Print on demand makes sense for the vast majority of self-published writers – especially fiction writers. The average sales for a self-published book of fiction is 30 copies, and that might be generous. If you sell 100 copies or over, you’ve done very well. 500 is extraordinary and anything over 1000 is in the stratosphere. That’s the plain truth: if your book is not in bookstores, it’s much harder to unload copies of your book.
It’s a very tactile experience picking up a book, leafing through it, and finally making a decision to buy the book. A book is an object and people want to make a decision want to make sure whether or not they want to make it part of their library. Just having reviews or author blurbs posted on a website is only part of the bookselling process. This is core to why it’s difficult to sell self-published fiction. People just aren’t as willing to take a gamble on a little-known writer, let alone a little-known writer who has self-published the book.
Publishing Print by Run (PBR) Rather than Print on Demand (POD)
Because this is the reality, it makes perfect sense to publish print on demand. Why bother absorbing the expense of printing up 500 books upfront if it’s a longshot of those books ever selling? That’s true, but there is an equal argument to be made for pre-ordering a large print run of a book. The two main reasons are:
1. It’s ultimately less expensive. 500 books sold through Lulu will cost $3,250. When you add a Global Distribution package, marketing, book design, and any other features, you could be looking at $4000-$5000 for 500 printed books. A print run, on the other hand, will include book design, and even some marketing, as is the case with Outskirts Press, for less than if those books were printed on demand.
2. Next, you can get books into bookstores. Printing up your own books is truly a case of becoming your own publisher – which means you have to take on the duties of a publisher. You will be able to sell books to bookstores at a discount, given the fact that cost per book is lower, and you can guarantee to bookstores that you will be able to buy back unsold quantities of the book.
With print on demand, you cannot buy back books because you would actually lose money in the transaction. Generally, print on demand books are more expensive: even just the base price of printing the book will be higher than the discount you will give the bookstore (Read this post for information on setting discounts). Therefore when you buy back the book from a bookstore, it will be for more money than it cost the book to be printed. Over a large scale with many bookstores and you could stand to lose a lot of money. But you won’t likely even get to this point, as bookstores won’t stock print on demand books in the first place.
If, however, you print up books ahead of time, you can distribute the book through brick and mortar distribution channels because you can charge less money per book. One of the major drawbacks to POD books is the cover price. An unknown writer’s book might go for $18.00, while a bestselling writer’s book will retail for $5.00. That’s tough competition. If you don’t have hope of wide bookstore distribution – i.e. you’re an unknown writer who can’t promise books being sold – then a distributor is not going to want to take you on any more than a bookstore, as it costs the distributor to ship and store books.
But if you anticipate selling over 1000 books due to name recognition – or the book is a non-fiction title, which has a much better chance of selling in bulk – then you should consider publishing via a print run to save on costs and increase the potential for distribution. Check out the site Book Printing Revolution for comparisons of costs between different book printers.