Jane Smith contact me about doing a guest post on POD companies a few days ago and since it fit in with our Writing as a Business series, I agreed.
5 Reputable Print-on-Demand Services
First, some deep background: in the 1450s, Johannes Gutenberg printed the first movable-type Bible, kicking off a technological and cultural explosion that helped create the modern world. Printed works no longer had to be copied by hand. Doubtless some scribes were apoplectic over this, fearing for the future of humanity and, not incidentally, their livelihoods.
Half a millennium later, we find ourselves in the midst of a comparable revolution. It is estimated that in 2008, the number of self-published books eclipsed the number of traditionally-published ones for the first time. Or, to put it another way, 2007 will be remembered as the last year most books were published by publishers. One of the key drivers of this massive change is print-on-demand technology, or POD.
It’s important that we distinguish here between the concepts of “self-publishing” and “print-on-demand.” Print-on-demand specifically refers to the ability to print off each copy as it is ordered. Self-publishing just means the lack of a traditional publisher as middleman. You can easily have one of these things without the other. Just as it is possible to self-publish the old-fashioned way, printing one large batch of books upfront (to sit in your garage forever…just kidding), traditional publishers can and do take advantage of POD capability.
But obviously, POD has enabled self-publishing to explode the way it has. If you’re considering bypassing the long hard road of rejection letters known as traditional publishing…well, first of all, find yourself a good editor anyway. Then make sure you do a background check on the printing service before you sign on with them. Start by taking a look at these five:
This young, booming industry has been seeing much consolidation. Author Solutions is now the umbrella company that owns a few of the main POD companies you might have been familiar with a few years ago: iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford Publishing, Wordclay, and AuthorHouse (formerly 1stBooks). Confusingly, these still operate independently, but most offer a starting package that includes a small initial print run for $599 and POD services thereafter.
Lulu advertises itself with the slogan “publish for free,” only taking money when a book is ordered. The great advantage of Lulu is its great flexibility; you have total control over the finished product and can print it in just about any format, the whole gamut of sizes and bindings. The flip-side is that everything possible is done digitally; they do not assign you a human contact unless something goes wrong.
This is Amazon’s own POD brand, which is in the process of absorbing BookSurge (I told you there were a lot of mergers going on here). As you might expect, they’re very well-run, but brick-and-mortar retailers tend to have it in for Amazon and will be reluctant to shelve their titles. If you plan to use Amazon as your main means of distribution anyway, this would be a good way to go.
4. Infinity Publishing
Infinity offers an Author Concierge service that puts a rep in touch with you immediately. They claim to be the only publisher that stocks a micro-inventory of your title at all times to keep shipping times extra fast. Packages start at $599 for paperback and $849 for hardcover.
5. Lightning Source
This is the official POD service of Ingram Book Group, the country’s main book distributor. As such, it only works with publishing companies. So if you decide to go the small-press route rather than self-publishing, this is the POD arrangement they’ll probably go with. The fee (to the publisher) is only $12 per year per title. Using the infinite reach of Ingram’s distribution channels, Lightning Source can probably get your book placed more widely than the other services, but again, is not for self-publishing.
Hope this helps give you an idea of the fast-changing landscape. Make sure to check the websites for up-to-date pricing information, and ask lots of questions before you sign on for anything. You’ll be glad you did once your book is out there being ordered!
Familiar with personal information screenings and online background checks, Jane Smith regularly writes about these topics in her blogs. Feel free to send her comments at email@example.com.
Lightning Source (LSI) can be used by self-publishers. You have to register a company to deal with LSI, but that’s easy to do in most places. Many self-publishers use LSI, myself included.
LSI requires a $75 setup fee for each title, a $12/year catalog fee (which you mentioned), and if you want a proof of the book before releasing it for distribution, that’ll cost you $30. If you want to upload new files after approving the proof, that’ll cost you $40. It doesn’t offer any publishing services (formatting, editing) and doesn’t hand-hold. It expects you to deliver print ready interior and cover files. But LSI has the greatest distribution reach and gets you into Ingram.
I’ve heard some authors set the book up in Createspace first and then uploading it to LSI when they have the proof right so that they don’t have to pay the LSi fee if it didn’t turn out right the first time.
I’m a self-pubber, and I wouldn’t work with anyone but LSI. I hear Createspace is equivalent to LSI, but I haven’t used them. Writer, beware of vanity publishers!
I respectfully disagree about AuthorSolutions. I have a few older books through one of their divisions and I’ve been hassled by the company on a regular basis by telemarketing calls from them (someone I ordered books for a couple years ago is even getting hassled by them because they keep wasting that person to tell me to call them back). I also have seen all revisions I made not take effect in several of those books, even though I paid for them. I’ve tried on several occasions to remove my books from them, but they ignore me. I’ve heard similar complaints from other authors who have used one of the divisions under AuthorSolutions.
I advise all authors to steer clear of those companies. Authors are better off using CreateSpace, Lulu or LSI.
I agree with you on the Createspace, Lulu, or LSI for books. They are the best for getting a book printed and distributed.
I agree with you, Ruth. I have also been hassled by one of these companies owned by AuthorSolutions after publishing with them several years ago. However, I did get them to remove my book. I tried to email them, but they needed my signature, so I faxed them a letter dissolving the relationship and they haven’t bothered me since.
You must not have the same company I work with. I was able to get my titles removed from Outskirts Press without any problems. They were, by far, the best vanity press I ever worked with. The other vanity press (which I won’t name since the Internet is a small place) refuses to remove my titles, but to be fair, there was a stipulation in the contract I signed where they have the right to refuse. So part of it is my fault. I still hate, however, that they continue to bother me with phone calls, and I don’t recall that part being granted in the contract. I figure they’re just scum and am grateful I didn’t do the bulk of my books with them.
I’ve been very pleased with CreateSpace. I was going to mention you can set up your own publishing company and use Lightning Source, but Sarah has already mentioned that. 🙂
I would never pay for one of those expensive packages again. CreateSpace is free unless you want expanded distribution and that’s $25. And you pay a very small amount for your proof. Or you can look at it electronically for free. I think it’s good that there’s a lot to choose from so there’s something to fit everyone’s needs. Independent publishing has come such a long way!
Independent publishing has come a long way after being beat down.
I like Createspace the best, though there may come a time I might move to LSI. But I’d have to sell more paperbacks then I do. 😀
Great information here Stephannie 🙂 I honestly didn’t know which POD did what…but after your info and then reading other’s comments, it’s been really helpful. I would love to have some books made to give away…so there is lots to think about! Great post as usual 🙂
Jane Smith was the writer of the article that I posted. She had some great information in the article. After working with many of the ones above or hearing about them, I’d sugget you use CreateSpace or Lulu for your book printing. LSI is great too, but expensive and unless you plan to move a lot of books, not always worth the money that you spend. Good luck Lorna.
LSI is not expensive at all. What exactly are you referring to?
The expense comes in if you don’t get the proof copy right the first time. When last I checked it costs almost $118 to submit a title. If you have to resubmit something it costs about $75 each time.
Yeah, it’s not a huge expense, not anywhere close to what other places may ask. But for those that can’t afford even that little. It’s expensive.
That’s only partially right, but I’m not trying to argue. I have published four books with LSI, and I have had all my files accepted the first time. The costs are actually $37.50 for each file, the bookblock and the cover, which totals $75. If you have to resubmit one, it costs $40.00. If you pay close attention to their file guidelines, there should be no trouble. I don’t know where you got the $118 figure. I have never encountered or been charged that. The publishing costs for LSI and Createspace are a fraction of vanity publishers like Lulu and Authorspace, but they do require the author to educate his/herself more deeply about the formatting process. On a rough average, most vanity publishers charge around $600 for a package that gives the author about ten books. For the same price, LSI and Createspace allow about 100 books to be purchased for the same price.
That last sentence should have one of the “for the same price”‘s eliminated.
Cool. Sounds like they’re prices have changed a little since I first looked into using them as a printer. I just remember adding up the costs when I first started looking and the total per title came to be $118 and then $12 per year after that to keep the title in their data base.
It’s not a large expense, but since I wasn’t making anything at the time and am still not making enough to cover the expense, it made me cringe. I learned to DIY everything I need to to publish because my publishing budget doesn’t exist. What I make on a book is what I have to spend. No more and no less.
I didn’t mean to suggest that LSI is not a great printer. It’s one of two used by trad publishers and self-publishing companies to print the books. Even places like Createspace use them. If I ever start selling 1-3 books a month I’ll probably look into using them.
I’d also suggest to anyone just learning the formatting process for books to use Createspace or Lulu first. Wait for LSI until such time as you are absolutely happy with the why your print book looks before using LSI.
I wasn’t trying to be argumentative either. 😀
AuthorSolutions has a lot of complaints. Writer’s Beware has unveiled tons of issues with that company.
I’m going through CreateSpace, since most of my transactions will be through Amazon anyway.