is Part Two in a five-part series summarizing my remarks in the “Ins and Outs
of Self-Publishing” panel discussion sponsored by the Washington, DC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.
During the panel, I offered an overview of how an aspiring author might get her book published. In Part One of this series, I discussed using a traditional publisher and began a definition of what it means to self-publish. I noted that there is debate over the definition of “self-publish” and listed three methods of self-publishing:
- Using Print-on-Demand Printing
- Publishing via Vanity or Subsidy Press
- Working Directly with Wholesalers and Distributors
Using Print-On-Demand (POD) Printing
Print-on-Demand printing, or POD for short, is a method of printing by which you print one book at a time. In other words, you do not have to print a book until you generate a sale for the book.
POD is how the Wall Street Journal and much mainstream media define self-publishing. Many self-publishers bristle at equating POD with self-publishing and explain that print-on-demand is not publishing. Instead, print-on-demand is a means of printing that is used by self-publishers, by small presses, and even by larger, well-established publishing companies that want to keep an older title with limited demand available without printing the 1,000+ copies required for an offset print-run.
Lightning Source (LSI), is one of the largest POD printers. LSI will work only with publishers using their own ISBN. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a thirteen-digit number that uniquely identifies each book as well as each edition of a book. American-based publishers can obtain ISBNs through www.isbn.org. Also, LSI does not offer much hand-holding and requires that publishers deliver a digital file ready for printing. For this reason, several companies, many of which offer a wider assortment of book production services, act as intermediaries between LSI and self-publishers. They include Booklocker, Infinity, Lulu, AuthorHouse, and Xlibris. Some of these LSI middlemen might be categorized as subsidy publishers, a category I discuss below.
The primary advantage to publishing via print-on-demand printing is minimizing or eliminating your initial upfront costs and the financial risk. However, while POD lowers upfront investment and financial risk, it increases your costs of producing each book. For example, a 250-page paperback, perfect-bound with a trim size of 6 X 9 would cost as much as $4.65 if printed through LSI or $9.53 if printed through Lulu, one of the LSI intermediaries. Costs for printing the same book as part of a offset print-run could be as low or lower than $2, depending on the number of copies in your offset print-run.
The higher per unit cost makes it more difficult for publishers using POD printing to sell through bookstores, wholesalers, and distributors. If your book has a cover price of $20, wholesalers, distributors, and bookstores want to purchase it at a 40% to 60%+ discount on the cover price (i.e., you would receive $8 - $12 or less for each book, depending on whether you’re selling to a distributor, wholesaler, or directly to a bookstore.). The high per-unit POD costs make it difficult or impossible to offer this discount and often make bookstore sales inaccessible to self-publishers using POD.
However, note that there are self-publishers who have built successful business models by combining POD printing, a short discount to wholesalers, and sales through amazon.com and other online bookstores. Aaron Shepard is one of them and talks about this model at length in his book, Aiming at Amazon.
Come back for Part Three, to be posted on Saturday, November 10, in which I’ll discuss method two of self-publishing: publishing via vanity and subsidy press.