What POD Can Do, Part 1
Print-on-demand technology is a major driver of success for independent publishers. That conclusion stems from reports by IBPA members which also show that both relatively large, long-established publishers and brand-new, one-book publishers profit by using POD.
And they show that independent publishers pioneered with POD, just as they pioneered with so many other important aspects of modern publishing, including selling through channels other than bookstores, partnering with authors on promotion, focusing on particular communities of readers, and keeping older titles not only alive but active instead of branding them “backlist’ and ignoring them from then on.
Maintaining a deep backlist is well known as one of POD’s functions, of course, and it turns out that the technology is now affecting the big houses’ tendency toward not-so-benign neglect of their older books.
“Large trade publishers are now embracing and using POD more and more,” says Kelly Gallagher, vice president, content acquisition, Ingram Content Group, and a member of the IBPA board. Gallagher takes note of POD use “as a deep backlist printing strategy” and “for certain publishing strategies such as in-stock protection, keeping hardcovers in stock, and author galleys.”
Also, Gallagher observes, larger houses are increasingly using POD “for testing ‘C’ level or new authors.” That is not a practice independent publishers seem to favor, maybe because hefty first printings have never been de rigueur for smaller publishing operations and/or because the whole concept of a third-class author, like the related concept of “the rest of the list,” doesn’t fit the independent-publisher profile.
In the reports you’ll see here, 14 independent publishers tell how POD helps them. Reports from more publishers will run later in the fall. Many thanks to everybody who contributed.
From the Beginning
POD was one of the enabling technologies that contributed to the founding of Poisoned Pen Press. The first book we published using POD was our Edgar Award–nominated, AZ Murder Goes . . . Classic, in 1998—one year after Lightning Source (née Lightning Print) started up. In the last 15 years we have used POD to print nearly 1,200 books including ARCs, and we consider it an indispensable part of our business.
With regard to the advance reading/review copies, at first we used POD to print approximately 150 copies of each of the three new titles we do per month, which we mailed to various review media and libraries around the country. About three years ago we moved to doing digital ARCs through NetGalley, and we now print about 50 for the critical review media that can’t or won’t use the digital ARCs.
The normal life-cycle for our books entails an initial release in hardcover, paperback, large print, and digital. We use Bang Printing to do the initial print runs of our hardcovers and paperbacks, typically 2,000–3,000 for the hardcovers and 1,500–3,000 for the paperbacks. We almost never reprint since one clairvoyant industry wag accurately told me that the most expensive print run a publisher will ever order is the last one. Unless we see high continuing demand, once we sell through our printed copies of a title, we go immediately to POD to keep the title in print and available.
Our large-print books are set up as POD from the outset because we rarely sell more than 350 copies per title. Why bother with the large-print books if they sell so few copies? The main reason is that we have always considered the library market our primary market, and librarians appreciate being able to purchase large-print editions for their visually handicapped patrons. Over the years we have done large-print editions of more than 300 books. We sell about 160 copies of each of these titles, and we have made, on average, around $700 on each.
Robert Rosenwald – Poisoned Pen Press—Discover Mystery – poisonedpenpress.com
Doing the Math
POD has become tremendously useful. In fact, we stopped doing print runs over 500 copies about three years ago. When we did the math on warehousing costs, insurance, and shipping from printer and to customer, it just didn’t pay. Keeping thousands of copies on hand ties up so much capital and space and also presents a risk with up-front costs that we’re not willing or able to take with new titles.
Even on our largest title (6″ × 9″ and 496 pages), the cost per unit at CreateSpace is only 25 cents more than the best unit price we were able to negotiate with an offset printer. Considering just the costs to pick and pack, that extra quarter more than pays for itself, not to mention savings on shipping to and from the warehouse.
I’ve been pleased with the quality and have had no complaints thus far, but I should add that we were never set up to sell primarily through the trade, and I expect this would not be the case for those who need to sell profitably through bookstores; the margin’s too small.
Recently, we began using POD to keep backlist books available after sales have slowed down, and again the time, energy, and space saved far outweigh any negatives. All I have to do is track the sales.
I think we need to be clear about the difference between print-on-demand that’s one-off digital printing and that includes such branded technologies as the Xerox Espresso Book Machine, and digital printing that generally involves small runs between 10 and 500 copies. We keep at least 50 copies of our most popular title on hand, and reprint 200–500 at a time, depending on orders, for sales through our own Website, copies to be sold at fairs, festivals, and other events, and back-of-the-room sales after author presentations.
Currently, we work with Amazon CreateSpace, but we will likely also work with Lightning Source in the future. The latter still has, I believe, better overall quality and ensures orderability through Ingram, but Amazon is by far the more affordable of the two. I originally hesitated a long time after hearing horror stories about quality, especially in binding; but I took the plunge after Amazon changed from BookSurge to CreateSpace, and a fellow indie publisher who was using the CS platform had assured me that she was very happy with the quality of both print and binding.
For digital short-runs, we use several vendors, primarily Sterling Pierce on Long Island and Publishers’ Express Press in central Wisconsin.
Two lessons we’ve learned:
Don’t do all your printing with just one vendor. If you have quality issues or if something else holds up a run (for me, it was my primary vendor’s location in the area hit by Superstorm Sandy), that can mean you miss the date for fulfillment of an order or even lose a customer.
When crunching the numbers, remember your “soft” costs. Sure, it’s fairly easy to quantify your costs for production, shipping, and packing materials for order fulfillment. But even if you pick, pack, and ship your own orders, remember that this activity costs you time away from your publishing duties and therefore is a cost of doing business.
What would it cost you to hire someone to cover that process if you didn’t do it? That’s the number you plug into your spreadsheet to determine which printing technology is a good option for you. If you’re not putting a value on your time, your spreadsheets are “wishcasting” numbers, not forecasts.
Mary Shafer – Word Forge Books – WordForgeBooks.com
We use POD to print prepublication galleys and for short print-runs, perhaps 100 to 200 copies, to keep a book in print. If sales have declined for an older title but we still have demand, we use POD.
I have worked with several POD houses. Some offer services that others do not. For example, some do not print hardcover books. And perhaps they don’t print nonstandard trim sizes.
We have routinely had good pricing from Green Button, Inc. (GreenButtonInc.com) and have also had good results from Color House, which can print hardcover POD copies.
Rod Colvin – Addicus Books, Inc. – AddicusBooks.com
For Customers Who Prefer Paper
The sales numbers for our knitting/craft books have been growing steadily this year, along with our mailing list, and our author family has been growing by leaps and bounds; we’ve launched a new digital magazine, and it continues to mean so much to us when we get to meet our writers and readers at shows like Stitches, Rhinebeck, and Vogue Knitting Live, to get feedback in person, to hear what people think about our books (and the state of knitting in general), plus so much more.
The feedback tells us that many people still want paperback versions of Cooperative Press books, but as the price of printing and the price of paper continued to rise, we decided to use POD exclusively, via Lightning Source and (sometimes but not often) Magcloud. It made sense for our niche publishing business model, and we’ve gotten great feedback—our customers actually like the matte paper LSI uses because it makes it easier to scribble on the page (our main product is knitting/craft books).
Our books’ covers are the same with LSI—heavy and high gloss, for durability. But switching to interior matte paper has been a small technical challenge because it responds differently to ink, which caused some small color shifts.
On the plus side, the matte paper is acid-free as well as high quality; we can do smaller print runs, and therefore respond to errata fixes faster than ever before; the charts and other information needed to work the patterns are crisper and clearer than ever; and, as noted, some people say that the matte paper is easier to write on (to librarians and bibliophiles who are gasping at that last comment—sorry, guys!).
Also, we can have books printed five or six times faster than before, and sent directly from the printer if we like, which comes in handy for yarn store and wholesale orders.
Shannon Okey – Cooperative Press – cooperativepress.com
The Oversize Option
Although we print in large quantities to serve National Book Network—our distributor to the trade, which takes care of the brick-and-mortar bookstores and online bookstores such as Amazon.com—if you go to Amazon to see any of my books, you’ll note that they are also available in large print via print-on-demand. When a reader orders one, it is manufactured by Lightning Source and shipped directly to the customer. For these larger POD books, we charge five dollars more because of the price of paper.
Readers get what they need, and we do not have the expense of printing, inventorying, and shipping the large-print books.
Of course, the large-print category is being eliminated with the move to e-books, since e-book type size is easily adjustable by the reader.
Dan Poynter – Para Publishing – ParaPublishing.com
Print as a Partner
Six years ago I started Worthy Shorts in partnership with Otto Barz, who is now CEO, as an online POD publication service for professionals who need a user-friendly way to bring valued writing into print and share it within their own limited markets and networks.
E-book editions were then a byproduct, and we continue to provide them as part of our setup. However, we have discovered that a printed edition remains of irreplaceable value for gifting and preserving for access and reference in the course of time.
So, we can now say that one of the great values of POD is serving as the legacy partner to e-books—and that, as a bonus, preparing an e-book editorially with a print edition in mind provides a better e-book as well.
Professional authors and publishers coming to market with e-book editions first would do well to make small additional cost-effective investments up front so that e-books can be an outcome of print edition preparation, adding any electronic enhancements at that time.
Our preferred POD printers are Lightning Source and Bridgeport National Bindery.
Eugene G. Schwartz – Consortium House, Publishing Consultants – worthyshorts.com
Savings at Home and Abroad
We still have traditional print runs for frontlist titles, and then we may move a title to POD at the reprint decision stage, depending on unit sales volume and a view of future demand. Once we decide to move a title to POD, we use it to fulfill any and all customer orders. This allows for immediate availability, reduces time to market, and avoids a stock position in our warehouse.
Both Lightning Source and CreateSpace are very good in terms of quality, ease of title ingestion, resolution of any problems, and, most important, time to market.
In addition to utilizing POD to reduce some operational costs and time to market, we use it increasingly for selling titles into foreign markets, increasing availability abroad and shortening delivery time. The cost reductions are not always apparent on a P&L, but they have been beneficial to both top- and bottom-line results.
Matt Conmy – Springer Publishing Company, LLC – springerpub.com
The Easy Way
We’re in our 21st year of publishing “books written by authors while they’re living the experience they’re writing about.” We used to order 2,000 to 3,000 offset-printed copies at a time, but in 2010 we began using Lightning Source for two of the titles in our niche, caregiving for dementia. Having calculated the time and cost savings of shipping, inventory, and fulfillment, we found that POD just makes sense for our niche titles, which “touch the world, one family at a time.”
We’ll be moving another backlist title to LSI since our inventory is nearly depleted, and we also plan to begin using LSI for our forthcoming general-interest title, STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind out of the Clutter.
POD with LSI is so easy. A customer orders 100 copies of our books for a community event. We place the order through our online account. The books are printed and shipped in less than a week, and we pay the invoice within the month.
When Amazon, B&N, and other retailers around the world order through Ingram, LSI prints and ships the books. It used to take me 90 minutes to fulfill each order. Think about it—receive the order, prepare packing slip and shipping label, add to database (we’re still a bit primitive with our database), package the books, drive 17 miles round trip to the post office, wait three months for payment with returns deductions that take 30 minutes to figure out. The time adds up.
POD is the way to go for us right now.
How much easier can it get for a micropublisher?
Brenda Avadian – NorthStarBooks – NorthStarBooks.com
No Inventory Anguish
Lightning Source meets all our needs when it comes to print, distribution, and fulfillment.
The customer service is exemplary, and the procedures are easy to follow. Orders come from Amazon, Ingram, B&N, and Baker & Taylor, and books are delivered within a few days whether an order is for one or one hundred. Readers can’t see the difference in print quality; the books are beautiful.
I know some authors with inventory stacked in the basement and others who pay monthly warehouse fees, regardless of sales. Lightening Source has been a better alternative for us. Why would a small independent publisher print more than it can sell?
Marcia Breece – Self Pub Books – selfpubbooks.com
For Frontlist, Backlist, Nonfiction, and Novels
We have two nonfiction titles on CreateSpace.com that are available only by POD— Bumper to Bumper: The Diesel Mechanics Student’s Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations and Bumper to Bumper: La guía completa para operaciones de autotransporte de carga. We have filled orders for one copy to one customer, and we’ve filled orders for more than 100 copies to a single customer. The two titles could be considered backlist, and this is how we keep them in print for the customers who really like them.
But both POD-only titles have found new customers as well. We are quite pleased and are considering taking our flagship title, Bumper to Bumper: The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations, to POD.
We also used POD to launch fiction titles, The Lost King and The King’s Ransom. Without POD, I doubt we would have gotten involved with fiction.
For our nonfiction books, we’ve worked only with CreateSpace so far. Our fiction titles are not only on Amazon.com as print editions; they’re also available on Kindle, and the first one is also available on Smashwords.com in various e-formats.
We’re looking at Lightning Source but haven’t gotten around to publishing anything with it yet. And we’ve just started the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) process.
It’s possible that we have simply shortened our learning curve through experience, but it does seem to us that CreateSpace has refined and improved its process. We find it relatively easy to use, and we like the results. If we could make one improvement, it would be having the ability to reference a purchase order number on the packing slip sent with the books to the customer. Not being able to do that makes it difficult to fill some orders.
Devorah Fox – Mike Byrnes & Assoc., Inc. – bumper2bumpertruckbook.com
When Changes Are in the Cards
I decided to write a book because I thought it would be a great way to combine my skills as a credentialed nutrition professional and award-winning writer, and to educate others about living a healthy lifestyle. Not long after I released The Food Cop: Nutrition Guide and Workbook on CreateSpace, I had to make changes to the content as a result of the new food pyramid being released, along with other changes regarding dietary recommendations. I also had to make some changes on the cover.
Had I printed numerous hard copies, I would have had to throw all of them out. Thanks to print-on-demand, I was able to make these changes quickly and easily without being out a lot of time and money.
Corinne Kantor – The Food Cop: Nutrition Guide and Workbook – thefoodcop.com
Generating Prepub Reviews
As I write this, I’ve just sent out yet another POD galley (produced by CreateSpace) of my novel A Wilder Rose, scheduled for publication October 1. I ordered this print run (100 copies) early so I could have print copies for long-lead review media, and I have already received two requests for interviews (one from Kirkus) from this galley mailing.
Since I want libraries to be able to obtain the book, I decided I would pay both Kirkus and PW for reviews. My legacy-published books are always reviewed in both venues, and my publisher dumps more than enough dollars into advertising to cover those reviews. I don’t see much difference between my publisher paying indirectly via advertising buys and my paying directly in cash.
I will likely mail all of the initial print run out by the end of July in hopes of seeing a substantial number of prepublication reviews by late September.
Susan Wittig Albert – Persevero Press – susanalbert.com
Process Pluses; Pricing Issues
We now use Lightning and Edwards Brothers almost exclusively for POD books that go into selling stock. We have one book at Lightning Source plus a whole bunch on file at Edwards Brothers linked to the Consortium inventory. When that falls below a certain level we get a note requesting a small reprint. Works great, as we can decide each time when and how many. Some publishers have things completely automated, so they’re not even asked when the stock is low. Reprints in this case are anywhere from 12 to 120 copies.
We also use the technology (via Offset Paperback) for POD galleys for reviewers and others, and we’ve used it to do some short-run catalogs too (quick but expensive per unit). The printer ships direct to our distributor, who assembles “white boxes” for mailing to bookstores. We get another box here for media contacts. If we run out, we make more. It takes about 10 days, and is a good trial run for printing too.
Our main use of POD is to keep backlist books available after sales have slowed down, although in a few cases, when the price will be high and the demand will be low, we use it from the outset.
The issue with POD is that it provides very little economy of scale and, depending on the book, the cost of each unit can be so high that it is not possible to sell at a consumer-friendly price and still make money. Small paperbacks with few pages are still economically viable with POD, but when books get up around 250 to 300 pages, it puts a lot of pressure on pricing.
This means there is now a lot of incentive to keep books short. In time that may affect reading and writing habits, unless consumers suddenly all go nuts and decide it’s actually OK to pay what a book is worth instead of what Amazon discounts decree as reasonable.
Peter Goodman – Stone Bridge Press – stonebridge.com
My middle-grade and young adult publishing company would not exist without POD. It’s that simple.
The technology works very well for prepublication galleys. Authors get to see their books as the books will look in final form. They make any last-minute changes, and the books go through final printing. Each copy costs us a reasonable price and is mailed directly to the author. We can also opt for a PDF copy rather than print, which has no cost for us.
POD is also extremely useful for order fulfillment. Orders can be shipped directly and billed to me so that I do not have to deal with shipping at all—or storage, for that matter—and backlist is always available, no storage involved.
We use CreateSpace, and pay a nominal fee for Amazon’s extended distribution. We also work with Barnes and Noble for the Nook. We did not sign an exclusive with Amazon. It is not required.
Mary Nickum – Saguaro Books, LLC – saguarobooks.com