Print-on-demand (often referred to as POD) is a method of digital book printing that allows you to print books as they are needed, from one book to thousands, instead of printing a large quantity in a single run. With offset, large quantities of books are printed in a single batch, usually at least 500 at a time. Print-on-demand has made it possible for authors to self-publish their books without the large up-front cost and inventory that is required for offset printing.

Let’s compare:

  • Up-front costs: With print-on-demand, there is little to no setup fees required to get your book printed other than the printing costs. CreateSpace has no setup fee while IngramSpark charges $49 to set up a title in their system. With offset printing, the set-up cost varies by the printer, with some waiving it for large print-runs.
  • Printing quantities: With print-on-demand, you can print as many books as you need, at any time that you need them. Do you just need a single book? Log into your account and order one book. Need 1,000 books? Same deal. Your book is stored in their system and they can print as little, or as many, books at a time that you need. With offset, you need to print large batches at a time.
  • Storage: If you use offset, you will need to be able to store all the books you have printed in a climate-controlled environment. This means additional costs unless you have a lot of extra space in your garage or an extra spare bedroom. Books can take up a lot of space! With print-on-demand, there is no need to warehouse any books, but I do recommend keeping a small quantity on-hand.
  • Revisions: It is easy to make revisions with print-on-demand. Imagine printing off a thousand books and then noticing a serious mistake. Ouch! With print-on-demand you can upload a revised file to the printer, and the next book printed will be the corrected version.
  • Distribution: With offset printing, you need to handle distribution and order fulfillment on your own. Some POD printers, such as CreateSpace and IngramSpark, also distribute your book to Amazon and other online book retailers. You do not have to worry about collecting the money or shipping out any orders. It is all handled for you.

There are some downsides to using print-on-demand, however. Here are some things to consider:

  • Book size options: With print-on-demand, there are specific sizes available and you must choose from one of those options. Most notable is the lack of landscape sizes. CreateSpace offers a single landscape option, IngramSpark does not have any.
  • Paper stock choices: White or crème, that’s it. Offset printers will have a wide variety of paper choices, but print-on-demand choices just have the two.
  • Binding: CreateSpace only offers paperback (perfect binding) while IngramSpark has other options, such as hardcover with a dustjacket, case wrap, and saddle stitched, but none offer spiral or wire binding
  • Printing in color: If you go with POD and you want one page in color, you will be charged as if every page is in color. With offset, you can print black and white pages and color pages separately, and then have the color pages inserted before being bound. IngramSpark offers different qualities of color printing. Their lower quality color options work well for colored charts, tables, or graphs, but not for photographs, which would require their premier color.
  • Cost per book: The per book cost can be higher using print-on-demand compared to printing large quantities through an offset printer.

Most self-publishers choose print-on-demand, but there are some instances where using an offset printer makes better sense. Think about your printing needs and choose wisely.

Kimberly Martin

Kimberly Martin

Self-publishing specialist with over 15 years of experience, speaker, and coach. In my spare time, I can be found reading, hiking, taking photographs, riding my motorcycle, spoiling my three rescue cats, and decorating the Jera office with my collection of vintage typewriters.
Kimberly Martin
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