POD – What does it really mean?


By Bethany Brown – The Cadence Group

Print on demand is becoming more and more common, especially for indie authors. Bethany Brown, from The Cadence Group, a dedicated team of publishing professionals, has written a great, in-depth article explaining the ins and outs of POD. Read on.

If you are self-publishing your book or thinking about self-publishing your book, the term POD has probably come up in your research. POD is short for “Print on Demand” and, while technically a printing method, it has come to mean far more to authors and small presses.

Print on Demand as a Printing Method

Print on demand has always been a printing option for authors and small presses. Books that are POD are printed using a digital press. Printing on a digital press allows for much shorter print runs. The cost per unit may be higher than an offset print run but the costs have come down considerably over the years…while the quality has improved immensely. This is a huge win for publishers and authors alike. Digital printing was once used primarily for galleys and ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) because the quality was not good enough for finished, market-ready books.  That has changed. I would challenge anyone (outside of a pre-press operator) to compare a digitally printed book to an offset book printed by professional printers. It’s tough to tell the difference. (More about the pros and cons of offset printing when printing a book.)

Print on Demand as a Warehousing Method

Now you know that the books are printed digitally and that the quality is good. But what does POD mean for warehousing and why is it so popular? I’m sure you’ve seen articles about people who are stocking books in their garage, guest bedroom, barn, living room, etc. They have either chosen, or been talked into, printing several thousand copies of their book.  The problem is, what do you do with those copies? Believe it or not, this isn’t a challenge facing just self-published authors. It’s a challenge for all publishers, big and small. Warehousing books is expensive.

Print on Demand solves this issue. POD is exactly what it says. Print on Demand. There are no copies of your book sitting in a warehouse anywhere. Your book only lives as files at your digital printer. If I order your book, it is printed, and then shipped to me. That may sound like it takes a long time or is really complicated but it’s actually very quick and simple. For example, Amazon’s CreateSpace program uses the POD method of fulfillment. And, they still meet Prime shipping for those products.

The truth of the matter is that you may pay $4.00 per book, or more, to print with a POD company like CreateSpace or Lightning Source. That sounds pricey as compared to, maybe, $2.10 per book with a traditional offset printer.  But you are saving a significant amount of up front money and you are saving money on warehousing your book.

Print on Demand as a Distribution Method

This is where the term POD gets tossed around out of context. When you “go POD”, you are really talking about printing. However, the term POD is now also used in reference to bringing a book to market – or distribution. The two most common companies that you may hear about in reference to POD are CreateSpace and Lightning Source. Both companies use POD technology to fulfill orders. Both companies work with self-published authors and traditional publishers. Both companies handle an unbelievably large number of books. How? They print on demand.

Stepping away from the printing piece, POD is now used in conversation as a distribution method. That’s because when an author or publisher works with a POD company such as CreateSpace and/or Lightning Source, the book is printed on demand but also made available in that company’s system. With CreateSpace, that means the book is available on Amazon.com. With Lightning Source, the book is available to all retailers and listed with Ingram (who owns Lightning Source).

Technically, by making the book available to retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, local bookstores, etc., some POD companies are serving as both printer and distributor. They are also responsible for collecting money and depositing it in your account – another vital role played by your more traditional distributor.

Remember to read all POD contracts carefully. Currently, both CreateSpace and Lightning Source have non-exclusive contracts. For authors and publishers considering one of these companies, we might recommend both at the same time – same ISBN. Because CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, it’s a great way to get your book uploaded and available on Amazon.com. Because Lightning Source is owned by Ingram, there are some great opportunities to make your book available to bookstores, libraries and other retailers who may choose not to order from Amazon (a competitor) but would order from Ingram (a wholesaler).

Print on Demand as a Market “Test”

One of the coolest things about POD, in our opinion, is the ability to “test” a book in the market prior to printing hundreds or thousands of copies. Remember the whole Print on Demand as a printing method? It’s super-easy to upload and change those files at any time. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free – some companies will charge a small fee – but it’s really easy to do.

Why is this so cool? How about a first-time author who has done everything right….He’s worked with a professional editor and designer. He’s done all his market research. He has spent the time and money to put together a professional sales, publicity and marketing team to help him get the word out.

He gets his book up, it’s listed, it’s tagged with key words, it’s ready to go. His Publicity team hits the ground running contacting major media – print, television and radio. His marketing team goes after book reviews. His sales team pitches the book to all the major retailers.

Stop. The retailers HATE the title. Stop. There is a typo everyone missed on the back cover. Stop. A major magazine LOVED the book and wrote a fantastic review that would be perfect for a cover blurb.

Stop. It is really easy to make changes to your files and re-upload them. If you choose the more traditional offset printing, warehousing and distribution model, you are likely sitting on hundreds or thousands of books. You’ll want to sell through those prior to making any changes. Testing the market with POD, building a following, and getting great PR can be the foundation for a future offset run and traditional distribution model that you know will work. (Small run book printing is another option to market “test.)

Where do you go from here?

As you can see, there are a ton of moving parts to Print on Demand (POD). Oftentimes it is a great fit for small presses and self-publishers simply due to the low up front costs. Sometimes it’s a great fit for a market test. Sometimes it’s the model on which a publishing house has actually been built – especially some of the smaller presses.

The most important piece is research, research, research. What’s right for one author or publisher may not be right for another. Have a good understanding of your budget, your goals, and your publishing plan and explore all of your options before you commit. Who knows what’s next!

Still have questions? Check out The Cadence Group’s professional book printing and publishing services.

Bethany Brown - Owner of The Cadence GroupBethany Brown owns and operates The Cadence Group, a book packaging, marketing and consulting firm that works with self-published authors, small presses and mid-sized publishers. With a background in “traditional” publishing serving as Senior Editor at Adams Media and Editorial Manager at Sourcebooks, Bethany has experience on both sides of the self-publishing and traditional publishing debate. The Cadence Group has been providing authors, publishers and small presses with the guidance they need to create market-ready, professionally-designed, and strategically marketed books since 2006.   We do not believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to editorial, design, or marketing.  We believe every book, and every author, is unique and every program we offer is individually tailored to meet an author’s specific goals.


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