Mar 30 2009

A Few Problems with Print-on-Demand

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have an interesting article on some of the problems with POD self-publishing.  In summary…

1. The average POD title sells a frightfully low amount of copies. The average POD title sells 100-200 copies.  That is not enough to live on.  That is not enough to convince a publisher that there is a market for your work.  That is probably not even enough to break even on your expenses (publishing fees, cover-art, editing, etc).

2. It is astronomically unlikely that your POD book will become even a modest success. In 2007, only 4% of Xlibris’s titles sold more than 1000 copies.  Hardly any Lulu titles crack 500.

3. Bookstores hate dealing with POD titles. Given that brick-and-mortar bookstores account for about 90% of all new book sales, that will seriously limit your potential for sales.

4. POD titles are substantially more expensive than professionally-published titles. Professional books are printed in bulk, which reduces the per-unit printing costs dramatically.  As a result, a professional paperback usually sells for around $15.  POD paperbacks tend to sell for $25+.  Ick.

5. POD books are often printed poorly. If someone pays $25 for a paperback, he will expect something better than the professional novels he could have bought for $15.  If your book is bound like a pamphlet, your customers will be angry.

6. Most professionals and advance readers won’t even touch a POD book. You’ll have to publicize your book in some other way.

7. Royalties are usually lower than they appear. Read the fine print of your contract.  Most POD publishers base your royalty on the net price, not the retail price.  They won’t pay royalties on the (large) portion of the retail price that goes to cover their costs.  Unfortunately, POD publishers are notoriously inefficient and spend a lot of money printing each book.  That’s why you have to sell for more than $15, remember?

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A Few Problems with Print-on-Demand”

  1. Mike Hoffmanon 02 May 2011 at 9:40 am

    That’s funny, I do great with all my POD titles and I support a family of four in grand style. POD not only gives me total creative freedom, but also strikes a blow against corporate comics. I sell them on my websites, eBay and through online publishers. Selling the original artwork defrays costs, too.

    I think the best reason to POD is that you can remain an artist. If you work for a corporation, you are a cog.

    That’s not to say there’s not a lot of substandard books out there, there most certainly are, and they are clogging things up badly. But this also helps the cream rise to the top.

    As for large press-runs, these days your chances of getting stuck with hundreds if not thousands of extra copies that you’ll take to the grave are fairly good. It kills more trees unecessarily, too.

    I think the trouble with writing–and drawing and making comics–is that there are many more people doing it than are really ready to do it. They want to \don the mantle\ more than having something meaningful or artistic to say, so it winds up being derivative and redundant, and not selling either.

  2. B. Macon 02 May 2011 at 10:09 am

    Mike, how do you sell/promote your books?

  3. Grant Fritcheyon 15 Jul 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Old post I realize, but I thought I would point out that more and more publishers are using print on demand. I have a horror story of what can go wrong with pod at Amazon, but through a large-ish piblisher:

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