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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Initial Thoughts on POD Book Printing

I’ve always been somewhat wary of on-demand online book printing because I’m a commercial printing broker. I work with brick-and-mortar custom printing suppliers, and on-demand printers are my competition. (That’s my disclosure for the sake of fairness.) That said, a client of mine came to me this week wanting to find an online vendor that could produce copies of her new 432-page perfect-bound print book as orders came in. But first, she wanted to have me find a brick-and-mortar printer to produce 300 or 500 initial copies of her 6” x 9” print book.

My Client’s Enhanced Book Specs

In my research on printing on demand (POD) in the past, I had found that a number of digital vendors offered limited options for paper weight and coatings. Some even limited the trim size of the books (their length and width) to a handful of standard formats.

These limits did not surprise me. My thought was that the online vendors had limited the number of choices to keep prices down. For instance, if a printer offers only 50# and 60# offset text for the body of a book and 80# cover stock for the perfect-bound cover, he can ostensibly buy these in bulk and keep the cost to the customer low. After all, small quantities of specialty papers cost more. In some cases, printers even must buy a relatively large minimum order of a non-standard paper stock. If a customer doesn’t use all of the paper, either he/she must pay for the unused portion or the printer must do so. So the limits make sense.

In the case of my customer, however, the client wanted the same high production values that my other, brick-and-mortar-printing customers request. (For instance, one of my clients is a husband and wife publishing team. This couple always requests French flaps, luxury matte film laminate, deckle edges on the face trim of the text, and a press score on the print books their small publishing house sells. My current customer wanted the same high production values.)

What I Learned from the Book Printers I Work With

When I approached three book printers I have worked with for the past 30 years, this is what I learned:

    1. Even with the long, 432-page book length, one book printer would have to price the book digitally (not offset) for both 300 and 500 copies. This printer reminded me that their minimum offset printing order is 1,000 copies (no fewer). They could produce the books via digital technology, but, if they took the job, the French flaps and deckle edge would not be available, and the choices for text and cover paper stock would be limited (the basis weight and surface coating).


    1. In addition, unlike the online, on-demand print shops, this brick-and-mortar printer could not do the storage and fulfillment. My client would need to take delivery of the 300 or 500 print books and send them out to clients herself. Then, once the initial press run had been exhausted, she would need to take the new customer orders herself and purchase new short digital press runs as her new clients ordered books. So, basically, this book printer could not match the online, on-demand printing model.


    1. Another book printer could produce the books as I wanted (French flaps and such), but they could not store and fulfill the book orders because my client only had one title (i.e., one master book of which copies could be reprinted and sold). That is, she was too small a client.


    1. Still another book printer made what I thought was an excellent suggestion. Her partner could have his print shop produce the initial print run in the following way. The text of the 300 or 500 books could be produced digitally, since the press run was comparatively short. He could then produce the covers with the French flaps as an offset print job. Then he could marry the offset printed covers and digitally printed text blocks. This would yield a 300- or 500-copy initial press run. It would have all the upper-level production values, and then when the book went on to be a Print on Demand (POD) title, the covers could be produced without French flaps and luxury matte laminate, and the text blocks could be produced digitally on 50# text stock. In other words, the books would be produced in a two-tier manner: one with more bells and whistles, one with fewer bells and whistles.


  1. This same printer had also developed a lasting business relationship with an online, on-demand print vendor. My client and I were both pleased, since this particular printer understood better than either of us the nuances of digital, on-demand printing and could therefore effectively coordinate the whole on-demand printing process.

Thoughts and Questions This Printer Posed to Us

This printer, whom I knew and trusted, included the following items in her list of questions (her items, mine, and my client’s):

  1. Editing/proofreading
  2. Design (cover and text)
  3. Printing
  4. Storage
  5. Fulfillment
  6. Marketing

These are discrete steps along the way. Either the client can do them or the on-demand printer can do them. All of this must be negotiated. Moreover, what the on-demand printer charges (and how much of the cover sale price goes back to the client) is affected by which of these processes are done and by whom.

The printer I spoke with also said that, for on-demand printing, the books could be paperback or hard cover with a printed cover or dust jacket and with very limited text paper options. This is why this printer liked the two-tier approach (one 300- or 500-copy premium press run and then the lower-production-value print-on-demand run).

Based on my client’s further questions, this particular printer addressed such issues as marketing/advertising/promotion, minimum orders, percentage of sales returned to the author (and on what schedule), and extent of reach the on-demand printer can offer (such as global reach, access to so many retail outlets, and so forth).

A Very Specialized Niche

So this is a very specialized niche, albeit a growing one. I found a number of such companies listed online, included IngramSpark (which apparently is related to LightningSource), Zazzle, and Amazon’s CreateSpace. I know very little about any of these, but I would encourage you—if you are thinking of producing an online, on-demand print book, to research all of them.

Also, and most importantly, ask for printed samples. Make sure you will like the final printed product. Look at the photos. Are they crisp, clear, with good detail in the highlights and shadows? Also check the evenness of solid areas of color printing. (If your book is primarily black text on a page rather than 4-color process, you should be fine. However, if your job is more complex and printed in color on coated paper, it is especially important to see samples produced on the same paper that will be used for your book.)

Discuss with the on-demand printer what parts of the process you will handle and what parts of the process the book printer will handle. How will this affect the percentage of the list price that you get to keep?

And above all else, make sure you retain the rights to the book. If you decide to print elsewhere (a future press run, perhaps), do you have the final say and ultimate control? Or have you compromised your publishing rights in any way?

This list of options, processes, and questions is only a starting point. Research on-demand printing yourself online, and try to find other publishers who have self published through online, on-demand printers. They may have suggestions you will find valuable.

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