume any publishing role (i.e. no MS evaluation, preparation or marketing). Basically a printer, though often to an excellent standard, catering to large company requirements. Many have helpful websites, but you'll need to know some of the technicalities of printing and desktop publishing to handle submissions properly and get an accurate quote.

Pod and FoD Printing. Brief article on differences, with recommendations.

Offset Paper Manufacturers. A well-known FoD and traditional printer.

DeHarts. US company recommended for print-on-demand jobs.

Imprint Digital. UK company specializing in short-run book, journal and booklet printing.

Self Publishing. Oversees printing for you, and sells "how to" books and CDs.

Color with Publish on Demand Color

Pod colour-printing technology exists, and more companies are offering the facility. Before ordering something from your favorite cover illustrator, however, you need to understand the limitations of Lightning Source technology still used by most PoD companies. Color printing is a skilled craft which requires-besides experience and design flair-close control of all steps in the process. These must be set properly:

1. the color monitor,

2. the background lighting conditions of the designer's studio,

3. the color management system by which the document is converted into a pdf file, and

4. the printing machine that will be employed. Steps 3 and 4 are especially technical, and a lot can clearly go wrong, though the attractive color magazine that regularly accompanies your Sunday paper demonstrates just what a superb job is done by the trade these days. Naturally, if your cover is being designed by professionals, all aspects will be looked after, and you can simply await the sample copy to arrive on your desk.

In fact, most Pod companies offer a set of cover templates and/or have a list of recommended cover designers, who understand that Lightning Source is not standard CMYK offset printing, but

1. uses a low resolution of 300 pixels per inch, and

2. converts the submitted file to a screened image. That means that curves and diagonals can have jagged edges, and many typefaces may look fuzzy. What's to be done? Order a book from the Pod company to check. If you use your own illustrator, get him or her to contact the Pod company, and design accordingly. A cover for offset printing may not serve for Pod, just as trade paperbacks will use more sophisticated cover designs than are feasible with mass-market paperbacks.

If you're designing your own covers, these suggestions may help:

Calibrate your monitor: probably to around 6500 K.
Consult the documentation that came with the monitor and/or the references below.
Work in some area of subdued and constant lighting source.
Master the color separation aspects of whatever programs you are using: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign or Xpress.
Check by creating color profiles.
Use simple designs and more basic typefaces.
Be especially careful of bar codes, which sometimes come out less sharp than they should be. Consider having them added professionally, or designing the back cover in simple black and white. You can also buy adhesive bar codes.
Talk to the Pod company about the Color Management System settings they require. For simple black and white printing you can convert your MS Word file with something like Cute PDF and submit to the Pod company with a fair chance of everything being fine. Color is another matter: check.
Technology is improving rapidly. Consider waiting a couple of years for better presses to become available and/or more widely used.
Rough out the cover yourself, but hand over to a professional illustrator for the final product.


How do you select a Pod company on the basis of book quality?

1. Many Pod companies use graphics and type by Lightning Source, Inc., so that any differences that arise will concern layout and choice of typeface. Your options:

use the template(s) supplied by the Pod company.

submit simple layout in pdf format, if the Pod company permits.

do proper typesetting yourself: required for FoD, but not always allowed by Pod companies.

2. Other digital printing equipment does exist, however, and is in fact superior to Lightning Source. Your local printer may even use it. Using such a printer becomes FoD, of course, which means that typesetting, barcode, ISBN and other prepress details fall on your shoulders.

3. A third factor is the paper quality. Some Pod companies specify the paper weight, but from others you may get narrow spines and thin paper. Order a book from each of your shortlisted Pod companies to be sure.

Also get a decent book on print-on-demand publishing if you're seriously considering the approach. There are many things to watch out for (rights, pricing, cover design, distribution, returns, barcodes, ISBN, etc.) and the outlay will soon pay for itself. You can also check quality if published by a Pod company.

Some suggestions (including 'print buying'):

Print-on-Demand Book Publishing
. Based on author's own experience and includes actual costs. $14.95.

The Clearly Confusing World of Self-Publishing and Pod Balanced account of pros and cons. $13.95.

Print on Demand: A Graphics Handbook. A Pod book that appears not to have taken its own advice. See review for the dangers. $9.95

The Fine Print. Detailed comparison of PoDs. $20.

Forms, Folds, and Sizes : All the Details Graphic Designers Need to Know but Can Never Find. Bridges the DTP to printer gap. $18.90

iUniverse. One of leading PoD companies: offers a full service, including book launches.

Shopify. Print on Demand: A Low-Risk Way to Sell Custom T-Shirts, Books, and More.


Royalties need special attention. Suppose your book retails for $12.95, and the Pod company pays royalties at 75%. If royalties are based on the gross cover price, you'll get a handsome 0.75 x $12.95 for each book sold, i.e. $9.71/copy. In all probability, however, the royalties will be based on the net revenues. From $12.95 are first taken publishing costs, say $4.50 per copy, leaving $8.45. Then, if the book is sold on Amazon, the bookstore commission amounts to 55% of the retail price, i.e. $7.12. Take that away from $8.45 and you're left with $1.33. Royalties at 75% of the net revenues are therefore 0.75 x $1.33 or $1.00/copy, a fairly typical figure.


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