Sunday, February 21, 2010

All POD Companies are NOT Created Equal

Okay, so you've got your book written and editted. Now it's time to find a printer/self-publishing service. I'm going give you some background on print-on-demand so that you'll know what it is--and what it isn't--based on the hundreds of questions I've seen asked on various forums.

What is print-on-demand?

Print on demand is a production model which essentially provides that books are printed according to market demand--or when they're ordered. It's based on Toyota's Just-In-Time production. JIT provided that instead of pre-building thousands of cars and hoping that enough customers would come to buy them, they'd build them as they're ordered. And they'd make their production process SO efficient, that a car could be built according to the customer's specification, in no time flat. The same principal holds true for POD. Instead of, say an author, having to order 10,000 books and store them in the garage, praying they can find some place to sell them, you order the books as you find customers. It reduces the need to stock inventory from every level of the bookselling process. So, if a store wants to buy 5 copies of your book to try it out, they can buy five, see if they'll sell, and then order more if necessary.

That's all print-on-demand is. So when you hear POD, you should not equate that with PUBLISHER.

The big difference between POD and Offset printing is that if when you order books in bulk numbers from offset printers, the more you buy the less it costs per book to produce. With POD, the cost of the book is the same regardless of whether you purchase one or 1,000. This makes POD more expensive than offset printing when you get into "thousands" of books. As a self-published author just starting out, you are probably not going to need thousands of books. Some have problems selling hundreds...and tens. At this stage of the game, POD is probably the best option.

So, what are POD companies?

Again, POD companies are NOT publishers! None of them are. POD companies are, for the most part, middle men or facilitators. They help turn your masterpiece manuscript into book format. That is all they do.

Different PODs, offer different pay-for services, at different costs. Some offer editing services, book cover design, marketing, and distribution. These are services that you pay for that can help enhance your book's presentation. Offering these services does not make it a publisher. With a traditional publisher, you should NEVER have to pay for the services. They will be provided to you for free AND you will receive a royalty.

"Well," you say, "my POD company pays me a royalty." Doesn't matter because the entire cost of producing your book was borne by you...not them.

There are different levels of POD companies. For the sake of this post, I'll call them Full Service, Minimal Service, and Mixed Service.

Full service companies include: iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse
Minimal Service: Lightning Source, TextStream
Mixed Service: Createspace/Booksurge, Lulu

Now, I've only selected a handful of companies. There are many more that you can Google.

Which company is for me?

Before you sign up for anyone, you MUST assess your needs and your goals. When I got ready to publish my book, I had several needs and goals.

Goals: To get my book onto as many major book retailers as possible. To get my book on bookstore shelves. Getting onto online retailers seemed to be the easiest thing. Getting into bookstores, not easy AT ALL. Through my research, I found out that you need several things to get into bookstores.

  • You book must be set at a retail price comparable to similar books on the market.
  • You must offer a standard industry discount typically between 40-55%.
  • Your book should be returnable. That means, if a retailer can't sell it, they can send it back to you for a refund.
  • Your book should be available through a major distributor (Ingram, Baker & Taylor)
  • It should have a professional-looking cover and interior.

  • To be able to set my price.
  • To offer returnability
  • A printer
  • Amazon sales channel
  • To keep the set up, price, and printing costs as CHEAP as possible.

Now let's turn to the PODs.

Full Service PODs offer everything. They help you set up your files. They send your book to the printer. They set up distribution for you. They offer marketing, book design and editing packages. It's an All-in-One. But remember, for my goals, I want to get into bookstores too, so I want to ask about the following: Discount, Returnability,

  • Xlibris - Cheapest Package - $399; Wholesale Discount- up to 48%; Book returnability - $699; Set your own price - $249; Distribution/Retail-Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon
  • iUniverse - Cheapest package - $1099; Wholesale Discount - 36%; Book Returnability - $699; Set your Own Price - No; Distribution-Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon
  • AuthorHouse: Cheapest package $599; Wholesale Discount - Could not find information; Book Return - $699; Set your own price - No; Distribution - Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Amazon

Minimal Service. These companies provide you with printing services and access to distribution channels ONLY. No editing, no book design, no marketing, no nothing. They are the cheapest because they don't offer these services. You have to format and submit your own files in PDF format. But they give you the most direct access to the distribution channels because they are owned by the distributors. This means, instead of the middle man, you're working directly with the companies and your books get listed much more quickly from the point of signing up. These companies work with major publishers, like the Hachette Group, on a regular basis. So they don't just work with authors, they work with presses of all sizes and prominence.

  • Lightning Source - $37.50 book interior upload ; $37.50 bookcover upload; $30 for proof (includes overnight delivery); $12 for listing with Ingram; Set your own price - Yes, Free; Set your own wholesale discount - yes, Free; Book Return - Yes, cost to print book +$1.00; Baker and Taylor, Ingram (Listing to Baker & Taylor takes 4-6 months, Ingram - Immediately)
  • TextStream - $30 file set up; listing with Baker & Taylor; Set your own price - Yes, Free; Set your own wholesale discount - Yes, Free; Book Return - Yes, Free; Distribution - Baker and Taylor (immediately).

Mixed Service Companies: These companies let you do things your way. If you need more services you can get them. But if you don't need the services, you could potentially publish your book for FREE.

  • Createspace: Cheapest package: Free; Set Your Own Price - Yes, Free; Set your own wholesale discount - No; Distribution - Expanded Distribution With ProPlan ($39) - Yes, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon. Wholesale discount - 40% Amazon, Bookstores ??? (author gives up 60%, we don't know what goes to the retailer).
  • Lulu: Cheapest package: FREE; Set your own price - No (typically above market prices); Distribution - Yes (for a fee); Book return - Could not find information; Distribution - Amazon, Ingram, Baker & Taylor; wholesale discount - ???

(Note: I'd always be wary of a company that does not make this information readily available on their website.)

What services did I choose and why?

In a previous post, I spoke about the benefits of purchasing your own ISBN. One of those benefits was getting to work with as many companies as I want to ensure that I'm getting the best (cheapest) deal and widest distribution.

Well, as the cheap indie author, I selected: Lightning Source, TextStream, and Createspace. Why? Because I wanted to be able to offer my book to bookstores while maintaining maximum control over pricing, discounts, and returnability.

  • I had complete control over my cover design. With many full service PODs, they use templates and stock photos that make your book look "self-published."
  • I have the technical savvy to set up my own files.
  • I hired my own editors and got a better perspective because I used someone directly from the publishing industry. With those services, you don't know the professional history of the editors that work on your book.
  • I could offer returnability at no cost, something most companies charge $699
  • I designed my own book interior (Design Wizard - $37--Google it)
  • I controlled my own pricing--for free. Most do not allow you to set your own price. I went to the bookstore, checked out the prices on books similar to mine, and set the price accordingly.
  • I can set my own wholesale discount for FREE; this allowed me to set a standard wholesale discount.
  • Createspace is an Amazon company, so they take the lowest discount for Amazon sales (40%); Through anyone else they usually require 55%. So by using Createpace, I'm keeping more royalty.

So, to sum up, before you sign up for ANY POD, if you endeavor to get into bookstores ask the following questions.

  • Can I set my own price?
  • Can I use my own ISBN?
  • Is the agreement non-exclusive? (A MUST--if you want to work with multiple companies)
  • What wholesale discount do you offer to retailers, Amazon? Can I set my own discount?
  • Do you offer book returnability? How much does this service cost?
  • Which distribution channels do I have access to (Ingram and/or Baker & Tayor a MUST)

Unfortunately, many authors who sign up with many of the full service companies don't understand what I've explained today and they set their book up for failure.

For example: One company offers a 36% discount. This is below the industry standard and bookstores probably won't stock it. But this same author might pay $699 to offer book returnability. They've wasted $700 to offer book returnability on a book that a bookstore will never stock.

What does a bookstore mean when they say, "We don't stock POD books."?

First, we now understand there is a difference in PODs and the services that they offer. They are not equal. When a bookstore says they don't stock POD, they mean companies like the example above that offer 36% discount and no returnability.

If your POD company is Lightning Source and you offer returnability and a standard discount (and provided your book is well-designed and priced) you have an EXCELLENT chance of getting your books on bookstore shelves.

How do I know?

Because I did it! On the next post, I'll tell you how!

Anymore questions on POD?

Until next time, keep it real...and keep it real cheap!


  1. Thanks once again Karla. You are a gem. I came here to read about editing again and post a link to a post I am writing because one of my friends just got burned waiting for a pre-publication review that he was sure would be positive and all that. I just got my 10 ISBNs for my revised edition with Lightening Source. I forgot how to do some of the inside formating that I did before so the software you mention may be a good idea for me.

  2. Design Wizard was like magic. It usually takes me literally weeks to format the book and I just did it in 2 hours by mostly copying and pasting. I could come through the computer and hug you. The Bum Magnet is in my cart!

  3. Folake!

    See? Isn't that the best $37 you EVER spent??? I recommend it all the time but people would rather just struggle through rather than buy it. I'll never use anything else again. lol I'm going to feature that today in my new "Neat and Cheap Tools of the Trade" segment.

  4. $37??? I could not believe it. It's as cost effective as Createspace cos all I paid them apart from my proofs was the $39!!! Now if Createspace would offer proper Ingram distribution where it does not say POD when bookstores pull it up, it would be just perfect. I had looked for a book writing software way back and never found one I like. Now I have! Thanks to you. No more struggling...

  5. Thank you, thank you , thank you for this post. It helped me so much. I am so incredibly new to all this, but was excited beyond belief when I found out that I could order a proof of my book and have it sold on Amazon. But then I became leary. Was this the way to go? Your post helped me. I love your book cover and know that I really need to work on finding someone to do a nice one for me instead of using the dumb templates. Thanks again!

  6. Thanks for the rundown on the POD companies, and your explanation of what it all means.

    As it happens, I'm moving over to Lightning Source from Lulu. Not because I have any real argument with Lulu, but I think for me, Lightning Source gives a bit more freedom of movement.

  7. Great information. My first book was published in 2001 by a company that's no longer in business. My second will be ready for printing within a couple of weeks. I'm looking at both Lightning and CreateSpace but have also had Balboa Press recommended, an arm of Hay House. Do you have any thoughts on them? Thanks!
    Judith Horky

  8. >>With POD, the cost of the book is the same regardless of whether you purchase one or 1,000.<<

    Actually, Lightning Source (your POD printer) provides a discount of from 5% to 25% if you order 50 to 500 or more copies of the same book at the same time.

    Michael N. Marcus

    -- "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don't be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"
    -- "Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book,"
    -- "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"

  9. Hi Karla,
    My book is going to be published by a traditional publisher, but the publisher uses a POD model. Should I be concerned? What questions should I ask the publisher? My goal too, is to have my book on bookstore shelves.
    Thanks for posting this interesting and informative article.

  10. Hi Jeanne,

    Traditional publishers, major publishers like Hatchette/Grand Central, frequently use print on demand to print their books. Using POD in an of itself isn't a concern. Now what you absolutely MUST do is contact your publisher and ask them about their distribution. Ask them which stores your book will be shelved in up front. And I'd even ask how many stores. The form of printing doesn't matter, it's the distribution that matters. Hope that helps.

  11. Hello:

    If I publish through Lightening Source,
    for Baker & Taylor to take my book, could I offer a 40% discount or does it still have to be 55%?


  12. You can set the discount at whatever you want to set it. BUT...bookstores will not buy as many books at the 40% discount, as they will at the 55% discount. It's just math. You may get more profit per sale, but you will probably make far fewer sales. Hope that helps.

  13. Thanks for sharing and giving an in depth look into the publishing industry. You have answered most of my questions. Thanks again!!

  14. ISBN:
    Can I use the same ISBN for both hardcopy & e-book?
    Do I need a different ISBN for each company I list the book with, i.e. Lightning Source, Createspace etc?
    Do I need a different ISBN for each electronic format I use?

    If I am listing with both Createspace and Lighning Source, Smashwords and other outlets, are they competing with each other? If I sign up with two different companies and they both use Ingram and Baker & Taylor, how does that work?

  15. No, you need a separate ISBN for each type of book so your hardcover would have a different ISBN from a paperback. And your ebook would need it's own ISBN number as well. Same goes for if you had an audio book.

    You only need one ISBN per book format regardless of who the distributor or printer is. If you purchase your OWN ISBN, you can use them with as many printers and distributors as you want. If you buy one through Createspace or Lightning Source and it does not expressly say that you can use it anywhere, then you can only use it with that particular service.

    The ISBN serves as a identifier for the BOOK it has absolutely nothing to do with the printer or distributor. So if you publish with Kindle, Nook, Smashwords or whatever you only need one ISBN number for that book format ever.

    Createspace and Lightning source are PRINTERS. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are DISTRIBUTORS. There is no competition between them. You can use as many companies as you want to print and as many companies as you want to distribute. As distributors, INgram gives you access to Barnes & Noble. Most libraries and BAM generally use B&T. But it varies and you will have to check on each company's website to find out who their customers are.

    Hope that helps.

  16. There were a lot of hits when I tried to find the Design Wizard software. Is this this site?
    If so, it is not compatible with a MAC. Do you know of a similar software for MAC?

    1. I've searched and could not find similar software for MAC. :(

  17. You have to be careful of Createspace. They do make it very easy to get your book printed and on the market. However, at times they can act like a publisher and refuse to print your book. For example, my friend is reprinting a series of book-style magazines from the 1950's. The page numbers of each issue continues from the previous issue. Say if Issue One ends at page 250, Issue Two starts with page 251. Well this drove Createspace crazy and they demanded each book be numbered traditionally, which was too expensive for my friend who found another printer.

  18. You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.