When authors think about indie publishing, offset printing may not be what first comes to mind... Digital book production and print on demand (POD) distribution started a rush to self-publishing on the part of thousands of writers and memoirists, hobbyists and home cooks, fundraisers and charity drives.
In the online world, print on demand fit perfectly into the Amazon model of book retailing, where millions of titles are potentially available at any time. When books turned into files stored on a server, ready for one-off printing and fulfillment, a seamless series of steps from order to delivery was created. No bookstore can hope to match the inventory of print on demand books.
Sometimes it’s even possible to forget that print on demand does not account for a majority of the books sold every year. But—although its percentage is growing, it’s still a minority.
Plan Your Marketing First
Ideally, self-publishers ought to recruit a book designer and a marketing advisor before they even write their nonfiction book. Since this almost never happens, they should aim to at least plan their book before heading off into the production process.
It’s vital to consider the marketing side first. Identifying the market for your book immediately gives you important information. What other books are selling in that market? Where will your book fit in? What pressing problem does it solve for these buyers? Where do they shop, what do they read, how much will they pay for your book?
These are all questions for the self-publisher, operating as their own book marketer, needs to answer. There’s no point in starting to create a book that’s wrong for your intended audience.
And in many cases, you’ll find that digital printing and print on demand distribution are not the best solutions.
When Offset Printing Trumps Print on Demand
Here are six scenarios where offset printing will help you meet goals that are clearly out of reach of print on demand:
Books that need high quality reproduction of art photography, painting, drawing, or any visual arts, will fail with print on demand. Paper choices, trim sizes, and binding options are severely limited. Reproduction quality can be far less than offset, and the high-end books from companies like Blurb.com are simply too expensive to be practical in the marketplace. A hardcover 8 x 10 full-color book of 96 pages cost over $40.00 each at Blurb. Great for a memento, hopeless for sales.
Those little keepsake books sitting in a box on the counter next to the register are precious, full-color books with inspirational messages or poetry. Sometimes they have little cloth ribbons sewn to the binding. Most of these books are in sizes unavailable from the main POD suppliers, and the same problems of reproduction quality and cost make them impractical.
Books with Inserts
Sometimes a book needs a section of photos to be complete. Many travel and adventure books have photos that help tell the story. Inserting one type of printing into another type of printing is unfeasible in POD, where automated equipment can’t handle this scenario. In offset printing, it’s easy. The separately printed pieces, each on an appropriate paper stock, are simply bound together at the end of the printing process.
Books with Unusual Size or Paper
POD companies only offer specific trim sizes, and other formats may come with a financial penalty. If you want a square book, you may not be able to choose from a variety of sizes, for instance. POD vendors simply don’t offer them. And almost all POD suppliers offer only two choices of paper—white or cream. Offset printers can print virtually any size or shape book on any one of dozens of book papers.
Very Long Books
Because of the capacity of the machinery used for POD books, there is a maximum page length for all POD suppliers. For instance, at CreateSpace the maximum page length of a book is 740 pages. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is 784 pages, by the way.
Many special sales opportunities involve selling a large number of books at once, for instance to corporations for promotion or for training purposes. Any time you are ordering over 500 books, you are likely to get a much lower price—and therefore a much higher profit—from offset printing. In a recent survey, a 200-page 6 x 9 trade paperback cost $3.50 from a POD supplier, while a web offset printer could print the same book for under $1.00 each. That’s quite a difference.
Settling your production method at the beginning of the process will make your whole publication more focused and efficient. Understanding your market is the single most important part of ensuring a successful publication. When you know the book your market wants, you’ll know the best way to produce it.
Takeaway: Consider the marketing of your book as early as possible in your process. This will tell you the best way to produce it.
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