Print on demand (“POD”) is the buzzword of the day, and many commercial printers are losing a chunk of their business to print on demand manufacturers such as CreateSpace and Ingram Spark (Lightning Source International). The result is a plethora of short-run digital printers doing their best to masquerade as true POD printers.
A short-run digital printer will often advertise themselves as print on demand, claiming that their system is such because they can print one book or a thousand “on demand,” that is, without having to set up the press specifically for your book.
But in this respect all digital printing is print on demand, and the short-run digital printer would prefer that you not understand that POD is not just a printing model, it is a business model.
In true POD, your book is printed only after the customer orders a copy from the retailer: the customer orders a book from, say, Amazon; Amazon send a request to the manufacturer of the book; the book is printed within 24 hours and shipped to the customer. The publisher is then paid their portion of the net sale less manufacturing costs. The cost to manufacture remains static regardless of how many copies are printed. The publisher can also order copies for themselves (for local sales, as giveaways, etc.), and again there is no discount, or only a marginal discount if more than 100 copies are printed. Companies such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, and their competitor Ingram Spark (LSI), operate a true POD business model.
With a short-run digital printer, the publisher pays to have the books printed in advance, and pays a per-unit cost that is based on the number of copies ordered; often the publisher only receives a significant discount if more than 1000 copies are ordered. The publisher must then distribute the books to retailers or hire a distributor to do so. The publisher is responsible for all upfront printing costs and the cost of warehousing and distribution. Sometimes this can be advantageous if the cost to manufacture each book is lower than with POD, where manufacturing costs tend to be high. There is also usually better quality control when working with a short-run digital printer. Indie authors must weigh these pros and cons when choosing between short-run digital printing and print on demand.
That said, the cost of short-run digital printing is often a function of where you live. Printing costs in the United States tend to be much lower than in Canada, and printing in China is lower than in the U.S. A Canadian publisher will often discover that printing in the U.S. then importing into Canada is cheaper than hiring locally.
Which brings me back to the short-run digital printer masquerading as a POD printer.
Times are tough for book printers, and many are resorting to deception to earn your business.
I used to take part in a local self-publishing fair where a certain digital printer not only advertised himself as a POD printer to fair goers, but whose website has been SEO’d with keywords like print on demand, publisher, distribution, and ISBN — all typical search terms of the author investigating self-publishing — and includes a link to Library and Archives Canada. There is even an FAQ section to answer such questions as whether or not the printer provides ISBNs (naturally not) and marketing services (also no). The printer also claims they can handle your distribution, yet what they describe is nothing more than drop shipping; they do not handle fulfillment, invoicing, or returns, which is what a real distributor does. The website is deceptive and meant to mislead newbie self-publishers.
So if you find yourself Googling print on demand, be wary of any company that claims to offer the service but wants payment up front for manufacturing costs, and who does not handle fulfillment, invoicing, or returns. They are really only short-run digital printers, not true print on demand.