Self-publishing a printed book – what’s best for you: traditional printing, or POD printing?

Once your book is designed (typeset) – both cover and inside pages – and is ready to be printed, you need to send it to the printer.

There are two main types of printers of hardcopy books:

  1. Traditional printers – generally speaking, the higher the number of books  printed in one batch, the cheaper to print per book), and
  2. Print-on-demand (POD) printers – the same cost per printed book whether you are purchasing just 1 or 2 books, or 1000 books.

Note: before being printed, your book needs to be designed, preferably by a professional designer using InDesign (or similar), and saved as a PDF.

Comparing traditional printing and POD (for self-published books)

The pros and cons of using a traditional printer versus a POD printer depends on your wishes and intended use of the book – for example:

  • the quality of the end product (the book)
  • whether you want softcover or hardcover (casebound) books – noting POD outlets such as IngramSpark in Australia cannot produce hardcover books)
  • the cost of the book and what you are going to charge for it
  • the number of copies you want printed
  • whether or not you want your book registered with online book distribution and retail outlets
  • whether or not you want a box of books to market and sell yourself at markets, to shops or at book readings/book launches etc.
Quality of the product

Traditional printer: you can request a higher or lower quality book, as you wish,   in terms of the dimensions (size of the book), thickness (GSM) and finish of the inside pages and cover. If you want a very high quality book with a really solid cover and, say, satin-finish pages, this is your only  option.

POD printer: you are somewhat limited in terms of the quality of the printed book – for example, your choice of GSM and finish (semigloss, satin, etc.) is limited. If you are okay with a medium to low quality book, this is a good option.

printing service (or process)

Traditional printer: they provide you with verbal/emailed advice, information and recommendations that are tailored to exactly what you need. They can step you through the process and pros and cons of different GSMs or finishes for the inside pages and the cover. This can be a great learning experience for a newbie self-publishing author and an enjoyable experience for everyone.

POD printer: the process is automated. You need to order one or more printed copies of your book via an online ordering system. You don’t get to chat about the different types of paper that could be used. If you don’t like the quality of the printed books, you can re-order with different specifications (within the limitations of what the POD printer offers) to achieve a higher quality book.

Overall, the process of using a traditional printer is far more personal, and a far more collaborative experience than using POD. On the other hand, POD is an arguably quicker-to-use automated online experience. You can learn a lot from either process about either traditional printing or POD printing.

price of printing

Traditional printer: if you want 100 plus books printed, a traditional printer may be less expensive than or the same price as POD, per book. Certainly, if you want 500 plus books printed, a traditional printer is likely to be less expensive than POD.

POD printer: if you want a single book or fewer than 50 books printed as cheaply as possible, this is the best option. If you want your books literally printed on demand, one at a time, instead of having a batch of books printed, using POD is far less expensive than traditional printing.

Note: additional costs of producing your self-published book include editing and design. To discuss the costs of editing or designing your book: contact us.

printer location

Traditional printer: if you want to use a printer that is Australian-owned that will print your book in Australia, you can find one pretty easily. Many companies that are based in Australia are not Australian-owned, so if you wanted to use only an Australian-owned printer you would need to ask the company to confirm its ownership.

POD printer: the main POD printer in Australia is Ingram Spark which is not Australian-owned, though they have a branch in Australia. Some POD printers print their books in other countries such as China. You would need to ask the POD where they print their books to find out whether they print in Australia.

book Distribution and sales

Traditional printer: generally speaking, they do not have anything to do with the distribution of your book. They simply deliver the batch of books into your hands then the distribution, marketing and sales is up to you. This is a big call for a first-time author with no experience in any of those things.

POD printer: the absolute bonus of using a POD printer such as Ingram Spark to print your book is that they offer a deal whereby your book will be listed for sale on the following retail and distribution platforms/outlets such as Amazon AU, Booktopia, Fishpond, The Nile, James Bennett, ALS, Peter Pal (libraries).

Online distribution can translate into is something that most authors have on their wishlist – book sales. The distributor’s online platform is the point of sale. When a book is purchased, the customer pays them for the book. You are paid a small royalty for each book purchased.

Which should you use – POD or a traditional printer?

  • if your main aim is to get your book out there for sale online to the general public, using a POD printer is definitely the way to go. However, bear in mind that this may come at the cost of quality.
  • if your main aim is to produce a  high quality book you can sell, but selling a lot of books is not your main priority, using a traditional printer may serve you better. For example, if you are producing an art or poetry book where the overall impact of the book will rely on the inside pages having a high quality finish (silk or semiglosss and higher-than-usual GSM), you will need to use a traditional printer.
  • if you intend to print a lot of books (e.g. 500-1000 books) using a traditional printer will be far cheaper per book. But you always have to take into account that they do not offer the online distribution benefits that a POD printer may offer.

More information about POD and traditional printers

Image: designed book cover back and front. Book produced by On Time Typing Books and Life Stories. Cover designer: Christina Carter. 


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