Print On Demand: The biggest advance in publishing since Gutenberg

print on demand

Print On Demand book printing offers advantages that make selling printed books a reality – and a potentially lucrative endeavor – for today’s self-published author.

The self publishing revolution has been powered by two technological advances:

1. eBooks. The digital book format first popularized by Amazon’s Kindle and now utilized by a large and growing percentage of the reading population.

2. Print On Demand (POD for short). It’s exactly what it sounds like: having a printed book printed and shipped directly to a reader. Digital technology allows self-published authors to sell printed books in online bookstores around the globe without a huge up-front printing cost or inventory burden. As the technology has grown, it has eliminated the need for large, offset print runs, allowing millions of new authors to see their work in print at a fraction of the cost.

While the eBook was a true innovation and lowered the barrier to entry into the publishing marketplace, Print On Demand is the true game changer for self-published authors. Most readers still prefer printed books for their reading consumption, and POD has the potential of getting millions more books in the hands of readers. For the first time since Gutenberg, every writer has the opportunity to turn his or her work into a premium book without spending an exorbitant amount of time or money.

What do authors need in order to have their print books for sale?

Your book files need to be prepared in a print-ready format. This is usually a formatted PDF, not as a Word document or an eBook (although ePub files can be converted to print). To make sure your book files are prepared to your specifications, it’s always best to have some copies printed – at least 25 or so – so you can see the finished product before they are sent to buyers. It’s also good to have copies of your book on hand to sign for friends, family, neighbors, and aliens who show up in your backyard unannounced.

Authors need to specify distribution with a capable Print On Demand distributor. BookBaby offers an extensive Print On Demand program for self-published authors, and there are others who offer similar programs.

How Print On Demand works

How does your POD printed book end up in the hands of a new reader? Here’s the process.

1. Your book files are prepared and formatted for printed book production, including front and back cover, spine, and the book’s contents. You’ve also ordered 25 to 100 physical copies to have on hand.

2. Your digital files are sent to the book production facility and stored.

3. Your book is listed on websites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Books a Million, and more. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Amazon alone isn’t enough; your book should be listed on as many retail sites as possible to allow readers to discover your book.) You can also list your book on direct-to-reader web pages such as BookBaby’s BookShop™.

4. Readers browse an online bookstore and find your book. (Or more commonly, as research shows, they buy from a link sent out from an author email, tweet, post, or ad.) They order one book through the retailer or direct-to-reader website.

5. The retailer’s site sends a message to the POD book distributor and orders one book.

6. The book printer receives the order, prints, binds, and packages one book.

7. The book is shipped to the retailer’s warehouse. (Or they may stock a supply of your books if sales warrant it.)

8. The retailer ships the book to the reader.

9. The retailer pays the POD book distributor a percentage of the selling price.

10. POD book distributor passes along net sales revenue to the author.

What are the advantages of POD book printing?

The benefits to POD are numerous and critical to the literary career of self-published authors around the world. Before POD, huge offset printing presses had to print an extraordinarily large number of copies in order to make printing cost-effective. Standard offset print runs from these massive machines had to be in the thousands to justify the fixed costs. That puts a heavy financial burden on independent writers who don’t have the support of a traditional publishing company to cover the costs.

Even if an independent author could afford a large print run, there is an additional issue of storage and fulfillment. Once all those copies are printed, they need to be quickly shipped and securely stored while awaiting purchase. Retailers have limited space, both for display and storage, so they do not want excess inventory unless it’s a bestseller. As a result, largely unknown authors do not stand a chance selling their books in a physical store, especially on a national level.

That’s where the true advantage of POD comes in. Now, digital files can be stored with the printer, and copies can be printed one by one or in small amounts, as needed. Once printed, books can be shipped directly to the buyer, eliminating the tremendous costs associated with the traditional publishing model. POD allows authors to publish from the comfort of their own homes and sell their books online – without nearly as much financial investment as required even a decade ago.

With its ability to cut costs, eliminate storage issues, and provide easy online availability, Print On Demand technology has opened up the publishing world to a whole new population of passionate writers ready to share their stories!

How to pick your POD program

Not all POD programs are equal. When choosing a POD distributor you should do your homework and ask these questions:

  • Is a wide range of retail stores offered in their book distribution network?
  • Do they offer POD sales for your book’s trim size?
  • Is POD for hard cover books included?
  • What are the royalties for POD book sales?

This last point is an important issue for all self-published authors. In most POD programs, royalties for POD books purchased through sites like Amazon are somewhat low: usually between five to twelve percent of the selling price. Many self-published authors justify the lower payouts, citing the convenience of having printed books available to their readers with minimal up-front investment.

BookBaby offers a more lucrative option in its POD program. In addition to offering POD distribution through Amazon, B&N, and dozens more stores, BookBaby authors can direct readers to buy books on their own BookShop™ pages, where they earn much higher royalties. BookShop™ pays authors a 50 percent royalty for all printed book sales – while accommodating a large assortment of trim sizes and both soft and hard cover books. It’s the biggest percentage payout in the self publishing industry by far!




Related Posts
Product, Payment, and Profits… BookShop and Your Print On Demand Success
Making The Most Of Print On Demand. Part 1: Your Timeline To Maximize Book Sales
Making The Most Of Print On Demand, Part 2: All You Need To Know About Book Pre-Sales
How To Use 100 Print Books To Promote Your Self-Published Book [Infographic]
My Parents’ Experience With Traditional Publishing Led Me To Self Publishing
BookBaby vs. CreateSpace for print on demand


Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to


  1. so tell me, with POD, how do people know where to look for my book? which sites give them the info on MY specific book that will drive customers to order a POD copy. If I am mostly only to get 5-10% royalties for a POD book, what is the advantage? “Traditional” publishing offers me about the same. Will POD give me the chance for more volume? Perhaps in more markets?

    • The obvious “where” is Amazon, along with B&N and other on-line bookstores. If you’re writing NF the internet itself can make people aware of your book as they search out topics that it may cover (even fiction can benefit from it). Not to mention Amazon and the others will be inserting ads in almost every search return. Not to mention most PoD publishers’ distribution includes brick-and-mortar stores.

      As a PoD author, you’re setting the price. If you want a bigger royalty, set a higher price. The advantage of PoD is that you can bring your book to market faster, without waiting for the 12+months of pre-press of a traditional publisher, assuming your book was immediately accepted and not rejected by publisher after publisher for years before finding one to take it. The other option would be to take it to a printer yourself, but in order to get the per-unit costs down to an acceptable level, you’d have to order several hundred. That could actually be cheaper than PoD–if you knew you had a ready market for that many books.

  2. Y’know, I actually LIKE the mass-market/”pocket” paperbacks. I think a hard cover-sized paperback is the worst of both worlds, demanding as much space on the shelf as hardcover, but not offering the handing resilience of a hardcover. I’ve toyed with the idea of reprinting some antique books that were close to that trim size, too. But no PoD I’ve encountered is willing to print under five inches wide. Why is that?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.