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What POD Can Do: Part 2

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What POD Can Do, Part 2

October 2013

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean,” Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Wonderland. As you’ve probably noticed, we take pretty much the same position about “POD” here in our world.

Sometimes, of course, we use it to mean what its letters stand for—print on demand—that is, the printing and binding of a specific number of units in response to demand from a customer for that number. And sometimes we use it to mean publishing via an author services company. More often, though, we use it as shorthand for short runs ordered at many times and for many purposes throughout a book’s life, starting well before pub date and ending long after the book would die if its publisher had to depend on offset printing.

Arguably, we could take to reserving “POD” for printing to fulfill specific demand, and add to our abundant supply of jargon by coining new terms such as “ASP” and “Shrup.” Also arguably, we could take to coining terms for different kinds of short-run printing. But I’m betting we won’t, for two good reasons.

1. “POD” is established as a label that communicates a related range of options reasonably well.

2. Readers don’t tend to focus on the printing processes that produce books, which means that devoting more time and attention to devising labels that reflect them might make no more sense than devoting time and attention to devising labels that convey Printed on a Tuesday or Written at Night or Delivered on a Ten-Ton Truck.

What readers do tend to focus on seems highly unwieldy as an acronym—think IWWIWWIWI. But no problem, since savvy publishers make it a point to pay attention to the voice in readers’ heads that keeps saying, “I want what I want when I want it.”

The reports that follow show how IBPA members take advantage of POD options with readers’ needs firmly in mind, much as the reports in Part 1 of this series did last month and the reports in Part 3 will next month. Thanks to all of you who shared what you did and what you learned.

—Judith Appelbaum

For Prepub Through Backlist Buzz

We have used POD both for printed galleys and for short runs to keep our backlist books available. The galleys have proved invaluable, partly because we saw a few small design changes we wanted to make for the actual printing, and because I was able to physically hand several out at the American Library Association convention, and we got some great reviews as a result.

Boat shows are good places to promote our books, and folks there love finding that all our books are available at our signing booth. Having 16 titles for them to choose from looks better than having only the 12 we would have had without POD, and keeps folks browsing just a bit longer.

Sometimes we sell only 10 or 12 of a particular title (one that we reprint 100 at a time), but these are full-price sales. Often folks say, “This is the book that’s missing from our set, and I’d like to have it even if I read it before.” People who don’t buy something often pick up one of the older books and say something such as, “I read this when I was doing such and such.” Having them linger at our booth adds to the buzz that draws more traffic.

Lin Pardey – Pardey books – landlpardey.com

Books by the Batch

Unless a color interior is involved, I always advise my publishing clients to print on demand, or inventory a couple of hundred books at a time—not only for galleys, but for final print runs. Yes, you may pay more per copy, but the extra cost is made up by:

● much lower costs for storage

● no returns, and thus no return shipping cost

● the ability to keep a book fresh with a minor revision

● freeing up capital that would otherwise be tied up in inventory (and using a chunk of that for marketing)

● not having X thousand copies in the garage

● the ability to do custom runs for special sales

In my own publishing house, I haven’t done an offset run since 2003—and I had to scramble like mad to get rid of the last 1,000 at a deep discount when a big publisher bought the rights to that title. I print books as I need them, in batches of anywhere from 10 to 250.

Shel Horowitz – Principled Profit – principledprofit.com

LSI Pros and Cons

We use Lightning Source for POD. Here are the pros and cons we have identified by dealing with them.


● the lowest upfront costs we could find that get books directly into broad distribution, with no need to pay for large print runs and store inventory

● very good printing quality; our books look spectacular

● ease of use

● low maintenance costs, enabling us to keep all backlist titles “in print” more or less indefinitely

● fast and efficient turnaround, enabling us to send review copies and fulfill large orders without delay

We do not use LSI to ship to individual customers, which would be cost-ineffective. For direct orders, we keep small inventory on hand.


● high printing costs (although they are nearly the lowest for POD, it is still difficult for us to offer competitive discounts, and costs are even higher for our direct orders)

● limited distribution (big distributors other than Ingram are off limits; we do have some wholesalers who order directly from us, but our relationships with them were established independently from LSI)

● setup and revision costs (LSI charges $40 for title setup and the same for each revision, cover or interior, which is annoying because we always upload files for review copies and then update the cover and sometimes the interior with review quotes added)

● accounting system (they do send monthly statements through email, but we find them hard to keep track of, and there is no place online where one can download all the sales figures at once)

● inability to set a specific publication date (LSI asks that titles for distribution be submitted four to six weeks before the publication date, but the books are usually available within one to two weeks, which dilutes the impact of the launch)

● books are listed as “back order” in all catalogs (which makes it less likely that retailers will take them seriously)

● high costs of returns (if you make your books returnable, as bookstores require, you are liable for the printing cost of every returned book, and if you want to get these books shipped to you, there is an additional charge of $2 per book)

Overall, as we learned from multiple interactions, LSI makes money mostly on direct orders from publishers and setup fees, not on the sales of the books. I believe most of the POD services operate the same way. For all these reasons, it is nearly impossible to make serious money using POD. We make most of our money through e-book sales.

We looked into Amazon CreateSpace, but its printing costs are even higher, and it takes a much larger cut of the sales, making it completely impossible to offer competitive prices and discounts. Also, distribution is even more limited.

Dawei Dong – Dragonwell Publishing – publishing.dragonwell.org

To Better from Worse

I could rant for entirely too long about my horrible experience with iUniverse and its “pro” package.

Now I warn people away from any organization that’s pushing packages and encourages self-publishers to overstock by offering ”discounts” on your own book when you buy larger quantities. The primary advantage of POD should be that you don’t end up with boxes of unsold books.

With iUniverse, my novel Running Away had a list price of $18.95. I had to pay about $13 per book, and received less than a dollar whenever one sold (and sales weren’t reported in a timely fashion). I hand-sold about 500 at $20 a pop (including tax). Some people came back to buy more for friends, which completely amazed me—I wouldn’t spend that much on an unknown’s novel! Some copies sold through iUniverse, but not many at that price.

I finally managed to cancel the contract in 2012. Then I reedited and changed enough to warrant a new ISBN, bought my own ISBN as Durare Publishing, and printed through CreateSpace. Through it, I set the list price at $8.99, and I can buy copies myself for $3.44 each, whether I order one or many (shipping costs increase with large orders, of course, but are still very reasonable).

That price is a lot more reasonable for an unknown author, and I can offer a discount at my own discretion. Oh, and I get a little more from online sales than I did with the more expensive version—and they show up almost immediately. The only thing holding me back now is poor marketing. I’m working on that!

Although the CreateSpace Website offers lots of services, I’ve never had anyone push services at me. There is excellent support for people publishing on their own, both at CreateSpace itself and through Author Central at Amazon.

Generally, I’m not a fan of megacompanies. But Amazon really seems to be doing this right. Here’s hoping they don’t change their ways.

Sheri McGuinn – Durare Publishing – sherimcguinn.com

Pro Short-Run Digital Printers

As a provider of publishing services to independent publishers, I generally supervise the printing, binding, and delivery of books.

Depending on the publisher’s needs, the same book may be printed three ways: offset, short-run digital, and print-on-demand. I find that a lot of self-publishing authors and independent publishers confuse short-run digital and POD.

POD (one book is ordered, one book is printed and shipped) really applies—for my clients, anyway—only to those books sold through the major online retailers (Amazon and B&N, primarily). For more than one or two copies, I prefer to use a short-run digital printer.

The advantage to using a short-run digital printer is that the production values for the book are better and more consistent than with the POD printers. Many old-line book manufacturers have a digital line and apply the same quality control standards there that they do on their offset operations, and there are digital-only printers that have high standards too.

Dick Margulis – Dick Margulis Creative Services – dmargulis.com

Time-Pressured Printings

I exhibited three books at BookExpo America this year—two that were at press and one that I was about to send to press. Since they wouldn’t be printed in time for the expo, I used POD.

Two of the books were printed by BookBaby. They were reasonably priced; the quality was excellent; and customer service was first rate. I used 48hourbooks.com for the third title since it wasn’t ready until a few days before the expo. Because of the extremely short time-frame for delivery, the price on that one was a bit painful. But, again, the quality was excellent, and customer service was great. I currently plan to be a traditional publisher, with an inventory of books printed by offset, but I was very happy with my first experience with POD.

Jim Pennypacker – Maven House Press – mavenhousepress.com

Packages of Payoffs

POD is a godsend, particularly for small companies. Right now, we’re about to do our first Kindle Special with 100 Ready-to-Use Treasure Hunt Clues as an e-book, and Amazon having exclusive digital rights for 90 days. I’m eager to see if the five days of “no-price” selling draw enough buyers to justify doing that with other e-books later.

Although that e-book version will stay in the e-book world, I can produce and sell the same book in paperback simultaneously. I will order 75 paperbacks from CreateSpace right away for promotion via our e-list; then I’ll either do that again or go to LSI and get the PODs, depending on the cost per book at each and whether they mail at media rates.

Getting set up is important because the new book is directly related to a long-living, steady-paying book of ours called Treasure and Scavenger Hunts: How to Plan, Create, and Give Them. We promote this earlier book in the new one, and will in accompanying flyers and to our many e-list buyers who bought TSH. And we will send sales information to people now buying the old book, telling them about the new 100 Treasure Hunt Clues book.

That means that we expect to have a lot of two-book sales, and we need both books listed, now or quickly, on our order form, at the Kindle e-book site (and three other “open” publishers after 90 days), and at Amazon and all the other venues where we sell paperbacks.

This duo will generate what we call “sinecure sales.” The new 110 Clues book may never require more than a couple of 1,000-copy offset runs, and both titles may live forever through POD 100-book orders, replenished whenever we see the stock getting to 20–25 (a range that works, since LSI and CreateSpace ship in 5 to 10 days).

A title now about 10 days old may live in the POD world forever for paperback sales. We expect to print Surviving Prostate Cancer by offset only when we receive large, custom-directed orders from medical groups or associations. In the meantime, it’s already at Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Scribd, and other e-book publishers—no exclusivity anywhere. We hope the book sells forever, or at least to relapse.

Gordon Burgett – Communication Unlimited – Gordonburgett.com

A Satisfying Stopgap

I’m very new at self-publishing, but perhaps my story will be helpful. I had committed to a reading for my new book, Fifty Weeks of Green: Romance & Recipes, and was starting to get good buzz around the book. But getting set up with Lightning Source was taking more than a month longer than I had anticipated.

Fortunately, I found 48hourbooks.com. They are extremely easy to work with and very fast. How fast? They got the books to me two days before my reading. They could have made it sooner, but I took an extra day to add a full index instead of just providing a list of recipes. They do answer the phone and reply to emails in a very helpful and friendly manner. The book turned out beautifully.

I’m asking them to do a second printing so I can keep Amazon stocked and send out review copies while waiting for Lightning Source to be activated. In the long run, LSI provides more services for less money and less work. But people who want only a few hundred copies of a book may find that 48 Hour Books is all they need.

Linda Watson – Cook for Good – cookforgood.com

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