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Print On Demand (POD): What is it? What are the problems and benefits?

January 1, 2006

in All Articles,Books and documents,Email and messaging

POD is a printing technology where you pay a company, give them a document, and that company prints and binds the document into a book. There are advantages and disadvantages to this process. Due to the amount of money you’ll be spending and the affect it may have on your future writing career, pay close attention. As a starting point, some of the more popular POD companies include iUniverseAuthorHouse and Dog Ear Publishing. Also check out the Digital Bits article about POD.

POD’s bad reputation and problems

Traditional publishers don’t like POD publishers. Brick-and-mortar bookstores don’t either. If you’re trying to become a mainstream author, a traditional publisher won’t care how many books you’ve authored if they’ve only been published by a POD. It’s difficult to find a brick-and-mortar bookstore that will stock POD books.

What POD problems are these publishers and resellers seeing?

  • The traditional publishers, agents and resellers see POD-printed authors as having used a vanity press. The logic goes, “If you have to pay someone to print your book, it probably isn’t as good as one that’s made it through the entire application and approval process. Stick with traditional publishers to guarantee higher-quality books.”
  • POD text quality is sometimes worse than one from a traditional publisher. POD copyediting and proofreading services are not available or only possible for an additional charge. Leaving these jobs up to the authors isn’t always a good idea. And with a poor or nonexistant editing process, the resellers, major publishers and agents don’t want the hassle of wading through the sub-par books in order to find the few good ones.
  • A traditional publisher reviews books, prints and advertises good ones, and hopes people will buy lots of copies. A POD publisher wants you to sign up for their services, pay them for those services first, and then buy lots of copies. Traditional vs. POD have two very different business models.

Define what you’re trying to accomplish

Do you want to make it big? Are you looking to break into the literary world, or do you just need to print a few copies of a specialized book? POD specializes in the latter. You give the company money, and they give you X copies of your book at an author’s discount. They often allow purchases from them or other inline providers like They generally do no work in terms of proofing, advertising or marketing (or will charge you extra for these services). It’s up to you to edit your book, re-edit and approve drafts, schedule book signings and push your books to resellers as well as readers. If you’re trying to get your book sitting on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or Borders, POD is not the solution. Go through the harder (but cheaper) traditional publishing process.

Research, research, research

…And then research some more. Realize that you may be giving rights to your book to someone else for a very long time. Are you comfortable with this? If not, can that contract be cancelled? Make a list of your preferences and needs, and find the POD publisher that most closely meets those requirements. This page will help point you in the right direction, but the choice of POD publisher (or even whether to use POD at all) is up to you.

Test the waters

So you’ve decided on “GenericPOD”, have you? First, see what experiences others have had. Search the Internet for “GenericPOD problems” or “GenericPOD sucks“. It ain’t pretty, but this will help you find unhappy customers. Use this information to find a company thay’s reputable and easy to work with. It can also give you a good introduction to the POD process, so you know what to expect before you spend money.

And since you’re spending so much money anyway, spend another $50 and purchase a few books from your potential POD publisher. Look at the quality of their finished product. Will these books still look good if placed on a bookshelf next to traditionally-published books? Page through them and make sure the printing, typesetting and binding look professional. Some POD publishers use lower-quality printing equipment, and this shows.

More resources
Preditors and Editors has tons of information and education about POD and publishing in general. Be sure to check their very comprehensive list of book publishers when looking for your own book publisher.
“An Incomplete Guide to Print on Demand Publishers” gives us a listing of POD publishers, head-to-head comparisons of their more important attributes (like pricing, royalties and contracts), and many other articles about POD and publishing.
Recognized by Writers Digest as “One of the top 101 Best Web Sites for Writers”, the POD Publisher Database takes you to a very detailed head-to-head comparison of free and paid services and options from POD publishers. You may also be interested in the book, “The ABC’s of POD: A Beginner’s Guide to Fee-Based Print on Demand Publishing“. It’savailable at Amazon for $9.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (I really wish I had talent at writing fiction!) give us an excellent review of the POD process, information, and stumbling blocks to avoid.
A POD publisher themselves, they have helpful sections on marketing resourceswhat not to do when pitching your book, and why POD publishing may not be for you.
“The truth behind POD publishing” is an audio series exposing problems and advantages with some of the major POD publishers.

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