What POD Can Do, Part 3
The reports from IBPA members that you’ll read here reflect, and to some extent document, one of the biggest and most important publishing revolutions ever. Like members’ contributions to the first two parts of this series, this collection shows that stubborn financial barriers to book production have crumbled to the point where front money for manufacturing books is almost a nonissue.
Of course, there’s some pretty stiff competition for Most Important Publishing Revolution Ever, even if we stick to the ones linked to production innovations. Think, for example, of the changes stemming from Gutenberg’s work with movable type, the ones stemming from the development of offset printing and desktop publishing software, and the ones stemming from the introduction of e-books.
The technology that enables digital printing of books still looks like a winner to me, given the percentage of book publishers’ revenue that print-on-paper books continue to generate. But the main point here, of course, is that digital printing technology helps publishers on tight budgets give their books long and happy lives, starting before publication and going on afterward, sometimes virtually forever.
It’s also well worth noting that independent publishers were quick to grasp the value of this new technology, quick to adopt it, and quick to use it in a wide variety of ways. In this arena as in others, IBPA members have been intelligently active both on the cutting edge of change and in the trenches where what matters is how smart you are about using technological tools.
Many thanks to all of you who shared your illuminating experiences.
Use After Use Over Time
We send digital galleys more often than print galleys, but when we do send print, the galleys are always from one of our POD printers.
We typically release a book through our POD channels and see how many sell. If sales reach a point where the cost/benefit shifts to a short run or a major print run, then we invest in that.
Using POD to fulfill orders from one customer or just a few at a time is very useful for increasing sales on our eCommerce site. Usually, we drop-ship the orders from our POD printer instead of shipping from inventory, which saves on shipping and storage charges and means we don’t have to handle the shipment.
Because of POD, our books are effectively “out of print” only if we decide to delist them. Most of our books continue to sell long after their peak. There is very little cost to keeping a book active, and POD makes this very easy.
We use both Lightning Source and CreateSpace—CreateSpace almost exclusively for Amazon, and Lightning Source for everyone else. Our short runs are typically handled by other printers.
Lightning Source covers and overall quality are better, in our experience. And we urge other publishers to be cautious about CreateSpace’s “Expanded Distribution” offering, which we found usually limits sales outside of Amazon because the books are listed as POD with no returns and at a discount level below what bookstores want. It almost seems like Amazon is trying to lock you out of bookstores! Lightning Source allows you to sell into bookstores more easily.
Lawrence Knorr – Sunbury Press – Sunburypress.com
Well Served by Short Runs
St. Johann Press is a heavy user of POD for printing in small numbers (e.g., 20, 30, 50) and in some larger runs (e.g., 100–250). We do not print one or two copies at a time. We want to have books in stock to ship immediately. When we need more than 250, we usually do an offset run.
For example, we printed approximately 1,750 copies of our two-volume Big Book of Buttons. This 1,100-page encyclopedia has 400 color plates and measures 8 ½” × 11″. We covered all costs by preselling nearly half the press run and setting a $375 price.
For this book and other large reference books, we use offset first. If the book does not have color plates, we may continue the future printings with POD technology.
One of our early authors was John Shelby Spong. When his current publisher was not interested in reprinting his early titles, he asked if we would keep six of his books, including Honest Prayer, in print. Since we did not have deep pockets, we started by printing 50 copies using POD technology. Now, we have reprinted more than 40 times in runs of 20 to 50. All this author’s titles have followed similar patterns and continue to be strong backlist books for us.
We have purchased rights to other published books, including Jim Burklo’s Open Christianity and Jack Good’s Dishonest Church, and kept them in print by using POD technology. They too became part of a strong backlist, and their authors have produced new titles, which we published.
For both POD and offset printing, we have used G&H Soho, where I have known Jim Harris and Gerry Berstein for nearly 35 years, since my days at Macmillan. I consider them part of St. Johann Press. They know what I want, and they know if I am making a mistake. Most of our covers are designed by Soho, and we are now shifting our inventory to their warehouse.
Dave Biesel – St. Johann Press – stjohannpress.com
Offset Only for Certain Images
My first book, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, is POD as well as e-book. I published it initially through CreateSpace, but switched over to Lightning Source for improved control of discounts and returnability to make ordering it more palatable to booksellers and libraries. Copies sold through Amazon are still printed by CreateSpace.
CreateSpace and Lightning Source seem comparable in terms of quality, but I think LSI has a slight edge here (due perhaps to better paper?).
My second book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, is a photography-heavy book that was offset printed. CreateSpace was ideal for getting proof copies to confirm that my designer and I were making the right choices about type sizes, margins, page number positioning, and more. These are the kinds of judgment calls it’s nearly impossible to make without a book in hand.
These proofs made it clear that color POD quality has radically improved, but is not yet at the “coffee-table quality” a book like
I also used CreateSpace for generating advance copies to send to reviewers and to submit with my Ingram account application. (My beta readers worked with PDF files rather than physical copies.)
Given the perfectly decent quality I’m seeing from POD, and the fact that the machines they’re printing with just seem to keep getting better, I plan to publish many future books using POD and as e-books, reserving offset printing for titles with photographs that need high-quality reproduction.
Dinah Sanders – Sanders & Gratz – SandersAndGratz.com
In late 2011, while I was editor-in-chief of the online literary and artistic venture MungBeing Magazine, I founded a publishing company called Pelekinesis. It now has a wildly diverse group of talented artists and writers and an equally adventurous collection of book titles.
We explored using various limited-run production techniques with some talented and viable small presses but ultimately chose Lightning Source’s print-on-demand manufacturing process as the one that aligned most closely with the vision of this publishing company.
One goal of Pelekinesis is to produce some beautiful printed books utilizing the most efficient and low-impact methods available. Choosing a print-on-demand manufacturing method reduces the overhead and the physical footprint of the operation; we do not need to warehouse books, and revisions are simple and immediate.
With a POD manufacturing process, we are able to produce a short run of advance review copies before we submit our final version for printing. The efficacy of the review process is still being evaluated, however, and we are giving consideration to other methods.
Through Lightning Source we have also been able to establish relationships with manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom and Australia so our books can be printed in various locations around the world, thereby reducing our shipping costs and delivery times.
The books look beautiful; the customer service is superb; the prices are reasonable; and the shipping and ordering processes work well.
Our current distribution network includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram as well as Google Books, Kobo, Kindle, Nook, and Baker & Taylor. We have contacted several small press distributors, and as we explore various distribution models and channels, we plan to continue exploring production methods. We will not shy away from experimentation in any area.
Mark Givens – Pelekinesis – pelekinesis.com
For Authors and Online Orders
POD has been great for my small publishing house because almost 99 percent of our sales are e-books. The printed book is simply supplemental. However, I have been more than impressed with the print quality of the POD books.
We send POD books to our authors to use in signings and at conventions, and we sell them online. We do not distribute to big chain or independent bookstores, but these stores do have access to our books through CreateSpace, and some carry them.
Since 5 Prince Publishing is a very small house with no warehouse space (or office space), we want to avoid storing inventory, and we use CreateSpace for both printing and distribution. I have been very happy with it. Our only issue is that non-U.S. authors have to pay heavy shipping costs. But we are looking into that.
Bernadette Soehner – Prince Publishing – 5princebooks.com
Costs in Context
We use POD for everything, because we don’t sell in bookstores. There is no need to print thousands of copies. It is more expensive than offset, but we can offer a discount (20 percent at Lightning Source; 40 percent at CreateSpace) and have products always in stock. Since we don’t go through the traditional book distribution system, we can be profitable even if books cost $3–$4 to print; or, in the case of our new full-color book, Moving to Naples, $8–$11 to print.
Newt Barrett – Content Marketing Strategies (a division of Voyager Media, Inc.) – ContentMarketingToday.com
A Startup’s Strategy
So far, I’ve used POD technology exclusively for publishing the Highway Mystery series. As a new independent author/publisher with only a few books (and fiction, at that), I haven’t wanted to tie up a lot of money in inventory. I also don’t have staff to handle distribution from my own office, and using Lightning Source and CreateSpace with direct-to-customer shipping serves my purposes.
CreateSpace serves as my online store for single copies, and I insert links on my WordPress site, which doesn’t allow e-stores.
Generally, if I have only one or two books to send—as review copies, say, or giveaways—I use CreateSpace to ship direct to the customer, because it turns out to be cheaper for me. If I’m ordering the limited inventory I keep on hand to sell locally, I order through Lightning Source. This is partly because I live in Canada, and LSI has excellent shipping arrangements to Canada, inclusive of customs clearance. I have also used CreateSpace for my own orders when I’ve had enough time to pick up the orders from UPS in Washington state.
As my series grows (the fourth title will be released in 2014) and becomes more well-known and in demand, I will adjust my publishing, pricing, and distribution strategies, but meanwhile this is keeping publishing affordable and flexible for me, and making my books available to my readers in North America and the United Kingdom.
Ruth Donald – Proud Horse Publishing – proudhorsepublishing.com
Sold on Streamlining
At Bitingduck we’ve been working with a company called dpdigital for our POD, and that has changed our lives for the better in a lot of ways. Its minimum order is one book, and its prices are lower than any other POD company I’ve seen (about $3 for a typical paperback). Because of this, we order single books for bloggers, reviewers, and others as prerelease galleys, and we order small numbers of copies (as few as one) for orders through Brodart.
We also give our account login to our authors, so they can buy as many copies as they want at the author discount rate.
All of these things have streamlined our print ordering enormously. I even often order a print copy of a first draft to do macro edits, because it’s cheaper and easier to handle than running the book off on my LaserJet.
I find the customer interface for uploading interiors and covers very easy to use, although it is necessary to use a CMYK to get good color. The only drawback is that dpdigital can’t currently do matte covers, only glossy.
Jay Nadeau – Bitingduck Press – bitingduckpress.com
100 Percent, from One On Up
We use LSI and are very happy (some small issues, of course, but in general, very pleased).
We are 100 percent POD, so I guess you can say we use it for everything (e-books too, although they are not part of this conversation).
The three books we have published so far were done with black-and-white interiors, since POD is not nearly as cost-effective for color illustrations or books with a lot of images.
We also have processed several print runs for 1,000 and 2,000 copies through LSI, and we get some attractive bulk rates for both print and ship. Our sales are still not at the point where we want to go 100 percent offset, get a warehouse, do fulfillment, and so forth, so we plan to stay with this model for a while.
Since LSI/Ingram also distributes our books, we use POD for individual online orders from Amazon, B&N, Book Depository, and others and never even see those transactions. We just collect the money at the end of the month. And when we process direct orders from bookstores/distributors, we utilize LSI’s online Web-ordering, which makes everything quite easy. It is great to be able to order 1 copy or 50, or 250 at a time, online, and then have the order shipped from Europe or Australia or the United States.
Chris Cornell – FB Publishing – fbpublishinghouse.com