Over the many years I have been in the publishing business, the biggest changes I have seen have been in the production and printing of books. When I started out as a production editor and free-lance artist for a major English textbook publisher, there were no computer programs on which to write, design, or typeset books. The only presses available to print a book were offset or web, unless you wanted to use the almost archaic and expensive letterset press.
It was when I saw the potential of the computer in publishing, 15 years ago, that I decided to start my own publishing company. As the focus of my business has shifted from traditional publishing to self-publishing packaging, I have had to learn every aspect of printing in order to give my clients the most professional looking book for the best price.
What I have learned about printing any book can easily be summed up in six words: More than one option is available. Which one you choose should depend on how you intend to market your book and how much of a profit you want to make. It’s important to learn the pros and cons of each type of printing in order to make an informed decision about the method that’s best for you.
The Pros & Cons of Each Process
The most readily available options are Xerography, offset, and web.
Xerography (High End POD)
Books are printed as you need them.
No unsold books have to be warehoused.
You can easily correct mistakes in subsequent printings.
The initial investment is smaller than with offset or web printing.
It’s easy to make review copies to send out early.
Proofs look just like a finished book.
Color within the book doesn’t cost more.
Cost per printed book is high; on the other hand, the total cost for a print run of fewer than 100 books is less than it would be to print that number by offset.
Runs of more than 200 books increase the cost per book significantly.
Graphics may be pixilated.
Photographs within the book can look like photocopies.
Film lamination for the cover may not be available.
Case-bound books may not be available.
Certain paper and paper weights may not be available.
Special effects such as embossing on cover, bleeds on text, and layflat binding are not available.
Offset & Web Presses
Printings of 500 copies or more are more cost-effective than they would be with POD.
Larger print runs drop the cost per book significantly.
Printing quality is higher than with POD.
Graphics and photographs don’t suffer from pixilation.
Different bindings–besides comb, saddle stitch, and perfect bound–are available.
Different coatings for the cover are available.
Cover embossing and other special effects are available.
Small runs may have a high cost per book.
Color inside the book is expensive.
Proper storage of unsold books is necessary.
Printers may produce overruns or underruns.
Correcting mistakes has to wait until a future printing.
How to Make the Decision
When we arrange printing for our own clients, we use POD in small runs for poetry chapbooks and cookbooks without photographs. If authors indicate that they don’t care about making a profit and simply want to publish a few copies for family and friends, Print on Demand is perfect. However, if we know that an author or small publisher is willing to market a book aggressively, has a marketing plan, and is focused on a specific audience, we advise offset printing. For our larger runs, we use the web press for cost-effectiveness.
So, if you want to make money from your publishing venture and you’re willing to work at marketing your book, use offset or web printing. If you’re just testing critical reaction to your book and you want 100 or fewer copies or do not want to actively sell the book, then Print on Demand is the way to go. But be careful to avoid deals with fees based on the cover price you plan to charge. You will lose money with fees of this sort, no matter how many books you sell. Instead, look for fees based only on the number of books you want printed.
Dorothy Kavka is President and Senior Editor of Evanston Publishing, Inc., a book packaging and consulting company located in Louisville, Kentucky.