Print-on-Demand vs Print-in-Bulk: A beginner’s guide

It’s a question every emerging author wants answered: should I do print-on-demand, or should I buy a bulk inventory?

First off, let’s distinguish the two services.

Print on demand (ex: Createspace):

This service only prints a book once one has been ordered. With something like this, your distribution is fully handled by someone like CreateSpace. When someone purchases a hard copy of your book on Amazon, CreateSpace will automatically print it and ship it to the buyer.

The benefit here is that you only pay for what gets ordered, so you don’t run the risk of printing a bunch of books and them just sitting in your guest bedroom. The con is that they take a large share of the profits, so you don’t reap much of the sales.

Printing in bulk (Independent printers):

This is where you would buy, let’s say, 200 copies at once. The pro is that you pay a one-time fee to print the books, and have the capability to reap all the profits of your sales. The risk is that you order too many and they don’t get sold. Ever. And they sit in your guest bedroom gathering dust. Doing it this way also means having to dig into your own distribution, rather than it being handled by a third party.

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If any of these apply to you, then POD is for you:

  • I don’t know anyone who wants to buy my book
  • I don’t have any presales
  • I don’t want to risk any money
  • I don’t want to be involved in the distribution process of my book
  • You want a quick, easy way to put your book into the world – and to be done
  • You don’t care to sell any copies of your book on your own website
  • You want to sell all of your books on Amazon

If any of these apply to you, consider a bulk inventory:

  • You have a large group of followers who are excited to buy your book
  • You launched a pre-sale and have hundreds of confirmed purchases
  • You have the time and energy to get involved in the distribution of your book
  • You’re fine with risking money, and the possibility of losing everything you spend on the bulk inventory
  • You would like to sell the majority or all of your books on your website, rather than another distribution channel like B&N or Amazon

If you don’t have 200 people knocking down your door for your upcoming novel, then your best bet is POD. You don’t risk shedding out a grand for books that won’t sell. Better yet, you won’t have to keep a constant eye on your Amazon sales. You won’t have to learn about shipping rates or anything else – Amazon will take care of it all.

If, however, you have a loyal group of followers who can’t wait to buy and read your book, or you launched a successful pre-sale, then consider a bulk inventory.

Some people who would do well with bulk inventory:

  • Someone with any level of fame that has written a memoir
  • Someone who has a strong blog or social media following

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Let’s look at profits

Print on demand + Selling on Createspace

If you do print-on-demand with Createspace and sell on Amazon, they will take 40% of the list price for themselves. So if you printed with them and priced it at $14.19, you’d make $5.26 a book.

Print on demand + Selling on your website

If you use their print-on-demand service and sell on your website, they would take a lot more, closer to 80% — meaning if you priced it at $14.19, you’d make about $2.42 a book.

Bulk printing + Selling on your website

If you are comfortable with buying inventory ahead of time from a regular, independent book printer, it can be more profitable, but only if you manage to sell all your books.

To give you an idea of what bulk printing prices are, a 200 page black and white book that’s 6 x 9, bought in bulk (200 copies), would be around $4.19 a book to print. If you sell this on your website for $14.19, then you’ll get the $10 in profit.

Bulk print + Selling on Amazon

If you bought an inventory (the 200 copies), and wanted to sell them on Amazon, keep in mind that Amazon still gets a cut of the sale (15% + a $1.35 closing fee) even though they didn’t print it. You’d get $10.71 in the sale, but need to subtract $4.19 for the cost of printing, meaning $6.52 in profit.

So if you sold 100 books…

Using print-on-demand Createspace, selling on Amazon = $526

Using print-on-demand Createspace, selling on your website = $242

Using bulk printing, selling on your website = $1000

Using bulk printing, selling on Amazon = $652

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In summary, print-on-demand is a sort of risk-free way to print your book. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, it’s rather simple: POD simply means that your book is only printed when someone orders it. If one person orders your book in May, then one book is printed and shipped. If ten people order in June, then ten will be printed and shipped in June.

The alternative? Buy a bulk amount of books at a lower cost per unit, and pray to the marketing gods that they all get sold. This is a less flexible distribution strategy that can have its perks (mainly profits), but only if you’re well prepared and ready to get involved in the distribution of your book.

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