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Print on Demand vs. Offset Printing

Printing

July 2, 2020

Choose the Best Printing Method For Your Book.

Choosing the best printing process for your needs is the easiest way to save when self-publishing, and it is best to decide before you start designing your book. Take some time and seriously consider how many books you will need. Many self-publishers choose digital, only to discover later that they need a few hundred more books to give to contributors and for promotion. If you are close to benefiting from offset printing, you may want to do a little research or send out a survey to see if you can get pre-orders. Also, if you have a bunch of pre-orders, but don’t want to house an inventory, you may even want to print both offset and use digital for online fulfillment.

Understanding print-on-demand books (POD)

Printing-on-demand is a printing process that makes it cost-effective to print and bind small quantities of books as you need them. Usually, using toner, print-on-demand books are printed directly from a pdf and require little setup. POD books have a fixed price per copy, where your first book and your 500th book will have the same unit cost.

Characteristics of printing-on-demand:

    • There is a fixed cost per book.
    • Printing is usually quicker than offset printing.
    • Your proof is identical to the published book.
    • There is no need to manage storage and tracking of a large inventory or worry about unsold copies.
    • It is an excellent option for field-testing or to offer review copies before an offset press run.
    • Some on-demand printing services offer fulfillment and e-book conversion.
    • Quality is not always as good as offset printing, particularly with photos and screen tints, but the technology is improving all the time.
    • There is not as wide a range of papers, sizes, and binding options.

Understanding traditional offset book printing

Offset printing is a printing process where ink transfers from a plate on to a rubber blanket and then on to paper while the paper feeds through a press. Typically with offset book printing, many pages are printed on one large sheet (a parent sheet) and then folded, trimmed, and bound into a book (a signature). Most of the books you see in bookstores were made using offset printing. Mainly because of the low unit book prices when running larger quantities.

Characteristics of offset printing:

    • The cost per book goes down as the print run size goes up.
    • Offset requires more time to produce.
    • Your proof may not resemble the final printed book.
    • You will need to manage storage and tracking inventory and have unsold copies.
    • Print quality is better for color, and print resolution can be more detailed with offset printing.
    • There is a wide range of papers, sizes, and binding options.

Quantity, Quality, and Distribution:
Choosing One Print Process Over The Other

Quantity

Quantity is a top-determining factor to choose one process over the other. Because it is difficult for first-time authors and publishers to know how many books to print, many choose printing-on-demand over traditional offset printing. Since printing-on-demand is similar to a high-end copier and uses toner instead of plates, the setup and initial investment for printing a book are minimal. You can order as few as you need, and the book price stays the same, excluding shipping and handling. Since you do not have to spend a lot of money upfront, you are less exposed to the risk of over-ordering, and there is no need to have space to store an inventory of books.

However, if you know you will need to print a large number of books from the get-go, you can see considerable savings going the traditional offset printing route. Once you run enough books to pay for plates, set up and clean up, the per-book price drops as you print more books, because these one-time costs are shared among a larger quantity of books. So with offset printing, the more you print, the lower the price per book. That is why big publishers can price their books so low.

Quality

If you are printing an art book, an oversized book, or a book with special paper, print-on-demand will most likely not offer the print quality or options you need. But now, basic black-and-white print books are almost indistinguishable between the two platforms. And if you can work within the print-on-demand page limitations, you can still design an attractive color print-on-demand book.

Distribution

Another reason self-publishers choose print-on-demand over offset is that some print-on-demand services offer ebook conversion, distribution, and order fulfillment. Suppose you don’t want to take a hands-on role in fulfilling orders, then this may be a good option for you. But these services will come at a cost. And these services should not be considered marketing services. Just because your book is available for worldwide distribution does not mean anyone will order it. Also, review the costs carefully when considering these services. Make sure it is worth the price.

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