The pressing issue of how to print your book: Print on demand or offset

In the world of book printing you have two options: POD (print on demand) and offset. POD is nimble, scalable, extremely cost effective for small and single print runs, and fast. Offset, the traditional method of book printing has its advantages too, the primary one being that it’s more efficient and economical for large print runs.

So which option is right for your self-publishing book project? That depends on a lot of factors, including your budget, schedule constraints, and the size of your print run.

Budget

Even if you haven’t figured out how many copies you want to print, you probably have a good idea of what your initial budget is. If this is your first foray into self-publishing and you just want to test the waters without a significant cost outlay, POD is probably the way to go. You can pay for copies one at a time; a great option for limited budgets.

Offset takes advantage of certain economies of scale. While more expensive to set up initially, offset printing can be pretty cost effective (that’s why the big publishers use it). Depending on the size of your print run, you can save upwards of 65% on your base price compared to POD. That means you can set a lower price per book while still keeping more of the profits. But you’ll have a greater initial financial outlay—you have to pay for the entire print run. So you’ll need the demand to justify it.

Wisdom For Debris

One way to gauge your demand, and raise those funds, is to crowd-fund your book. Author and illustrator Jeannie Lynn Paske created a successful Kickstarter campaign for her lavishly illustrated book, “The Wisdom For Debris.” By the time her project was closed on Kickstarter, she had exceeded her fundraising goal by 300%. The money pledged through Kickstarter helped her purchase the offset copies, and enrich her offering with additional gifts. The gorgeous foil stamping and embossing on the spine and cover give her book a particularly gorgeous finish.

Schedule

A key factor in deciding how to print your book is your schedule. Are you driven by an immovable deadline? Or are you relatively free from time constraints? Print on demand is fast. It depends on the printer, but a typical POD run can be printed and shipped in 7 to 10 days (for quantities up to approximately 200 books). Books are printed in multiple locations on digital presses located all over the world at facilities designed for quick turnaround.

For offset, the setup time takes longer (as plates have to be created), and the actual time on press (as well as trimming and binding) takes longer too. If the offset printing takes place offshore (another way to save money), shipping will also take longer—up to a few weeks in many cases. So, if you don’t have three months to wait for the print/ship cycle, POD is going to be your best bet.

Print-run Size

As we’ve noted above, much of the decision on whether to print with POD or offset is tied to how many books you are going to print. For large quantities (say 750 or more), offset will be your most cost-effective option on a cost-per-book basis. But if you truly are printing really small incremental batches of books, POD will give you the best bang for your buck.

Of course, the nice thing is that you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can start with POD and then move to offset as your demand increases. Additionally, offset orders can also be warehoused. You don’t have to live with boxes of books or be responsible for sending them out—you can pay for a service to do the picking and shipping.

For some people, POD is all they’ll need. Portfolios, prospectuses, dummy books, client books—these all benefit from fast and flexible turnarounds. But if you do have a big fan base—or can generate the initial funding without dipping into your own bank account—offset may be the better choice.

Blurb’s self-publishing platform offers both offset and POD printing, as well as warehousing and fulfillment services.

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