I recently gave a talk at Inspire! International Book Fair on the differences between offset printing and print on demand. I’d assumed it’d be a sparsely attended talk. After all, how many people even know what offset printing is? But, as it turns out, over the three days I gave this talk, I had an audience with rapt attention. Some of those present were authors who were still writing their first book, but others already had books under their belts.
Many of those who’d already self-published a book, it turns out, had already gone down the offset route. Offset, for the uninitiated, is the established way that most books are printed—it’s large-quantity stuff. For some, it’d been a success: They were selling their books through distribution networks or their own websites. For others, it was a different story; they’d paid a lot of money upfront for offset printing and were living with their books. They hadn’t yet developed a following and were looking for their customer base.
The line I would repeat over and over, mantra-like, is that “it’s not print on demand versus offset—It’s print on demand and offset.” Print on demand, after all, is nimble, scalable, and has no upfront costs, beyond the initial copy or copies you buy. But at a certain point you might want the cost-efficiencies and customization options that come with offset. How do you know when to make the switch? Here’s one possible timeline:
- First publication: Your first books should absolutely be print-on-demand. These may be copies you seed to reviewers, give to friends, and even sell yourself. You’re at the stage where you’ll probably still make changes—perfect for POD.
- Middle run: If your book is picking up steam, think about going for a volume POD order from your printer. Find out if they do warehousing for you so you don’t have to make room in your bed for books. You want your per-unit cost to go down so you can earn more profits and finance that offset run.
- The big time: Think you have another 700 or more units of sales left? If your book is getting good buzz, sales are brisk, and you can finance it, go the offset route. You can achieve savings of up to 60% by going that route. Keep in mind you’ll need a few months of lead-time, since prepress, proofing, and shipping of these books takes time. As long as your book is still available via POD, you’ll be able to fill in the gap. Remember, though, once the offset books are in print, there’s no changing the content, so make sure the copy is final final.
This isn’t the only possible timeline. For example, authors using Kickstarter to raise money for an offset run will probably not want to offer any POD titles—you don’t want to dilute the value of your rewards. Some people may wish to stick with POD for their whole run because they’d prefer to put that money into marketing their book. Either way, having a good idea of your options, and estimating your demand, can help you find the path that’s right for you.