Print-on-Demand for Self-Publishing Indie Authors
While self-publishing may not be a new concept as you can read in my blog ‘Self-Publishing: An Act of Defiance’, the developing technologies have made self-publishing more accessible to the masses:
“The $1 billion market of self-publishing has changed considerably in the past two decades with new technologies such as the Internet providing increasing alternatives to traditional publishing.” Jennifer Alsever, ‘The Kindle Effect’, Fortune (2017)
The Internet was not, however, the only technology that had an impact on modern publishing. The onset of digital printing had a profound effect on the publishing industry.
Offset Lithographic Printing
To fully understand what an immense development digital printing became for the publishing industry and how it had such an impact on modern publishing, one must look at how books had been printed up until the development of digital printing. This had been done using a process called offset lithographic printing. Allison Schiff and Alex Daniel, describe it perfectly in their article published in 2016 in Publishers Weekly, New York entitled ‘Offset Printing Versus Print-on-Demand’: “Most commonly employed for large print runs, offset lithography is a commercial printing process in which ink is transferred from a plate, generally made of metal, onto a rubber sheet, which in turn is rolled onto paper being fed through a press. The large sheets of printed paper are then cut into book shape and sent to a bindery to be stitched into book form.”
Therefore printing a single copy was not a possibility or if you did it would be a rather expensive book! Books were printed in large print runs, the larger the print run the cheaper the cost per book. Payment would be required for a large print run of books within 30–60 days of the completion of the printing of the books. This was an initial cost that was unavoidable to the self-publisher before the advent of digital printing and proved quite the obstacle to many potential self-publishers.
What is Print-on-Demand (POD)?
Print-on-demand (POD), which is now an integral part of self-publishing, could only have developed once digital printing had began. As Rod Stewart explained in his article, ‘POD Explained’, that appeared in The Bookseller in 2000: “Print-on-demand changes the dynamics of the whole distribution system and value chain. Digital files can be sent electronically, stored in digital ‘warehouses’ as close to the customer as feasible and printed one at a time, or ‘one-off’, as they are ordered by the customer.”
Nowadays, thanks to POD, the indie author does not have to pay in advance to print nor does he have to store hundreds or thousands of copies of his book in order to self-publish. As an independent author you can simply digitally upload your print-ready digital book files to one of the many online digital publishing giants, e.g. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or IngramSpark, and once an order is received through KDP or IngramSpark the digital file will be send to the printer that is being used closest to that region of the world. The order, even if it is a single copy, will be printed and sent on to the customer. Vitally the cost of the printing will be taken from the customer’s payment and the remainder of the retail price, minus the publisher’s percentage, will go directly to the author. A system that is relatively simple and efficient for self-publishing authors.
One drawback, among the many advantages, is the fact that the author has more limited control on the production specifications (size, format, paper, etc.) and the print quality. However, most digital companies do offer an ever-increasing selection of sizes, paper and other production options. Of course the online publisher will demand a certain standard of quality from the relevant printer.
Global Distribution for Self-Publishing Authors
A particular advantage for indie authors from the technological advances in the publishing industry – internet, digital printing, print-on-demand, online publishing – is the fact that self-publishing authors now have access to a global market. It is right there at your fingertips; your book can reach billions of customers. Online publishing along with POD allows the indie author to access this distribution network.
A word of warning, however, you must still work to market and publicise your book, but when you do that and do it well your book can reach a global audience.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing
There are a number of online companies that use POD as part of their business to globally sell books, but one of the market leaders is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The arrival of which caused quite a change in the publishing industry. “Call it the Kindle effect. Amazon opened the floodgates in 2007, the same year it released its first e-reader, when it launched Kindle Direct Publishing, allowing anyone to upload, publish, and sell his own ebook for free.” Jennifer Alsever, ‘The Kindle Effect’, Fortune, (New York: Fortune Media Group Holdings, 2017).
The Kindle e-reader changed the world of ebooks, reading books on a kindle became more reader friendly and the market saw a substantial growth. So much so the publishing world feared for the lifespan of printed books. Thankfully the printed book is still hugely popular and so are ebooks. The book market just became larger and wider. Excellent news for self-publishing authors. Ebooks can be available as soon as the book is listed on Amazon KDP.
However, not all reader will want to read an ebook, there are plenty of reader out there for whom the printed book is sacred. The indie author can easily publish a printed book through KDP. There is no large initial cost, as there is no start-up charge per title and as production is by POD. The cost of printing is not incurred until a book is ordered and is then deducted from the royalty. According to Amazon KDP: “Publishing takes less than 5 minutes and your book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 24–48 hours.”
The process is straightforward, sign up, upload files and your self-published book is available to a global market. In essence it means that titles can remain in print indefinitely without the need for the expensive storage of inventory.
No assessment of the writing by KDP is required for the author to avail of this service, though there are guidelines for checking text before submitting it for publication and a previewing tool so that the author can see how the book will appear in KDP once published. As with all self-publishing there is no quality control, however, a poorly-designed or poorly edited book will not sell very well in the marketplace where customers expect high standards. I would advise any self-publisher to follow the publishing processes of editing and design, integral in traditional publishing, before presenting the final book files to KDP.
Self-published books can be distributed in two ways by Amazon KDP: ‘Amazon KDP Regular Distribution’ is an online distribution service which gives the indie author a 70% royalty, which includes all Amazon websites worldwide. Alternatively authors can avail of ‘Amazon KDP Expanded Distribution’, which, in addition to all of the online sites, includes bookstores, libraries and academic institutions worldwide. However, the expanded service offers the author a lower royalty rate of 40%. The reason the expanded distribution service, which includes traditional booksellers outlets, pays less to the author is due to the fact that KDP will have to give discounts to the bookshops and universities.
This issue of rights is an important one for self-publishers. According to KDP’s Terms and Conditions: “You [the author] retain all ownership rights in and to the copyrights and all other rights and interest in and to your Books.” Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions confirm that the self-publisher could terminate the contract at any time, “You are entitled to terminate at any time by providing us notice of termination…”. This is a compelling and viable option for indie authors who are self-publishing; intellectual rights, creative control and financial control are maintained with access to an instant global market.
Ingramspark – part of the Ingram Book company – whose website declares the company to be “the world’s largest wholesale book distributor” – is another online presence. As with KDP they offer POD and a global distribution platform. The website claims to connect the author “with the world’s largest distribution channel of book wholesalers and retailers.”
There is, however, a small start-up that is not incurred using KDP, however this fee is waived or refunded if you are a member of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) or “if you purchase 50 copies of your book within 60 days of publication.”
In this case the online-only option produces a royalty of only 40% though the expanded distribution offers a royalty of 45%. The reason that IngramSpark pays a lower royalty to the author for online distribution of the series is that they act as a third party supplying into Amazon. Amazon KDP have cut out the middle man so can pay a higher royalty to the author.
To all you independent authors these are vitally important developments in the publishing world. They open up the global market and the allow you to publish without paying any printing costs in advance. Why don’t you check back in with me for my next blog when I will discuss these costs in more detail?
“Siobhán is a highly experienced publishing professional offering the full suite of services for authors and publishers alike. It was a pleasure to work with her on a recent project and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her, and look forward to working with her again.”
Conor Graham, Publisher, Irish Academic Press