Real Appeal – Print on Demand in a digital reading revolution

It’s horses for courses. Some readers love nothing more than the feeling of ownership they get from a printed book. Some swear by the convenience, price advantages and sheer choice delivered by readers and tablets. Others straddle the gap, moving effortlessly between Kindle and bookshelf, appreciating the differences and enjoying the variety.

Whatever your preferences, the digital revolution has opened the book market wide open. It’s publishing for the people. And print on demand over the net means self-published authors can open up their electronic masterpieces to an even wider audience by offering them in print.

The bad old days

Before digital print, ordinary people couldn’t afford to print books. To bring the print cost down to a reasonable cost per unit you’d need a print run of thousands, which was why so-called vanity publishing was the exclusive territory of the rich. The print machine set up costs alone would make your hair stand on end, never mind the finishing, production and delivery… to your country mansion or whatever.

Digital print changes the landscape

Digital print technology has revolutionized book print, with miniscule runs of one volume suddenly much more affordable. Anyone with internet access and a bright idea can produce an electronic book, which they can also format for print easily enough. Most print on demand sites include simple Wizard-type tools for the job and many give support with stuff like jacket design. And they all come with a choice of book formats and sizes.

The down side of print on demand

On the other hand there’s some way to go. Most print on demand books come with unsatisfyingly flimsy covers because it’s a good way to cut print costs. It’s debatable whether this affects book fans’ pleasure. It probably depends on whether or not they appreciate the content of their books more than their beauty and durability.

Despite making all the economies they can, a one-off print on demand run is still pretty expensive, too. Although the digital side of digital print is cheaper, the paper, card, ink and finishing processes still need to be factored in. Which leaves you hard pushed to make a profit, with very small margins. Are your readers willing to pay over the odds for your book in print? Some will be. Others won’t.

What is the minimum print run on lithographic print?

Just in case… if you reckon you can sell enough books, your minimum print run for litho print, which is best and cheapest for long runs, is probably between 500 to 1,000. With litho print, the more you print the lower the unit cost. But unless your printer also does the mailhouse side of things you’d need to store the books, post them and manage the whole dispatch process yourself.

Testing one, two, three – See if POD works for you

The only way to find out whether your books will sell well on a print-on-demand basis is to suck it and see. In which case you need to:

  • Research and identify the best POD supplier for your project. They’re all slightly different. Test-print your book once with your top three choices and see which is the best quality.
  • Consider the design side of things. Some POD sites have design Wizards to make it easy, others offer bespoke design services.
  • Think about how you’ll market it. Many POD sites offer marketing support and some have ‘shops’ where you can showcase your book. And what about marketing it on your author website, on social media and so on?
  • Keep an eye on your response, conversion and ROI so you know you can make the money side of it stack up… or not!
Have you tried POD yet?

If so, we’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to comment.


Mike is CEO of PML Media Limited, a virtual agency staffed by 14 independent marketing professionals, copywriters and technical geniuses. PML helps authors build and manage their Author Platforms, social media channels, build email lists and create ongoing strategies to help boost their brand, get noticed and sell more books.

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