Under the Covers: Printing

One of the great advantages of working with a traditional publisher or self-publishing service is that you have someone to coordinate the printing of your books. But if you’re committed to the do-it-yourself model, there are a number of questions you’ll have to think about in order to tackle this process. While the most prominent question is, “Where should I print,” the answer to that depends on other answers: primarily your budget, printing specs (how your book is designed), the length of your print run (how many you want to print), and your method of distribution (how you plan to sell them).

Assuming you actually wants to sell books, you have three options for printing: a local commercial printer, a dedicated book printer, or a Print-on-Demand service.

Local Commercial Printer

Advantages: You may get a good deal on printing if you have a prior relationship with this printer, they will most likely be able to print your books quickly, and you’ll also save on shipping costs, since you can simply pick up the books yourself.

Drawbacks: There are so many unknowns. Does this printer actually have the capability to produce professional, trade-worthy books? Can they handle the length of run you want? What binding and trim sizes do they offer; will your book have to be redesigned to fit their offerings? How do their prices actually compare to dedicated book printers, when taking product quality into account?

Print-on-Demand

Advantages: You can get decent quality books very quickly—the most prominent POD service is called Lightning Source for a reason. These services also have built-in distribution (CreateSpace goes straight to Amazon, and Lightning Source is a part of the wholesaler Ingram), so your books are available to customers without additional effort on your part. Your initial investment is very low; you pay some small file-setup fees, and the money for printing comes out of each sale’s revenue. You’ll also save on warehousing costs, since the only storage is a digital file on the POD server.

Drawbacks: POD services have limited design offerings; you have few options for paper stock, trim size, binding type, and cover style. The print quality of these services falls short of dedicated book printers, and their limited offerings do not work well for design- or graphic-heavy books. In addition, the per-book printing cost is very expensive—often 2 to 3 times that of dedicated book printers—which can make it difficult to earn a profit from book sales. Moreover, because of the POD stigma, it is very unlikely that your book will get into any physical bookstores.

Dedicated Book Printer

Advantages: High quality, myriad options, and unlimited run lengths make this type of printing ideal for almost any book. There are printers all over the world with specialties in various aspects of book printing; all it takes is research to find the best place for your book. Longer run lengths cut down per-book printing costs, making it easier to earn a profit. And (assuming you have a distribution arrangement) it is possible to get into physical bookstores.

Drawbacks: It will take time to research and get price quotes from the best printers for your book, and it will take more time (weeks to months) to actually receive books. You will have a larger initial investment in your book—while per-book cost decreases for longer runs, total cost still increases. The ideal printer will most likely be far away, so shipping costs will be significant. You’ll also have to find a solution for warehousing and order fulfillment, which may cost significantly more.

Our Choice

On the whole, we prefer using dedicated book printers. The quality and design options more than make up for the slower turnaround time, and the upfront cost still allows for much greater revenues in the end. As a general rule, you should print as many books in your intial run as you believe you’ll sell in a year. We find that even as few as 200 make the investment in a dedicated book printer worthwhile.

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