14 Feb Print-on-Demand for Australian Authors
What is Print-on-Demand (POD)?
It’s just a technology that allows your book to be printed to order.
POD publishers, such as Lightning Source (LS), CreateSpace (CS) Ingram Spark (IS) and Blurb also act as distributors, enabling your POD book to be made available to retailers globally.
But your book is only ‘made available’, which means it’s uploaded onto various databases, but it’s not actively promoted, so you still need to find and communicate with your audience in order to drive demand for your book.
How Does it Work?
You are responsible for creating print-ready files. This means you have to do all the usual work required in editorial and design to create a high quality product.
CreateSpace will offer assistance with this, just as do Amazon with KDP (their eBook program), but you need to pay for it.
You need to decide the format of your book (most work with industry-standard formats), page extent and binding (paperback or hardback).
Generally speaking, you use the POD provider to: a) distribute books to retailers for you and b) to order books for your own personal use and re-sale. In the case of a) you set or agree to a discount off your sales price for these sales (more on that below) and in the case of b) you pay for the cost of your books to be printed and shipped to you.
Note that POD technology is available for colour and larger-format hardcover work via the POD provider, Blurb. This is a fantastic option, but we don’t consider it to be of the same standard as traditional publishing, partly because of the cover stock used in the paperback books, which is thinner than we expect for high quality illustrated books. However, this may be an acceptable trade-off for you instead of paying a large sum upfront for a traditional print run.
What are my POD Options?
Four key POD providers that Australian authors can look to are CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Ingram Spark and Blurb.
Let’s talk about CreateSpace.
CreateSpace is Amazon’s print-on-demand provider. You get into bed with CreateSpace, you sleep with Amazon. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, just be aware.
CreateSpace is easy to use, and affordable.
They offer a range of ‘production services’, meaning that you can create your book from a simple Word document, if you want to. Free tools include the Interior Reviewer (a form of proofing check) and the Cover Creator. Paid services include design, editing and marketing.
You can print in black and white or colour, with a matt laminate or gloss laminate colour. You can choose from 12 industry-standard trim sizes or choose your own size. You can print on cream or white paper and have up to 828pp in b&w and 480pp in colour.
In terms of distribution, you have three options:
CreateSpace only – you can put your book into the CreateSpace store only and give away just 20% discount off your RRP. But, do you know anyone who shops in the CreateSpace store? No, didn’t think so!
Standard Distribution – this will get your book up onto the key Amazon sites – Amazon.com and Amazon Europe (but Australians please note: NOT Amazon Australia), the CreateSpace estore and also on Amazon’s KDP program (meaning you get an automatic eBook too, if you want it). In return for this, you give Amazon 40% discount off your RRP.
Expanded Distribution – this is the bells & whistles approach, and will see your book ‘made available for order’ in bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, and other distributors within the US. Note that bookstores include Barnes & Noble and Ingram – the two largest chains in the US market. Libraries and academic includes distribution through Baker & Taylor (another behemoth).
In terms of the dollars, it works like this: you set the list price for your book. CreateSpace take their share, which is the print cost (varies according to your book specifications) and the channel fee (the discount percentages I discussed above). You can use this calculator to work our your projected royalties, and this ‘member order calculator’ to work out the cost of buying books for yourself and shipping them to your home.
A source of frustration for Australian authors is that Amazon does not allow direct payment into Australian bank accounts, meaning exchange rate implications and money transfer fees. Most authors choose to be paid by cheque (in Aussie dollars) which adds some time delay. Supported bank accounts are UK, US, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
You should also be aware that Australian authors need a US Tax ID otherwise pay 30% of royalties to US Treasury.
Now let’s talk about Lightning Source.
According to the company website, on a typical day, LS add 500 titles to their warehouse of 6 million books, manufacture more than 50K books and fulfill 27K orders. Random ‘wow’ fact for you.
Lightning Source prefer to work with small and medium publishers rather than individuals, but you can get an account with them as an individual author. It’s fiddlier and less user-friendly than CS. It requires a bit of time getting familiar with their set up, and the completion of many-a-form. But don’t be put off, there are advantages: it is more flexible and you can set your own discount rates. LS have a print facility in Victoria, so you are working a little bit more locally in that respect.
You’ll need a print-ready PDF to supply to LS, so you need to engage someone who knows (if you don’t) how to do this before you start.
LS offers approximately 20 different book formats, in both B&W or colour, in paperback or hardback.
As for distribution, you have a few more options.
1. Print-to-order. This is where LS make your book available to other retailers (over 39K of them, apparently) including Amazon and the Ingram Group, B&N.
2. Print-to-publisher – LS will fulfill orders for you. For example, you receive orders via your website (via a simple ecomms facility) and submit these orders to LS. The customer receives the book with a shipping tag that makes it appear to have come directly from you. In this model, there is the option to work with bookshop distributors in Australia, so that bookshops can order your book.
3. Print-to-warehouse – this is really for bigger publishers, so I won’t elucidate here.
The payments system works slightly differently. In the first scenario (point 1 above), you set the wholesale price (what you are prepared to sell to retailers), so you are not forced into a specific discount – but bear in mind that retailers expect a certain level of discount and won’t buy without it. You can’t get out of discounting your book for retail.
In the second scenario (and for books which you order for your own personal use), you pay for the printing of the book, plus shipping and handling.
You can estimate your print and shipping costs using the calculator on the LS website.
Note that you will be charged file upload fees with LS (the amount depends on the type of file you upload).
Let’s Talk About Ingram Spark
Like Amazon, Ingram is another publishing behemoth and both Lightning Source and Blurb are part of the Ingram Content Group.
A key difference for Australian authors choosing between CS and IS is that IS does have a printing facility here in Australia (in Victoria, the same one LS use), meaning that shipping is cheaper for you and for your customers if they are mostly Australian-based.
As with the other providers, IS offers a wide range of formats to chose from – 2o, to be precise. With the latest inkjet colour technology, they claim to offer the best and most affordable colour print-on-demand options.
It’s easy to upload your files (JPEG, PDF or EPUB) to the IS interface, but IS do not appear to offer book production services as Amazon and Blurb do. That’s fine if you have your files ready. If not, you might prefer to use CS.
IS has a very user-friendly site and it’s easy to calculate your print and shipping costs. Use the Print and Shipping Calculator to work out how much your books will cost to print and ship, and the Publisher Compensation calculator to work out what royalty you will receive on copies sold to customers.
IS operates slightly differently to Amazon in that you need to set a wholesale discount. Depending on what you set, after print costs have been deducted you will receive between 45 and 70% of your retail price.
In addition, it is good to know that IS has a title set up fee of $53 per print-on-demand title for Australian authors (waived if you order more than 50 copies upfront). There is also a $12 annual fee for ‘global market access’ (per title).
My experience has been that – all up – IS will offer a more competitive print-on-demand price for Australian authors. Even though the per unit cost is often more than CS, the reduction in shipping usually means a better deal.
There is nothing to stop you from having your books in both places, particularly if you have potential buyers overseas who may get a better deal buying from CS.
Note that if you decide to go with IS only, your book will still appear on Amazon.
And, finally, to Blurb.
Blurb is my personal favourite of the POD suppliers, but that’s because we share a love of illustrated books.
The principles and process are exactly the same. You create your book, either in Blurb’s own software called Blurb BookWright (a free design tool that allows anyone to create a print and eBook from a single file). For design professionals, Blurb also offer an InDesign plug in, meaning you can submit your book professionally designed in InDesign.
You get to choose from a variety of book formats and your book can be up to 440 pages in length. Blurb offers some customizable options such as special papers, end papers and cover linens.
As with the other two, you can upload your book for distribution, this time through the Blurb network, and it will reach more than 30K online booksellers and brick and mortar bookstores, including Amazon. It’s a good way to get your illustrated book onto Amazon actually, which can otherwise be surprisingly complicated for Australian authors of illustrated books.
For global distribution, you set the retail price of your book and manufacturing costs plus the distributor cut are deducted before you receive your share. The distributor cut (Blurb’s version of what Amazon calls the channel fee) can be 25%, 36% or 55% depending which type of distribution you select.
For sales on Amazon, you get a good deal by going with Blurb. As above you set the retail price and manufacturing cost, and then Amazon take a 15% cut, which is less than if you went with Amazon directly.
As with the other providers, you can use Blurb to create books for your personal use and in this case you simply pay for manufacture costs.
Note that Blurb will probably work out to be the most expensive of the three in terms of manufacturing costs.
Blurb also offers some cool social sharing tools, which allow you to get the word out about your book.
Something Blurb offers that the others don’t is offset printing. If you want to print a significant quantity (anything more than 750 copies and less than 1500 is perfect for this), then offset will deliver you a much better manufacturing cost.
Which one should I use?
• It’s really easy
• Guaranteed Amazon distribution, no funny business
• May work out marginally cheaper
Lightning Source Benefits
• You set the discount
• Printing is in Australia
• You can work with local Australian distributors/online bookstores
• Get paid locally
Ingram Spark Benefits
• You set the discount
• Printing is in Australia
• More options for colour printing
• Get paid locally
• The provider of choice for illustrated and colour books
• Favourable terms with Amazon
• More of a community feel, some marketing support