Print On Demand Book Quality Can Restict Self-Publishers

Print on demand book quality is where self-publishers lose

Self-publishing does very well in ebooks sales. But because of print on demand book quality, self-publishers will continue to lose out in print book sales.

There is no doubt that self-publishing has stamped its authority and found its place in book publishing. It is winning on many fronts.

However, its success has mostly come in the form of ebooks and through the power of the Internet.

But when it comes to retail book sales in bookstores, self-publishing has a very long way to go.

Print on demand book quality

The quality of print on demand (POD) paperback books is inferior to books produced with offset printing.

POD books use laser printing, which is a similar process to how a photocopier works.

At first, books were restricted to 300 dpi, but at least today the clarity is better with some POD services offering 2,400 dpi.

However, the choice of paper grades is still limited and rarely of trade quality. It’s also impossible to use POD for hardcover books.

Offset printing allows for an almost unlimed range of papers and grades and the quality of the printing is far superior.

POD paperbacks seem economical because you only pay per copy when it is produced.

Offset printing can be cheaper per copy when you order over 1,000 copies. If you order more, the price per copy reduces even further.

But for most self-publishers, investing in an order of one, two, or three thousand copies of a book is probably out of financial reach.

That’s what makes POD paperbacks so attractive to new self-publishers. But it comes with on downside.

Retail bookstores will rarely if ever agree to stock POD books on their shelves due to the poor quality of the paper and printing.

 

The ebook and book market

For self-publishers, ebooks are the main source of sales. But ebooks make up only a small percentage of the book sales market.

AAP book sales per format

According to Publishing Perspectives, in 2021 ebook sales are only 12.3% of total book sales. However, paperbacks account for 33.8% and hardcover 37.7%.

After meteoric increases following the introduction of the ebook in 2007, ebook sales have now plateaued and are struggling to increase by more than single digits year on year.

print and ebook sales

The graph above from Publishers Weekly shows how ebook sales have stagnated over the last five years.

This means that the ebook pie won’t get much bigger. But the number of new self-published ebooks increases at a staggering pace every year.

It is very bad news for self-publishers because ebooks are their bread and butter sales.

On the other hand, paperbacks and hardcover books are the bread and butter sales for traditional publishing.

By controlling, manipulating, and even owning shelf space in bricks and mortar books stores, the big five have a monopoly on non-ebook sales.

But there are still many independent bookstores around the world, and there is no reason why they won’t stock self-published books if you ask. But it will always be a question of quality.

 

Print on demand books can’t compete

The quality of paperback print books is where self-publishing has made little or no ground whatsoever over the years.

Sure, self-publishers can offer a paperback version of their book on Amazon, but what about at a local bookstore?

What about with a chain of national bookstores? No way, no hope, and no possibility.

For most bookstore owners, print on demand books are not good enough.

Compared to trade published books, they are a very poor relation.

Ebooks have made considerable strides in quality in recent years.

But print on demand books are still very much the same as in 2002: poor quality, poor formatting, poor typography, and poor paper grades.

It is the real frontier that will for some time yet, hold back self-publishing as a challenger to traditional publishers.

Yes, there are independent bookshops that stock a few self-published titles, but it is the exception.

The tough truth is that bookstores and bookstore chains still sell a lot of books.

By using prime store placement, which publishers pay an arm and a leg for, this can turn almost any book into a bestseller.

But it would never, no matter how much money is spent, turn a poor-quality print on demand paperback into even a modest seller.

 

Summary

Self-publishing has been a winner, but only on one front. Ebooks.

The real challenge is for self-publishing to aim higher and challenge print book sales.

The best avenue of attack is, of course, still through print on demand books because of the economy it offers self-publishers.

But until online self-publishing services such as Amazon KDP, Lulu and others lift their game and can produce and provide paperbacks and hardcovers close to trade quality; there is little hope.

All self-publishing authors can do is to try to promote online sales through Amazon and Barnes & Noble as much as possible.

But, one can hope for change in the future with improvements and development of print on demand book quality.

Or perhaps, is this a current market opportunity for Vanity Press?

Although vanity publishers have somewhat of a bad reputation in the market, some offer the possibility to produce a quality book using offset printing.

As with everything, we’ll see what the future brings.

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

Avatar for Derek Haines

13 thoughts on “Print On Demand Book Quality Can Restict Self-Publishers

  • Avatar for M.D.Hunt
    March 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm
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    Great article. I am happy with create space for my paperbacks and ingramspark with the hardback, so far.
    As for book stores, I have contacted a few local book store in Seattle and have been turned away by a few before they have even seen the book, (Even With good reviews from buyers and Kirkus ) which discouraged me to go to others. The ebook version is going well and I will most likely use POD again in the future, but it is frustrating.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Brindy Wilcox
    February 21, 2017 at 10:30 pm
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    I had a short print run of 100 copies done at a printers to sell at book-signings and fayres, and find I can sell these easier with a face-to-face approach and cheaper than I can sell a paperback on Amazon. I think getting out there is a big part of getting your name known. Having said that, the quality of the copies I’ve seen from Createspace of my book were surprisingly good. Just don’t make much per copy.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Toni
    May 13, 2015 at 7:15 pm
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    Great post Derek, good to see someone talking so openly about self-publishing. I’ve used CreateSpace for two books; I was really impressed with the print quality of the first one but I think it had more to do with a professional cover image and sheer luck on the fonts I chose. The second (an illustrated book for children) didn’t come close to the quality of the first – CreateSpace doesn’t seem particularly well geared up for this genre of book from a layout or image management perspective.

    With regards to stores stocking books, I have found (I’m based in the UK) that small independent shops will occasionally stock local authors as long as they’re happy with the quality of the content and the finish. I have managed to sell a small number in this way, but I too would starve if I attempted to live off royalties!

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    Reply
    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      May 15, 2015 at 5:14 pm
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      Starving seems to go hand in hand with being a writer, Toni. :) But in all seriousness, Createspace could and should lift their game. Nothing much has changed with them in nearly 10 years. POD was great back then because it was new, but the quality is still hit and miss, as you say. It is nowhere near trade quality, even at the best of times.

      Reply
  • Avatar for D. Wallace Peach
    April 4, 2015 at 7:58 pm
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    I agree completely. All of my books are in print, traditional and self-published, and by far, my best sales are ebook in both cases. I have my self-published book in a local bookstore. Local/regional bookstores are often willing to carry the books of local authors (at least in Oregon). The challenge is the commission rates are really high, so my print books are break even at best.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Sally Ember, Ed.D.
    April 4, 2015 at 3:32 pm
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    I, like Kevin, have stayed in ebook formats only for my first two sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series but wish I could provide a high-quality but low-cost print version to those who eschew ebooks or prefer print books (that includes ME!). So far, not.

    I appreciate your article, Derek, explaining further the reasons it’s not worth my money to get my ebooks into print, yet.

    Best to you all!

    Sally

    Reply
    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      April 4, 2015 at 8:42 pm
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      Hopefully, Sally, someone will fill the gap in the market for decent quality paperbacks for Indies. Fingers crossed.

      Reply
  • Avatar for Kevin
    April 4, 2015 at 9:26 am
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    All of my books are currently only available in ebook format. I would, however like to produce a print version of at least one of my works. I know from family and friends that there exist people out there who’s preference remains print rather than ebook. I will still pursue the print option. However your article gives me pause for thought given that my original preference was for utilising Createspace. Kevin

    Reply
    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      April 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm
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      I still use Createspace, Kevin. Not because they produce great books, but because it is one of the few available options. About the only benefit for me is that they make for great give aways to friends and family. If I relied on sales though, I’d starve,

      Reply

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