The concept of on-demand publishing is simple
The printer or distributor stores the book on their hard drive (server farm). It is printed or downloaded only after it is ordered and paid for. So, unless there is a demand, it is not printed or downloaded. Much like just-in-time manufacturing, your book is delivered upon demand.
- You upload the digital files: They are stored on the servers of the on-demand printer or ebook distributor.
- They print the document or enable downloads: after they receive an order. There is no warehousing and no storage issues with cartons of printed books.
- Your royalty is large: You commonly get 70% to 80% of the money received after printing costs are deducted. For the ebooks, the maximum production costs are 99¢ (commonly nothing). Even with retail books you do much better than you would if you got a contract with a traditional publisher—where a 10% royalty is respectable.
- You receive your royalties quickly: In most cases, you get the money the next month. Some suppliers delay things up to two months, and a few only pay quarterly. All of those options are far superior to the once or twice a year payments of traditional publishers.
- You do not have to deal with wholesale orders and returns: One of the worst parts of traditional publishing comes after your book sales taper off. The retailers return unsold inventory to the publisher for a refund, and you take a loss.
- Sales continue to grow: Unless you are publishing very unique time-limited work, on-demand sales slowly grow and continue to grow. Because there are no warehousing issues, there are no reasons to stop selling your books. In many cases, your sales will continue to build for a decade or more.
With traditional publishing, there is a huge marketing push and shipments to all the stores, and then all the sales happen very quickly. When that initial rush is over—so is your book. There is no shelf room for books that might sell some day.
It’s basically a very simple process, also
The complexity is added by the fact that the individual on-demand printers and suppliers all have different requirements for artwork. The differing formats have unique limitations. The result is that you usually have to layout your book several times to get it in the different formats. In this way, you can have many printers and distributors selling your work at the same time.
You can add new versions as needed: As new distributors appear in the world, it is usually very easy to make up a version for them to sell. As you hear of them, you can try them out. All of these changes were relatively frantic during the early parts of the new millennium. But they have settled down. It has been a while since a new supplier came out who captured any large portion of the market.
Well, that’s not really true either. The iPad has only been out two years (I’m writing in the summer of 2012) and it is already a major player. Its sales for some authors are getting close to matching those of the 500# gorilla, Amazon. I think everyone is agreeing that it is second for ebooks, ahead of Nook, Kobo, and the rest. For print, there is no second as Barnes & Noble do not handle on-demand books well—nor does anyone else.
There is no real competition to the iPad as a tablet. Its presence cut Amazon’s share of the ebook market from 90% to around 60%. But then Amazon is not sitting around. Kindle has The Fire, for a couple hundred bucks, which kicked it up a notch. At this point, Fires are selling very well—plus they are the only ebook provider who accepts books with embedded fonts at this point. Nook is becoming a player, and their sales are growing rapidly. There is a good chance that Kobo will become the Japanese standard supporting ePUB3.
Now we have the Google Nexus, the rumored iPad Mini and the more distant rumor of the Fire Maxi. It doesn’t matter. What matters to us is that our options for self-publishing continue to grow.
This industry is rapidly growing & changing: The good news is that it is changing in our direction. The era of author-controlled publishing is here—just as designer-controlled printing emerged in the mid-1990s. This trend will continue and grow for those of us who are ready.
I only cover the free options
You need to be careful! It is very easy to waste a huge amount of money needlessly.
For example, I do not cover the vanity press options. In this old scenario, you (the author) pay for all the production costs. Several of these “subsidy printers” do on-demand printing, but the upfront costs are in the thousands of dollars—so in reality they are merely remnants of the old way of doing things.
My focus is on helping non-profits, ministries, and individuals to get their message to the people they serve and the readers they need.
The new on-demand paradigm is publishing with very few upfront costs. You may choose to pay for marketing and distribution—but they are not required services. Most of you already have good, functional mailing lists of followers—a built-in market for your work. I will talk about some of those options with the services I recommend.
- E-Publishing and Self-Publishing: Two Different Concepts (carrierubin.com)
- Print on Demand, Indie Publishing, and Europe (pigsgourdsandwikis.com)
- You need your own publishing house (bergsland.org)