Frequently Asked Questions

Self Publishing and Print on Demand

In a traditional publishing situation, a publisher is a person or organization typically unrelated to the author. This unrelated entity takes care of all the responsibilities of publishing a book like the selection of a manuscript, preparing it for printing, printing copies, marketing and distribution. In self-publishing, the author herself takes on the role of a publisher. Hence, she bears all the responsibilities of publishing her book, in return retaining the power to make independent decisions about the content and presentation of the book. For more info, check out our Self Publishing 101 article.

Print-on-Demand (POD) is a printing technology where the cost of printing does not depend on the number of copies being printed. This is essentially digital printing, where each copy is printed independent of the others. More details about POD can be found in this article on Print-on-Demand (POD).

Before Print-on-Demand, it was impossible to think of printing one copy of a book or any other material in a cost-effective manner. Alternatives such as Offset Printing have a high set-up cost. So one needs to print a large number of copies (typically 500+) to distribute that set-up cost over all those copies. That is the only way to achieve a good per-copy cost. The whole economics of publishing, therefore, had to work on the assumption of bulk printing, with the associated operational and financial issues. But with the possibility of printing one copy at a time, thanks to POD, the printing and publishing economics can change entirely. More details about this can be found in this article on Print-on-Demand (POD).

To quote from Wikipedia: "Offset printing is a commonly used printing technique where the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface." The plate making process is costly. But once you create a plate, you can use it to generate a large number of copies. Therefore, printing just a few copies is not cost-effective with offset printing, but the cost per copy decreases with increase in the number of copies printed.

Advantages of POD

  • No up-front investment is required in printing a large number of copies.
  • Each copy is printed separately, so each of them can be customized.
  • The manuscript can be updated, if needed, for new copies, because all the copies need not be printed in one go.
  • The quality of printing has become very good with newer machines and it matches the offset printing quality for most practical purposes.

Disadvantages of POD

  • If you have to print a large number of copies, the per copy cost with offset printing becomes much less. So, POD is not cost effective for large print runs.
  • Offset printing quality, especially for color photos, still exceeds the Print on Demand quality

On-demand Publishing actually does not mean anything. It is the printing that can be done on-demand, not publishing. However, on-demand publishing is often used to indicate publishing that is supported by print on demand. It is sometimes also used synonymously with self-publishing. But as explained in another FAQ, Print-on-Demand (POD) and self-publishing are not the same.

No. Print-on-Demand (POD) is just a printing technique. It can be used for traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Similarly self-publishing can be done with offset printing or with Print-on-Demand (POD).

These terms are often used together and even interchangeably, because self publishers, with tight print budgets, are probably the ones who benefit from POD almost immediately and hence are one of the first to embrace POD.

Advantages of self publishing:

  • Don't have to chase publishers/agents.
  • The book makes it to the market faster because you are the sole decision maker.
  • Complete Control over your book.
  • Ability to publish on niche, specialized topics which publishers of mass market books may not be interested in.
  • Easy to publish for friends/family.

Disadvantages of self publishing:

  • Operational and financial burden of Self Publishing ( platform eases a lot of this).
  • Marketing and promotion is your responsibility.
  • Since no third party has vouched for the quality of your content, reviewers and critics can ignore the book.