In this post, you’ll learn the benefits of print on demand for books, how it works, and how you can leverage it for your next book.
As a publisher, I believe print on demand for books is as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press almost 600 years ago (ca. 1440). Anyone anywhere can print anything they want at any given point and ship it virtually anywhere in the world. That is truly revolutionary.
The Rise of Print on Demand Books
Print on demand started in the 1990s, but it didn’t really take off until Amazon launched CreateSpace in the early 2000s, especially about 10 years ago when CreateSpace became “Kindle Direct Publishing” (KDP) with an easier user interface.
When Amazon transitioned to KDP, the publishing industry seemed to grow exponentially. Some estimate as many as 10,000 new books are published every day. While that’s amazing, it also means there’s a ton of noise out there.
We’re in an era that I call “the democratization of book publishing.”
Anyone can do it. This can be good or bad, depending on your connections, purpose in publishing, and resources.
Let’s look at:
- The Advantages of Print on Demand Publishing
- Print on Demand vs. Traditional Printing
- How Print on Demand Books Work
- Choosing the Right Print on Demand Platform
- Tips for Successful Print on Demand Book Publishing
- Marketing Strategies for Print on Demand Books
- Print on Demand Success Stories
- Print on Demand Services and Resources
- The Future of Print on Demand Books
- Next Steps
The Advantages of Print on Demand Publishing
What are the advantages of print on demand (POD)? I’ll give you eight!
You don’t have to keep inventory in your garage anymore.
You can print just one book at a time, or you can print hundreds of copies for roughly the same cost per book. Usually it costs $3 to $4 for a regular paperback book when you buy “author copies.”
Not only can you ship them to your house, but you can ship them anywhere you want at the author’s cost.
The quality of POD books now, even compared to times as recent as 2015, is excellent. Most people cannot tell the difference between a print on demand and a traditionally printed book.
You can do full color or black and white. You can do a gloss or matte finish for your covers. The options are incredible.
Print on demand works really fast, so you can get a book out there quickly.
You can also get it shipped quickly through Amazon’s platform. Amazon lists your book as “Prime,” so customers get the benefits of Prime shipping. When you order “author copies” of your book, you get them, in my experience, in one to two weeks.
4. A Hands-Off Process
When someone orders your book, you don’t have to touch the book or even see it. It gets delivered to anyone in North America (or around the world, depending on what you choose for distribution) through Amazon within a few days.
5. Easily Updatable
Updating your book is really easy. All you have to do is tweak something on the original file that you or your design team uploaded, and then upload the new manuscript file. Within a few days, it’ll update, and every book that’s printed after that will have the update.
So mistakes both major and minor are fixable.
You can also do a traditional print run at any point if you want to. Or, if you want to pursue traditional publishing, you can pursue that at a later time as well.
With print on demand, you can easily maintain control over your product.
When you use KDP, you can maintain control over the price, so you can change the price for a sale whenever you want.
You also control what is written on Amazon, so you can update the product page.
There are some limitations, but when you use Amazon’s KDP and not Amazon’s Seller Central, you have you have a ton of control, and they prioritize that in what’s called the “featured offer” or “buy box.”
8. Rights and Royalties
You can maintain the rights and the royalties when you use print on demand without sending those to someone else.
Amazon generally takes a 61% cut, but if you consider that they’re marketing, printing, binding, shipping, fulfilling, and distributing the books, the numbers actually do make sense.
So is print on demand right for you? Or should you consider traditional printing?
Print on Demand vs. Traditional Printing
Making this decision is more about which route you take, self-publishing or traditional publishing, which you can look at our blog here on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
As you consider traditional printing, here are some opportunities that you don’t have with print on demand.
When Is a Print Run a Good Idea?
If you’re going to print 1,000 or more — really, 2,000 copies is the sweet spot — then you can get a lower cost on what’s called “PPB” (Printing, Paper, and Binding).
But if you’re doing under 500 copies, don’t even think about doing a traditional print run; print on demand is a great idea for you. If it’s over 500, it’s worth it for some books, but I still don’t recommend considering a print run until you’re looking for 1,000 copies or more.
You want to think, Am I going to sell 2,000 books in the next two years? Do I have infrastructure for distributing those books — on my own website, at events, or wherever? If that is the case for you, then a traditional print run is a great idea, and we at YouPublish may be able to broker a print run for you. It’s not a good idea to do on your own, without the knowledge of the complexities of printing and without the relationships with printers, but YouPublish helps clients with that.
Print Runs Without Infrastructure
If you do a print run without the proper infrastructure in place, then it can be a big hassle. I’ve shipped 20,000 books with my own hands through our traditional imprint, HIM Publications, so I know what it’s like.
The cost is high — especially the cost on your time — and then once you get it going, you can outsource to a 3PL so someone else can do it. Setting up that infrastructure is very costly, but it is worth it if you want to build a new publishing house or if you want to build an audience who buys from your website.
However, for 98% of the people we work with, we recommend print on demand. Here’s how the process works.
How Print on Demand Books Work
First, you create a quality cover and text file that measures up to spec for Amazon. The challenge with that is that it gets complex once you start working with your own book, and you really need a professional to help. Professionals help eliminate errors and delay, and there are all sorts of specs that Amazon doesn’t list that make a book look great.
Once you get the print files ready to go, you upload them through KDP on kdp.amazon.com. Within 72 hours, you get the word back that you’re good to go and your book is available for purchase.
How Your Book Gets to the Right Place
Once it’s uploaded and approved by KDP, people can get a book within a couple days anywhere that Amazon ships around the world.
Amazon doesn’t print until someone clicks “Order.” When someone orders your book, it triggers a message to the printer.
There are six Amazon printing facilities in the United States, and then there are four other printing facilities around the world in Australia, Italy, England, and the United Arab Emirates where Amazon can print on demand, in addition to other facilities that Amazon doesn’t own but still uses to print.
The books get to readers super quickly. Typically, if customers have an Amazon subscription, they get the book within a few days. It’s incredible.
Choosing the Right Print on Demand Platform
Amazon’s KDP is going to be the best solution for almost everybody. You can choose to publish through KDP either exclusively or not exclusively. And if you do it exclusively with them, sometimes you can get a higher royalty rate for eBooks.
If you want to make it available to other distributors and libraries, then you can choose not to select extended distribution on KDP and also create an IngramSpark account, for example — even though it’s difficult to start that account.
IngramSpark for Print on Demand Books
First, the reason I suggest Amazon’s KDP over Ingram is because the KDP user interface is way easier. Setting up the Ingram account costs more and is more cumbersome. Second, the profit margin for almost all books — high-quality, full-color interior, being the exception, where Ingram has a higher profit margin — is better on KDP. And third, it’s just difficult to set up the account on IngramSpark.
So using Amazon’s KDP is a no-brainer, and you can do both if you want later on.
Tips for Successful Print on Demand Book Publishing
There are a few things you can do to give yourself a leg up when it comes to using print on demand for your book.
1. A Great Team
You need a great team behind you. Trying to publish a book on your own — let alone write the book — is really difficult, and you’re going to get a sub-par product. It will take more time, and it will cost more in hours of labor.
A book is permanent. You need a great team to help make it excellent so it can stand the test of time, even if it’s just a legacy book for your family.
2. Plan in Advance
Plan well in advance from the date you want to hit publish. It takes at least three months, but usually six to nine months, to do all the proper editing, formatting, and uploading to Amazon.
3. Give It Your All
Really spend the time and the money because you don’t want to redo a book. It’s going to be permanent in that sense. So go all in at the beginning, both with your financial investment and with your time, so that you can get the book right.
Marketing Strategies for Print on Demand Books
Marketing a book is arguably the most elusive aspect of book publishing, but here are a few areas to consider when marketing your print on demand book for yourself.
Try creating an email list and developing an audience.
Leverage your network and influencers you know.
Create a great product. Great products actually sell themselves.
This just means start cultivating your audience. Get the word out there early — ideally three to six months in advance.
5. KDP Paid Advertising
Leverage KDP’s paid advertising if you’re going to do paid ads at all. Currently it is the best return on investment for any ad spend that you do, and it works only through kdp.amazon.com when you do print on demand.
Print on Demand Success Stories
Our team at YouPublish has had great success helping our clients set up print on demand for their books.
Renew.org came to us years ago, wanting to start a publishing imprint. They decided that they did not want to have inventory, so we suggested print on demand.
They do their own short print runs through Amazon’s POD services so that they don’t have to keep inventory. They sell their books at events, and they even direct people to their products on Amazon from their website. It’s been an incredible tool for them.
College Press Publishing was not using Amazon’s print on demand. They had books running out of print all the time because they’re a niche publisher.
YouPublish is helping them transition 100+ books to print on demand using their old print files. We’re also redoing 11 books to update them with new covers and interior designs, including Jack Cottrell’s The Holy Spirit and Gary Habermas’s The Historical Jesus.
Print on Demand Services and Resources
At YouPublish, we offer services for everything from the idea of a book to distribution and listening on Amazon. We’re a turnkey solution to help with print on demand; we help authors edit, design, and print their books. Check out our blog from more resources on the how, why, and what of our services.
The Future of Print on Demand Books
There’s going to continue to be more and more noise in the industry, so the need for high-quality products is only going to increase.
Major publishers already use print on demand anyway, so it’s not a matter of using print on demand or not; it’s a matter of when you use it.
It’s not going away anytime soon, so let’s make good use of it.
The Use of AI in Books
One thing that we need to pay attention to is the use of AI.
Amazon’s KDP has started asking, “Did you use AI tools in creating texts, images, and/or translations in your book?” and they only allow an account to publish a certain number of books in one day that have used AI in their creation.
So as you’re thinking about using AI for tasks like helping you edit, outline your manuscript, or create a cover, keep in mind that there are a lot of complications and nuances coming down the road when using AI. For example, content that was generated by AI is not protected by copyright law, so if you used AI to make your cover, you have no legal rights to the design.
If you’re going to use it, seek the help of a professional who knows the ins and outs of the legal side. We’re not lawyers, but we have lawyers at YouPublish that we’re consulting about the use of AI at each level of the process. We can help you avoid some pitfalls, and we can also help you leverage AI in appropriate, responsible, and honest ways as you consider how it might be useful to you.
We’d love to schedule a call with you to explore print on demand services, whether you need to edit, design, or print your book. Schedule a 20-minute introductory call here.
Or if you’re further in the process, you can go ahead and get a quote. Once you submit your quote request, we’ll determine a potential fit. Then if it’s a good fit, we’ll schedule a call with you to go over your quote request.