Fern Reiss, CEO, PublishingGame.com
POD/subsidy publishing isn’t ideal for most
books. But digital printing might be.
POD (which stands for print on demand)/subsidy publishing
is the denigrated vanity publishing of yesteryear dressed
up in the Emperor’s New Clothes. Though most
authors know to stay away from vanity publishing, where
you pay to have your book edited, designed, and printed
and then it sits in your garage, for some reason, millions
of authors have fallen for the appeal of POD/subsidy
publishing—where you pay to have your book edited,
designed, and printed, and then it sits in someone
Not that there aren’t good reasons to use POD/subsidy
publishers—and for those authors who have books
that work for POD/subsidy, it can be a fantastic time
and money saver. If you’re doing a family genealogy,
or a church cookbook, for example, where you have a
limited audience and once you’ve given or sold
the book to those 200 people, that’s it, POD/subsidy
publishing is a great solution. It’s also an
incredible timesaver for the busy corporate executive
who needs to have a book to show the media, or for
the workshop leader who wants a book to sell back-of-the-room
at talks, or for a civic group that wants to do a book
as a fundraiser, without investing the time-sink that
is self-publishing. These are the cases where POD/subsidy
is a wise choice.
But what most authors (many of whom call me for consulting,
depressed and already deep in the clutches of POD/subsidy
publishers) don’t realize is that doing your
book this way probably precludes making many sales.
Certainly you’ll have a hard time selling to
bookstores and libraries—by the time you pay
the POD/subsidy company, and factor in the wholesale
discount that the middlemen require, the price points
are too narrow for most bookstores or libraries‡.
Furthermore, you’ll probably never even get as
far as the bookstore or library—because POD/subsidy
books are ineligible for review by the major review
journals (such as Publishers Weekly and Booklist) you’ll
miss out on those thousands of sales automatically,
regardless of how good your book looks.
Thus, for most authors, you’re better off self-publishing
yourself, and avoiding the POD/subsidy option.
But let’s distinguish between POD/subsidy publishing—companies
such as iUniverse and AuthorHouse—and digital
printing (also, confusingly, referred to as POD.) Digital
printing just means printing small (under 1000, sometimes
under 100, sometimes just one or two) quantities of
books. Your per-book cost will be greater, because
you’re printing in lower quantities---but your
total capital investment will be much smaller. And
that can be a great idea for an author.
Let’s say you’re coming out with a book
on a new diet, but you can’t decide whether to
call it “The Stressed-Out Diet” or “The
Stress Free Diet.” Rather than just arbitrarily
picking one and hoping it’s the right decision,
or spending lots of time trying to get a focus group
to agree, simply come out with a few copies of both
titles—under different ISBNs—and see which
one is ordered more frequently. You’ve just used
digital printing as an easy, inexpensive way to do
market research—on the very title that you’re
marketing! The beauty of this is that even after you’ve
committed to the “preferable” title, you
can still sell the other title to whoever wants it,
because both are in the system, and it doesn’t
cost you anything.
Or let’s say you’re stuck between two
different cover designs. Digitally print them both.
And see which the world prefers.
Obviously this works with many, many other elements.
You can even use it to decide between various price
Likewise, at the other end of your book’s life
cycle, digital print is an easy way to keep just a
few copies available to customers, without the capital
investment and inventory requirements of offset printing
thousands of books.
So let the rest of the publishing industry continue
to quibble over the merits and detriments of POD/subsidy
and digital printing. Me, I’m off to write my
new book. Stay tuned—you’ll see it out
there soon. Under many different names. You choose.
‡There’s a lot of confusion (promulgated,
in large part, by the POD/subsidy publishers themselves
who are understandably interested in blurring the
distinctions and detriments) about whether bookstores
will buy POD/subsidy
published books. Although you can certainly get your
POD/subsidy book into your local bookstore, the answer
is no, most bookstores will not stock POD/subsidy books.
Aside from the fact that the bookstores make most
of their buying decisions on the basis of reviews—and
we’ve already discussed the fact that Publishers
Weekly et. al. will not review POD/subsidy books—bookstore
margins are quite tight. So unless they can get their
regular discount (usually 40%)—and returnability—on
books that they stock, it’s just easier for them
not to stock any given book.
So take a 250-page paperback book that you publish
through a POD/subsidy publisher. Let’s say its
optimal retail price is $10. It costs you $6 per copy
to print through the POD/subsidy publisher. You won’t
be able to give that book to a wholesaler (who demands
55% discount) or a distributor (who takes 68-72% discount)
because that would mean selling them the book at between
$2.80 and $4.50 per book—which you can’t
afford, because your cost is $6 per book. You could,
technically, market it to the bookstores directly for
their 40% discount—but you’d be selling
exactly at cost (which would mean no money left for
promotion, profit, or anything else) and you’d
be asking them to purchase the book outside their regular
So unless you have a book which can stand a much higher
retail price and still be competitive, POD/subsidy
publishing is really not a viable option if you want
your book to be in bookstores.
Fern Reiss is CEO of PublishingGame.com (www.PublishingGame.com) and Expertizing.com (www.Expertizing.com) and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books. She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers (www.AssociationofWriters.com) providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at www.Expertizing.com/forum.htm. Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at www.PublishingGame.com/signup.htm.
Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss