Our first experience with print on demand (POD)

Alan Pringle / Opinion5 Comments

It’s been a little over a month since we released the third edition of Technical Writing 101. The downloadable PDF version is the primary format for the new edition, and we’ve seen more sales from outside the U.S. because downloads eliminate shipping costs and delays.

Selling Technical Writing 101 as a PDF file has made the book readily available to a wider audience (and at a cheaper price of $20, too). However, we know that a lot of people still like to read printed books, so we wanted to offer printed copies—but without the expense of printing books, storing them, and shipping them out.

We have published several books over the past nine years, and declining revenue from books made it difficult for us to justify spending thousands of dollars to do an offset print run of 1000+ copies of Technical Writing 101 and then pay the added expense of preparing individual books for shipment as they are ordered. Storage has also been a problem: we have only so much space for storing books in our office, and we didn’t want to spend money on climate-controlled storage for inventory. (Book bindings would melt and warp without air conditioning during our hot, humid summers here in North Carolina.) For us, the logical solution was print on demand (POD): when a buyer orders the book, a publishing company prints a copy using a digital printing process and then ships it.

We chose Lulu.com for our first experiment with POD, and so far, we have been happy with the quality of the books from there. We are still exploring our options with POD and may try some other companies’ services in the future, but based on our experience so far, I can offer two pieces of advice:

  • Follow the specs and templates provided by the printer, and consider allowing even a bit more wiggle room for interior margins. The first test book I printed had text running too close to the binding, so I made some adjustments to add more room for the interior margins before we sold the book to the public.
  • Look at the page sizes offered by the different POD publishers before choosing a size. If you choose a page size that multiple POD publishers support, you’ll have more flexibility in using another publisher’s services in the future, particularly if they offer other services (distribution, etc.) that better suit your needs. Also, ensure the page size you choose is supported when printing occurs in a country other than your own; some publishers have facilities and partners in multiple countries. In an attempt to minimize the amount of production work for the third edition, I chose a page size for Technical Writing 101 that was the closest match to the footprint of the previous edition’s layout. However, I likely would have chosen a different page size if I had known more about the common sizes across the various POD companies. The page size I chose at Lulu is not supported by CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s POD arm. When you publish through CreateSpace, you get distribution through Amazon.com, which isn’t the necessarily the case with other POD publishers. (I’ve read several blog posts about how some authors use the same sets of files to simultaneously publish books through multiple POD firms to maximize the distribution of their content.)

In these tight economic times, POD publishing makes a lot of sense, particularly when you want to release content in print but don’t want to invest a lot of money in printing multiple copies that you have no guarantee of selling. The POD model certainly was a good match for Technical Writing 101, so we decided to give it a try.

I’ll keep you updated on our experiences with POD publishing in this blog. If you have experience with POD, please leave a comment about how it’s worked for you.

About the Author

Alan Pringle


Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

5 Comments on “Our first experience with print on demand (POD)”

  1. Am I assuming that you used the Published by Lulu option? I’m assuming you did this to control the distribution. However, if you went with the Published by Lulu option and opted for the expanded distribution, you would have had access to Amazon.com and not had to worry about the page sized for CreateSpace as the sizes in PBL do match and give you the outlets through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like.

  2. We did not use the Published by Lulu option because we have our own ISBNs and assigned one of our numbers to the book. Lulu currently does not offer distribution services when you do that. I hope they change that in the future. In general, I’m not wild about the idea of releasing a book with an ISBN owned by someone else. That could cause problems later if you choose to distribute the book through another publishing company.

  3. I used a POD vendor (not Lulu), and have been happy with the quality of the book. I’m curious about two things:
    1)I was required to sign a contract that gave the POD vendor exclusive rights to distribute the book. You mentioned reading blog posts in which authors were able to simultaneously publish the same books with multiple POD firms. Evidently their POD vendors did not have exclusive rights. I was lead to believe that the exclusive right to publish was typical in the POD world. I’d love to know who those POD vendors are.
    2) With your downloadable PDF books, how are you able to prevent buyers from copying and distributing the PDF files? I’ve considered PDF books for international sales also, but don’t know how to deal with potential lost sales from pirating.

  4. Re: exclusive rights. Lulu describes its distribution services as nonexclusive, but I don’t know about other POD publishers’ policies.
    On our PDF files, we don’t use DRM restrictions that prevent printing or that lock the file to a particular computer. Those protections are easily broken anyway. I’m sure there have been cases where files were shared, but the people getting those copies probably wouldn’t have spent money anyway. We consider those freebies to be exposure/marketing (but don’t get me wrong–file sharing doesn’t make us happy AT ALL).
    We do have a “social DRM” watermark at the bottom of every page of our PDF versions: Please do not share or redistribute. Will that request always be heeded? Absolutely not. But if it makes one person think twice about file sharing, it’s probably worth it.

  5. I understand your point about having your own ISBN and because of Lulu’s current model, they cannot use your ISBN when loading their distribution channels (I think it’s really not in their hands but I may be wrong). You can always ask the question of whether the capability will come in the future by emailing distro@lulu.com. As for changing to another provider, Lulu basically asks that you retire the project from their system thus taking it out of distribution. At that point you can do what you will with the content. The retention of rights was what attracted me to them when I started publishing my fiction.

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