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Print on Demand or Offset? Let Your Presales Answer

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PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2016

by Elizabeth Turnbull, Senior Editor, Light Messages Publishing


Elizabeth Turnbull

Nearly all independent publishers today must wrestle with the question that plagues the production of every title: print on demand (POD) or offset printing?

With a few exceptions, such as board books, gift books, or high-end coffee table books, nearly every title produced today can be printed with equal quality on an offset press or digitally through print on demand.

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, many of which are covered in this month’s issue of IBPA Independent: Offset can cost considerably less per copy but requires storage and order fulfillment. Print on demand costs more per copy but eliminates the need for storage, offers nearly immediate fulfillment (by someone other than you), and reduces waste.

So, how are we to choose?

I’d like to suggest that when facing the question of POD or offset, you answer, “Yes.” Both options are equally good depending on the circumstances.

One solution we’ve found at Light Messages Publishing is to order a conservative offset run for select titles based on our best estimates from presales, and then switch to POD. And that leads me to the topic of presales.

If you aren’t working hard toward preselling your book, then you’re already behind on release day. Presales matter for a number of reasons––they boost your rankings at major retailers because they all drop on release day, they help you build buzz about your title, and they help you build a mailing list for future marketing––but, most importantly, presales help you decide what printing model is most appropriate for your release.

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but how exactly does an independent publisher boost presales for a book that doesn’t even exist yet when it’s hard enough to sell an actual book with the promise of immediate gratification?

Here are three virtually free ways to boost your pre-sales:

  1. Include an ad in the back of your previously published books. If you have an existing inventory and can’t update them easily through POD, then consider a printed insert to advertise the upcoming title. Include the new title’s description, cover image, price, on-sale date, and ordering/distribution information.
  2. Organize a strong online campaign, maximizing the potential of pay-per-click advertising and your social media platform. Direct your audience to a link where they can pre-order the book and you can track the sales. This might be through your distributor or, if you’re fulfilling orders yourself, through a direct purchase link on your website.
  3. Offer a gift or incentive to those who pre-order. Entice your readers to pre-order directly through you with a discount of 15-20 percent off the retail cost. Or consider having the author sign and personalize each copy that was pre-ordered directly through you. Another option is to include a bonus story or other special content that you e-mail to everyone who pre-ordered the book.

As one of the partners at a small press, I find that our biggest advantage in being small is our ability to constantly experiment and test ideas. Don’t be afraid to try different presale options. Remember that each copy sold before its release date––no matter how small the total sum––puts you miles ahead of zero copies sold. Each presale drives you closer to answering the looming question of POD versus offset.


Elizabeth Turnbull is a senior editor at Light Messages Publishing in Durham, North Carolina. She also serves on the IBPA’s Board of Directors. Turnbull is the author of BONNWIT KABRIT AND JANJAK and FREDA GO TO THE IRON MARKET, two children’s books about Haiti. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she’s working with her husband to start a small farm that will serve the restaurant where he’s chef and owner.

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