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Comparing POD Publishing Models


Print-On-Demand (POD) has two distinct meaning in the publishing industry:

  1. Where publishers print a single copy of a book at a time as it is ordered, rather than mass printing.
  2. A POD business model used by publishers to charge authors to publish [and sometime distribute] their books.

A typical POD Business Model may include:

  • Up-front set-up fee
  • Share of the sale price
  • A combination of both

Books published under a POD model are not destined to end up on the shelves in bookstores. Instead they are generally sold online through the publishers own site and any network sales channels they have relationships with.

The key thing to realise here, is that you, the author, must do you own marketing.
POD is the lowest risk, most cost effective model for first time publishers, and is also used by many multi-book authors.

The charges made by the publisher often stack up to the same over the average small run. For instance, some charge set up fees and a lower discount / royalty. Others charge no set up but take a bigger slice of the cover price.

Control – another trade-off is between revenue and artistic control. If you want complete control of layout and cover design – use a service such as Lulu, which allows you to manage everything. If you prefer to hand it over to the publisher, go with a publisher like iuniverse.

Set-up Costs - If you choose to minimize your set-up fees, the trade-off is a higher cover price, which may price your book out of the market or the publisher may pay lower royalties on average. If you anticipate only a few copies being sold, go for no set up fee. If you hope to sell over 100, compare set up fees and what you get for your money. A basic package should include, at a minimum, cover design, internal layout, an ISBN, and distribution to online retailers. Additional services you such as final submission proofing, copy editing, basic promotion and copyright registration can either be done yourself of procured cheaper elsewhere.

Cover Price – is higher for POD books than mass market paperbacks. Depending on the niche, most buyers will not pay more than around $16 for a 250 page paperback. In many instances, the publisher sets the cover price, however some will allow you to set your own cover price within a certain range. Be wary of setting your cover price too low – you may think it will mean more sales, but it also often lowers the perceived value of the book, and also means lower royalties.

Royalty Payments - POD publisher pay you a percentage of net receipts, [after printing costs and distributor’s discounts]. Some, such as Lulu and CaféPress, allow you to set your own royalty. Your royalty affects your cover price. When comparing POD publisher packages, rather than rely on royalty percentages, calculate the whole package to determine exactly what dollar amount you receive. Use this to compare between offers. Royalty > Cover Price > Distributors Discount > Printing Costs > Shipping. Make sure you understand ALL the cost components in the deal.

Author’s Discounts - on copies ordered by the author, for a local book signing, to use as promotional copies, to donate to libraries, or simply to give away to family and friends. Some also offer bulk discounts. If you have your own website and wish to sell your own books, make sure the author’s discount is more than the royalty.

Exclusivity – make sure you understand your rights to cease publication of your book, revise it in the future, or seek a mainstream publisher while it is being sold on demand? Check the contract terms to see if the POD requires exclusive rights to your work for a period of years. Also check the termination clauses.

Distribution – if you are planning on breaking into offline stores, make certain your POD offers a reasonable discount to stores and accept returns. If not, check the distribution channels to publisher offers as part of the deal, and any constraints you have at establishing any. At the very least, you will want your publisher to get your book listed on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and that your book will not be restricted for sale from the publisher’s own website.

Reputation – if you are just starting out, stick with the big POD’s. Many smaller POD’s offer deals that just sound too good to be true, and in many instances they are not what they first appear. Check our writers forums and post a question for recommendations. There is a POD discussion list on Yahoo Groups. Visit and read carefully the website of each publisher you are considering, being certain to take a look at the contract. If it is not supplied on the publishers website, contact them for a copy to be e-mailed to you.

See Directory of POD Publishing Service

Next: Comparing Print Costs Using Economic Models

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