How to Choose a Print on Demand Publisher

Before choosing a Print on Demand (POD) publisher, you need to consider seven crucial factors: set-up costs, cover price, royalty payments, control, distribution, author’s discounts, and the publisher’s reputation.

Print-On-Demand (POD) publishers merely print a single copy of a book at a time as when you order rather than mass printing. POD, as a term, has come to be synonymous with a business model in which publishers, in one way or another, charge authors to bring their books to readers. The payment may be through up-front set-up fees, a share of the sale price, or a combination of both. Authors who choose this form of publishing should understand that although their books may be available for sale on online retail sites, they will likely never appear in bricks and mortar bookstores. Authors will have to do their marketing, and they can expect that their books will not be regarded as exact publishing credits by most people in the publishing industry.

Despite these disadvantages, POD publishing is still right for some. If you wish to self-publish a book to reach a small, niche audience, the POD is a low-risk means to do so. But before you choose the publisher who is right for you, you need to research the options and compare the offerings. When making your comparisons, don’t pick a company based on one factor alone. Be sure to consider all seven of the essential elements outlined in this article, while giving slightly more weight to those issues that are most important to you.

1. Set-up Costs

Most PODs charge a basic set-up fee to publish your book. You may be inclined to choose a publisher that charges the lowest amount or nothing at all, but bear in mind that POD is a business, and publishers will make money one way or another. If you choose to minimise your set-up fees, then understand the trade-off. PODs that charge lower set-up fees (or no set-up fees) set higher cover prices, which could price your book out of the market. Additionally, they may pay lower royalties on average.

An initial outlay of funds could translate to higher total profits in the long run. If you expect to sell only a very few copies of your book, it may be best to avoid set-up fees. If, however, you plan to sell many copies of your book, an initial investment may be worthwhile if the publisher will pay you higher per book royalties.

When considering set-up costs, be careful to compare comparable services. Make sure you know what your set-up costs cover, and don’t pay for services you don’t need. Most authors will want a basic package to include, at a minimum, cover design, internal layout, an ISBN, and distribution to online retailers. Many packages load additional services you may secure at a lower price elsewhere, such as copyediting, promotion, and copyright registration (you can do that yourself). One company may charge no set-up fees at all, but you may have to design your cover, which requires time and specialised knowledge.

2. Cover Price

Because it costs more to print one copy of a book at a time, cover prices for POD books are naturally higher than for mass market paperbacks. If you are publishing via POD, you will have a high cover price, but be wary of too high a rate. Most readers are not willing to shell out more than $15 for a soft cover novel. Some POD publishers charge as much as $19 or more for a 250-page book!

Some PODs will allow you to set your cover price within a specific range. It is always an advantage. Realize, however, that when PODs offer this flexibility, a lower cover price usually means a lower whole dollar, per book royalty. However, if a lower cover price enables you to sell more books, your total earnings may be higher.

3. Royalty Payments

Most POD publishers pay you a percentage of net receipts, that is, a percentage of the amount that remains after printing costs and distributor’s discounts. A few, like Lulu and CaféPress, allow you to set your royalty, which in turn affects the cover price. Royalties are the most challenging aspect of print-on-demand publishing to compare because a promise like “20 per cent of net receipts” does not give you a solid idea of the actual dollar amount you will receive. Your royalty will be affected by your cover price, the distributor’s discount the publisher offers to retailers, and the amount your publisher claims it costs to print your work. (I say “claims” because different publishers assign different costs for printing the same size book.) Before signing a contract, make sure your publisher has told you how much it costs to publish your book or see that she gives you a general estimate of how much, in whole dollars, you will make per book.

4. Control

Some writers care more about artistic control than they do about money. How much power do you want over your work? If you want complete control of layout and cover design, you could use a service like Lulu, which lets you handle everything. But if you want all that work done for you, you might fare better with a publisher like a universe. Do you want to be able to cease publication of your book, revise it in the future, or continue to seek a mainstream publisher while you are selling your book on demand? Be sure to check the contract terms to see what rights, if any, you are granting the publisher. Some PODs will want exclusive rights to your work for years, and terminating a contract may be difficult if you find another publisher.

5. Distribution

The reality is that most POD books will never see the inside of bricks and mortar store. But if you maintain that hope, you have to be sure that your POD will offer a reasonable discount to stores and accept returns.

Even if you aren’t interested in breaking into the bricks and mortar stores, at the very least, you will probably want your book to be available on online retail sites. Make sure your publisher plans to get your book listed on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and that your book will not merely be available for sale from the publisher’s website.

6. Author’s Discounts

Most PODs offer a discount on copies ordered by the author, and some provide volume discounts. If you’re planning to purchase copies of your books for a local book signing, to use as promotional copies, to donate to libraries, or only to give away to family and friends, you’ll want to consider this discount.

If you are planning to re-sell your books, the author’s discount should be more than the royalty you would receive if you are selling the book through your publisher’s website, otherwise, selling your books won’t be worth your effort, probably.

7. Reputation

You’ve heard the old adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you’ve found a POD that seems to have low or no set-up fees and that promises you that they will stock your books by the big chains, proceed with caution. Indeed, even if a POD doesn’t guarantee you the sky, be sure to research its reputation. An excellent place to start is in writers’ forums on the Internet. You can also check the Better Business Bureau in the publisher’s home state, but this is likely to be less helpful as Internet-based businesses often go uncovered by local BBBs.

Get Started

Now that you know what seven factors to consider when comparing PODs, where do you find information for comparison? You can read general reviews and comparisons on websites like Publish on Demand and Books and Tales. Then visit and read carefully the site of each publisher you are considering, being sure to take a look at the contract. If they did not supply it on the website, ask a copy to e-mail you. Finally, consider joining the POD discussion list on Yahoo Groups. So, power up your computer and start hunting!

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