It’s a common question: does it make sense to print your books offset or use print on demand (POD)? Both printing processes offer unique advantages that can make the decision difficult. Let’s take a look some of the factors to consider:
Size of the print run is the probably your most important consideration. Conventional offset printing is best suited for producing large print runs of 500 books or more. With relatively long lead-times and high press set up and make-ready costs, larger press runs are generally needed to make conventional offset printing cost-effective.
Smaller press runs of 100 or less are becoming increasingly common as a way to eliminate unused inventory and costly storage. If your quantity ranges between 300-500 books, your best bet is to quote both ways: offset and digital.
Short press runs do have advantages when it comes to testing the waters. Printing one or two books allows publishers to launch targeted, niche books that are generally not economical for conventional printing. Printing a small amount is a great way to test the market without breaking the budget.
Most would argue that conventional printing produces a higher quality result. But today’s POD printers are pushing technology to the limit and producing bookstore-quality books. As equipment and technology improve, so too does digital printing. Digital is closing the gap and now rivals that of offset printing to reproduce consistent tone, contrast, color and brightness, and sharp black text.
In general, conventional offset printing does offer more choices in terms of paper—color and weight—book sizes, and cover printing techniques such as embossing or foil-stamping. Some techniques such as varnishing or spot varnishing are performed in-line while other processes such as die-cutting and foil embossing are sent outside, regardless of which type of printer you select.
Book size and format influence the size of the press and which papers options are available for that press. Because of the small size of most digital presses, paper sheet sizes are generally limited to a maximum sheet size of 12 x 18, which limits your book size to 11 x 11 (with some exceptions).
Paper choices are also opening up for digital printing. As paper mills realize the vast potential of digital printing, weights, colors, and sheet sizes have all been expanded in the last few years.
When lead times are critical, it’s hard to compete with digital. With faster set-up and make-ready times, POD books are ordered, printed and bound, and shipped all within a few days. Before choosing a printer, it’s always a good idea to check customer reviews and to contact other writers who used the service.
PG Author Christine Keleny, who just self-published her third book ROSE FROM THE ASHES, offers this advice: “Whatever option you choose, do your research. Read the fine print for issues such as rights and extra fees. But also take into account the time, effort, and money you realistically have to spend on printing your book. There are many small presses out there that are willing to help you if you don’t want to do much on your end, whether they are local or on the internet.”
Christine adds: “Join writers groups online or within your community. You can gain good information about what other people have already figured out. With my first book, I paid someone to tell me the steps to allow me to do it myself (finding an editor, learning how to format the book so it’s ready for the printer, finding a printer…), so now, by book three, it’s a lot easier and my cost is pared down.”
She concludes by saying: “Someone can help you make the outside look pretty, but if the story needs work, then you won’t get good reviews and you’ll lose future customers. So write, write, and rewrite!”