In Your Corner: What is the Difference Between Traditional Printing vs Print on Demand?

apple versus donut choices

One of the biggest decisions for self-published authors is whether to choose traditional printing or print on demand (POD). The publishing consultants I work with are constantly asked questions about the differences and benefits of traditional printing versus print on demand. Below I have answered three of the most common questions we’re asked about POD . Hopefully, the answers will give you a better understanding of the two types of services and help you determine if print on demand is right for you.

Why should I choose POD rather than traditional printing?

Most authors who select POD want their self-publisher to handle distribution and fulfillment as well as the actual printing of the books. This allows the author to focus on what they do best – writing, and hopefully marketing, their books – instead of managing inventory, packaging orders, and shipping books to the buyer.

Why is the per book cost higher for a POD title compared to a traditionally printed title?

The more you buy (of anything, from books to business cards) from a traditional printer the lower your unit cost. Whether you print 100 copies of an item or 1000 copies, your set up costs are the same, and they are amortized over the entire print run. Typically, buyers  order more than they actually need  to achieve a lower unit price.  In POD, the cost of your book is the same for book number 1 and book 2000 because each book is printed one at a time and the set up is included in every individual copy.

So why would I accept a higher unit price?

Authors that select POD are doing it for two specific reasons. The first is they want their self-publisher to print the book and deliver it to the purchaser without them having to be personally involved. The second is cash-flow. Inventory costs money. Buying 2000 books, for example, at $3.50 per book will require an investment of $7,000.00. In a nutshell, POD authors are trading a higher per book cost for the luxury of not having 1000’s of dollars worth of inventory sitting in their home office.

POD is a great option for authors who are concerned about time management and inventory cost. After all, authors should be writing and marketing not storing, packaging, and shipping books.

I’d love to hear your questions, advice, and experiences with traditional printing and print on demand.

You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Marketing Missteps Episode 5 : Printing Anything Other Than On Demand

This series is my love letter to marketing for self-publishers.  But you know what’s more fun than reading love letters?  Reading hate mail.  So while I remain a firm advocate of thinking positively and of making as many innocent errors as is necessary to refine our techniques to perfection, I have been framing this series–now four weeks gone–in the context of the dangerous and the deadly in terms of marketing missteps. Thus far, I have addressed the following errors:

As I mentioned last week, each of these things can tank your book sales singly and for a long time, and a combination of these mistakes will leave you struggling to recover years in the future.  And while some other steps off of the narrow path to success won’t necessarily damage you irrevocably–a few mistakes are, as I said, useful for making adjustments–these ones just might.  These are the Big Bads, the missteps you don’t want to make.

So today, I’m writing hate mail to self-publishing packages that lock you into massive initial print runs.  The error?

Printing Anything Other Than On Demand

Some authors out there will caution you against doing a print run without already having  solid distribution deal in place, but I’ll take it one step further and caution you against buying into any publication package that locks you into an unsupportably large print run.  The average hybrid publishing company (also sometimes and misguidedly referred to as a “vanity press”) will offer a range of packages to choose from, depending on your budget, and many of them include these massive print runs in order to set you up to compete with traditional publishers and their even more massive print runs.

The problem is this: we can’t compete with traditional publishers by replicating their behaviors.  Self-publishers simply don’t have the same budget, and the same margin for error.  Traditional publishers want to flood the market with a book in order to sell as many copies as possible by simple exposure alone, but they also have the distribution deals to get their books into a lot of different markets to do so.  These distribution deals mean that if a book sells poorly in one corner of the world, Hachette or Penguin or whoever can simply bundle up all of those books and send them somewhere where they are selling well.  Or, if they’re selling poorly everywhere, the loss is attenuated by the profits from other books entirely–books that are selling well.

Campus Bookstore at University of Pennsylvania

Unless you have the reach and courier services of a traditional publishing company, I caution against these massive initial print runs.  I am a firm advocate for printing some copies of your book from the outset–they’re useful for ARCs, for book readings, and for giveaways–but they should be a tool, not a burden.  If your garage is stacked floor to ceiling with printed copies of your book that you can’t sell and can’t move, that benefits no one–and it’s a needlessly expensive price to pay in a market where ebooks continue to be a profitable source of income for the self-publishing author.

I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to printing your books in bulk: you do save money.  But what do you lose?  You end up covering shipping expenses later, and having to manage distribution through your own personal website.  That’s a lot of work, and most authors don’t have the time or resources after that initial purchase to operate within luxurious margins.

So: keep that first print run small, until you can gauge future demand.  Better to sell out that first print run entirely and put in another order via Print on Demand (POD) copies than to end up sending your books to landfill.  (And believe me, this is such a common experience among my self-publishing acquaintance.)  Better yet, start with POD instead of turning to it as a second option.  Hybrid publishing companies like Outskirts Press, my own employer, offer several packages that allow you to cut back on the numbers–or to start without a built-in print run, with the option of going straight to POD copies purchased wholesale.  Other hybrid publishing companies offer similar deals with some variation, but the fact remains: this kind of plan helps keep initial costs down, and frees up your money for other, more carefully targeted marketing strategies.



Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, 10:00 AM

From the Archives: “Self-Publishing Authors Can Get Their Books on the Shelves of ‘Traditional’ Bookstores”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: April 27th, 2011 ]

Even with the recent changes in the book publishing industry, a “traditional” bookstore presence should still be a goal for authors who want this. Why? Well, with this presence, authors are able to target an audience that is passionate about books. Think about it — people have to leave behind the comforts of their own home to go into a bookstore. Most likely they are there to purchase a book. If your book is on the shelf, yours may just have a chance at being the book they buy.

How can you work toward getting your book into that bookstore, though? Is it a matter of luck? Can self-publishing authors make the cut? The good news is that even if you’re not necessarily on a “lucky streak”, it’s still possible to successfully target placement in “traditional” bookstores. However, you must have a solid plan in place for doing so. Here are a few action items to put on your list as you get started:

  • Make sure your book is fully returnable. If your book cannot be returned, there is great risk involved for the bookstore. For example, if they stock 10 copies of your book and only 4 sell over the course of a year, they are losing money. If the book is returnable, though, the store can simply send the book back that doesn’t sell. Think of this return-ability as a type of “insurance” for your book.
  • Offer a sufficient trade discount. What’s sufficient? Typically that will be around 50-55% (or higher). Of course this does cut into your profits, but a higher retail margin gives the bookstore more incentive to stock your book on their shelves. No incentive? No cigar.
  • Build proof that your book is desirable. This is probably the most difficult (though not insurmountable) part of it all because authors often have a bias view of their book. However, the best indicator of a desirable book is exponential sales figures. If the amount of books you sale doubles, triples, quadruples, etc. month-after-month, that is something that can work in your favor. If you aren’t a professional marketer, you may want to seek the services of a book marketing consultant. Make sure they are able to help you draft a marketing plan and go forth on planning your publicity.

After you’ve done all of the above, you must put together a proposal to submit to bookstore contacts. You can find others specifically on their websites, but Barnes & Noble can be reached here:

The Small Press Department
Barnes & Noble
122 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Other bookstores can be found through Google. Another popular site for locating independent bookstores is Indie Bound.

Do you know of any other bookstores that are small press/self-published friendly?

by Wendy Stetina

When Wendy first posted this article back in 2011, the publishing industry looked rather different––and in many ways, it looked to be stumbling down the path to utter self-annihilation.  Borders, once a behemoth of the bookselling industry, went out of business in 2011, leaving many readers and authors questioning what––if any––place the brick and mortar bookstore held in the future of their industry.  In the heated discussion that followed in the post’s comments section, various Self Publishing Advisor subscribers pointed out the rise of online retailers as the cheapest and most effective sales platform for indie authors.  In response, SPA moderator Elise L. Connors wrote that “[T]his post wasn’t written with the intention of persuading authors to go after bookstores. It was actually written to let authors who are going after that avenue know that they shouldn’t give up on that ‘dream’ because of the current landscape of the industry.”  (The italics are mine.)

It’s true that Amazon has continued its meteoric rise to the top of the bookselling industry since 2011, and it’s also true that Amazon’s expanded offerings to self-publishing authors have captured much of the market and spurred much public dialogue about the world of indie publishing.  It’s true that Barnes & Noble’s online presence, the Apple iBooks Store, and a whole host of social media platforms and numerous self-publishing companies have sprung up in recent years to diversify and stabilize the market.  And while there have never been so many ways to buy and sell a book as there are in the year 2016, it is true too that ebooks and e-readers have done nothing to lessen customers’ appreciation for the pure tactile pleasure of a brick and mortar store.

Even Amazon has come around to seeing a street presence as importance, as evidenced by the launch of the first Amazon Books shop (in Seattle) last year.  Yes, it seems mostly a kind of marketing gimmick, but it’s one that works.  As one skeptical self-publishing expert learned, even the store’s critics often walk away with an Amazon Prime Membership or a physical book or two.  (These are true stories, people!)  There is, apparently, nothing that quite beats the “instant gratification” of beholding actual physical books on an actual physical shelf.  And while the jury’s still out on whether Amazon Books stores will do anything specifically geared to boost sales of self-published works––like installing Espresso Book Machines, for example, or offering curated collections of Print on Demand (POD) editions of Kindle favorites––one can’t help but notice the wide swathes of shelf space dedicated to Kindles in pictures of the interior.

amazon bookstore

And Amazon’s not the only company with a brick-and-mortar presence that can make a difference for indie and self-publishing authors.  In fact, many independent bookstores and even larger chains like Denver’s Tattered Cover go to great lengths to boost sales of local indie authors.  On my last visit to one of Tattered Cover’s several stores, I stepped inside the doors and made my way toward the coffee bar––only to find my progress impeded by a series of low bookshelves that blocked out the cafe’s seating area.  These shelves were the first thing every customer sees when walking in that store, and they were positively packed with self-published books, placed there on consignment.  (If you live in or near Denver and are interested in knowing more, visit their website.)


But ultimately, I’m not here today to defend the bookstore as a vital place to sell your books.  I’m here to help those of you who already know you want to get your book into a bookstore somewhere … to do so with the least amount of fuss.

To return to Wendy’s original post, most bookstores now either mandate her first point (“Make sure your book is fully returnable“) or take any guesswork out of the equation by relying on a consignment model (as with Tattered Cover, above).  And Wendy’s second point holds true: when an author is given the option, it’s a wise idea to “Offer a sufficient trade discount.

In many ways, however, Wendy’s third point is the most important.  Aside from keeping your name and work in the public eye, simply by virtue of placing your book in a bookstore, there are several ways you as an author can help “Build proof that your book is desirable.”  Most bookstores have stringent standards for the self-published books they stock: the title in question must dots its is and cross its ts in that it must have an ISBN, a cover that exudes professionalism and sound design sense, and so on.  Striving to meet these standards in order to appear on Barnes & Noble’s or Tattered Cover’s shelves can only do good things for the “desirability” of your book on a larger scale.  I guarantee you that an attractive, professional-looking book will sell better online as well as off the shelf.

Last but not least, a fantastic way to sell readers on the value of your book is by building relationships with them––and one of the best ways to make contact with your readers is to host events … at your local bookstore.  If you pursue hosting such an event, many bookstores will offer additional opportunities to feature your works within your stores, especially since good attendance at your event will likely translate into a solid spike in general sales for them.  (More foot traffic always equates to more sales when it comes to a brick-and-mortar bookstore.)  And the flipside of the coin is also worth examining: if you have already managed to clear a bookstore’s consignment standards, they are more likely to agree to partnering with you on hosting such an event.  Readings, Q&A sessions, and book signings are fertile ground for the indie author!  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

Houghton Mifflin Declares Bankruptcy

It is becoming more and more clear that the publishing industry is seeing a major shift from traditional publishing to POD publishing. Traditional book publishers are also facing pressure from the online availability of published material, including e-books. Houghton Mifflin declaring bankruptcy is one event that is illustrating this shift.

Houghton Mifflin is a textbook publisher who has been struggling for various reasons. This isn’t a tiny company who is suffering. With a history dating back to 1832, Houghton Mifflin’s products serve 60 million students in 120 countries. They also publish legendary classics such Curious George and Lord of the Rings.

Houghton Mifflin recently declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy to eliminate $3.1 billion in debt. The publisher plans to restructure the company in hopes to again become a profitable business.

Despite the struggles among traditional publishers, non-traditional publishers are thriving and that is great news for self-publishing authors.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press.  In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at

POD is Fueling the Publishing Market

Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information, recently released an annual report on book publishing, which shows just how much self publishing is fueling the publishing market.

While the report shows growth in the publishing industry, if you took self publishing out of the equation, the market would be relatively flat since 2010.  This shows that self publishing is not only a viable publishing option for authors, but it also suggests that self publishing companies and their titles are strongly influencing the publishing industry.

New publishing methods, such as POD, have the power to change the face of publishing and improve opportunities for authors. This is true for all genres, including both fiction and nonfiction.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press.  In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at