Publish & Prosper

What is Print-on-Demand?

January 10, 2024 Matt Briel & Lauren Vassallo Season 1 Episode 7
What is Print-on-Demand?
Publish & Prosper
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Publish & Prosper
What is Print-on-Demand?
Jan 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 7
Matt Briel & Lauren Vassallo is a print-on-demand self-publishing company. But what exactly is print-on-demand? And why is it such a popular business model? 

In this episode, Matt & Lauren explore the environmentally-friendly, budget-conscious benefits of print-on-demand. We also answer a few FAQs about POD, including why it takes a little extra time to receive your book, what you can expect from the book’s production quality, and whether or not print-on-demand is more expensive than offset printing. Listen now to discover why print-on-demand is the future of publishing! 

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Sound Bites From This Episode

[13:56] “But at the end of the day, when you factor all your costs in, your time spent doing things, what you have to put out upfront versus what you can pay on the back end later, and some of that other math, when you start adding those things up, in most cases, for most people, self-publishing with print on demand is usually the more budget-friendly and cost-conscious way to go.”

🎙️ [22:12] “Most places that utilize a print on demand process, digital printing of some sort, can provide you, upon request in most cases, a lot of the different things they do that contribute to a much better, and much more sustainable carbon footprint…I think when we talk about us as creators making conscious decisions to do certain things on certain processes, we really should think about that.”

🎙️ [32:38] “There is a reversal of that quality spectrum that's been happening over the last eight to ten years…I would definitely say that the quality of print on demand books is lightyears better now than it was ten to fifteen years ago.”

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💀 Can’t wait for our next episode? Check out our Resources page for links to our blog,
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Show Notes Transcript is a print-on-demand self-publishing company. But what exactly is print-on-demand? And why is it such a popular business model? 

In this episode, Matt & Lauren explore the environmentally-friendly, budget-conscious benefits of print-on-demand. We also answer a few FAQs about POD, including why it takes a little extra time to receive your book, what you can expect from the book’s production quality, and whether or not print-on-demand is more expensive than offset printing. Listen now to discover why print-on-demand is the future of publishing! 

Dive Deeper

💡Watch These Videos

💡 Read These Blog Posts

💡 Visit

💡 Check Our Glossary of Publishing Terms

Sound Bites From This Episode

[13:56] “But at the end of the day, when you factor all your costs in, your time spent doing things, what you have to put out upfront versus what you can pay on the back end later, and some of that other math, when you start adding those things up, in most cases, for most people, self-publishing with print on demand is usually the more budget-friendly and cost-conscious way to go.”

🎙️ [22:12] “Most places that utilize a print on demand process, digital printing of some sort, can provide you, upon request in most cases, a lot of the different things they do that contribute to a much better, and much more sustainable carbon footprint…I think when we talk about us as creators making conscious decisions to do certain things on certain processes, we really should think about that.”

🎙️ [32:38] “There is a reversal of that quality spectrum that's been happening over the last eight to ten years…I would definitely say that the quality of print on demand books is lightyears better now than it was ten to fifteen years ago.”

Send us a Text Message.

💀 Can’t wait for our next episode? Check out our Resources page for links to our blog,
our YouTube channel, and more.
💀 Find us on Facebook, X, Instagram, and LinkedIn at luludotcom!
💀 Email us at
💀 Sign up for our mailing list.

Matt: Welcome back everybody to a new year full of new episodes of Publish & Prosper. I'm here with my co-host Lauren, and it's good to be back after a nice holiday break. 

Lauren: Hey everyone, it's great to be back. It's a new year, would you say it's a new you? 

Matt: If you're asking me and not the audience, I would say it's probably not a new me, no. 

Lauren: I think that's very reasonable. 

Matt: There's probably some versions of me that I'd like to... No, let's not even go down that road. How was your holiday? 

Lauren: It was great, actually. It was one of the first ones in a long time that I actually did just get to relax for a couple of weeks and not travel all over the place and over-stuff it with too many plans and too many holiday activities. 

Matt: Yeah, we pretty much did the same this year. We didn't do any traveling, and it was nice. It was nice to just have time at home with the family, with kids, catch up on some reading that I was terribly behind on, catch up on my episodes of The Office and some other stuff, so. 

Lauren: I had this ambitious list of projects that I wanted to work on, like fun projects, like home projects, I wanted to, you know, like refresh my bookcases a little bit. 

Matt: Alphabetize all your pop dolls.

Lauren: They're organized by fandom, thank you very much. But I did, actually, I was – because I got a bunch of new ones, not for Christmas, but kind of coincidentally, right before Christmas. So I need to, like, find a new home for them. Those were my plans, that's what I was going to do. Instead, I played about 100 hours of Tears of the Kingdom and read 25 books.

Matt: Wait. Two five, the number 25, books. Like full books, not like you know little scholastic uh 20 page readers. 

Lauren: Technically I read all 25 of those over the month of December but considering that I was on holiday break for half of December 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: Yeah, I read 25 books.

Matt: Are you gonna share what these books were?

Lauren: No. 

Matt: Okay that's fair. Yep. Okay, you're probably doing us all a favor. I did not read 25 books, but I did catch up on some reading and I was happy to do that, so. 

Lauren: Glad to hear it. It's nice to have that time.

Matt: Yeah. I caught up on my TV shows, and I caught up on some of my favorite podcasts– besides this one, obviously. 

Lauren: Obviously.

Matt: Did you listen to any podcasts while you're out? 

Lauren: I did, actually. One of my favorite podcasts, I was just a couple episodes behind, usually pretty on top with that one, but I was a couple episodes behind. So I finally caught up on that. They're actually doing a – I'mma name drop this we can cut it later if we want to. One of my favorite podcasts is Podcast: The Ride. It's a theme park podcast. 

Matt: Yep. 

Lauren: They are doing a January event thing, where they're doing a like, section by section breakdown of Universal City Walk at Orlando. 

Matt: Oh wow. 

Lauren: Which they did a few years ago – they're all California based, so they did it a few years ago for the one at Universal Hollywood. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: So now they're doing the one for Orlando, and it's right before we go to Orlando for Podfest. 

Matt: Oh yeah. 

Lauren: So I might not even do a theme park day while we're there, and I might just go walk around City Walk. 

Matt: Hmm.

Lauren: After this whole ridiculous thing. So I was just kind of listening to these episodes, getting hype for that. 

Matt: I don't know if I can be in Orlando and not go to one of the Disney parks. I may actually lose my Florida resident sort of status if I don't do that. Actually, I'm not a Florida resident anymore. My Florida native status.

Lauren: Fair. 

Matt: If I'm in Orlando and I don't go to a Disney park, I might also self-destruct if I don't. But we'll see. 

Lauren: Yeah, I've been thinking about that too. I've been going back and forth about that because I have… So for context, I guess, we're going to Podfest Expo in January, the end of January, which is in Orlando this year. Every year? I don't know, this year, at least, it's in Orlando. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And both of us have been very clear on this podcast, are huge Disney nerds. Specifically. I have – the day that we check out of the hotel for the conference, I actually have that night, a reservation for one night for the Animal Kingdom Lodge. 

Matt: Ooh. 

Lauren: Which I've never stayed at before. 

Matt: Yeah.

Lauren: So I'm just going to be there for one night and then my flight is on Monday. I still haven't decided if I want to do a park day at Animal Kingdom that same day. It genuinely might be like a week of decision. 

Matt: Animal Kingdom is my least favorite Disney park. There are a few things that we hit every time we're there with a Park Hopper Pass. We'll just go and there's a couple of rides and things we did and that's it. And then we're out. But I would absolutely love to stay in the Lodge. 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: I don't know that I could even do a whole day at Animal Kingdom. I think I would find myself bored to tears. 

Lauren: But I think that's why it's appealing right now. Because I just did – or in 2023 – I went to every park but Animal Kingdom. That was the only one we didn't do. And then when I was there for Thanksgiving, we did Hollywood Studios one day and EPCOT one day. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: So I'm not really a Magic Kingdom girly. Like, I'm not. Oh, it's other than other than like Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise, other than that, like. Eh. Eh. 

Matt: What did you think about some of the new additions to the Jungle Cruise? Did you get to see those yet? 

Lauren: I did, I think. I think last time I was there I saw them. Yeah, generally a fan. You know, I think it's important to, like, keep the classics, but put a little bit more life in them. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: What I didn't know about the Jungle Cruise until I was there in 2021, it was the first time I ever went by myself and I just went for one day to Magic Kingdom. I was accidentally in the first boat that left for the day out like on Jungle Cruise.

Matt: Oh wow.

Lauren: I walked straight on Jungle Cruise. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And it was delightful. I had so much fun. But I'd never been there for the holidays before and I didn't know that they did Jingle Cruise for the holidays. 

Matt: Oh yeah, that's the best. 

Lauren: It was really cute. Yeah. It was really cute. I love the Jungle Cruise though. I love the bad puns. It gets me every time. 

Matt: So just a couple months ago, we were…well, God, what even that long ago, was it? November. It was November. It was really not that long ago. November, Jen and I were there for Jingle Cruise and all the other stuff. Yeah, okay. You can tell how far we've gotten along in 2024 so far. 


Matt: Alright, so before we lose our very last listener, just because we're gonna talk about Disney all day, let's move on to today's topic, which is? 

Lauren: Print on demand. 

Matt: Print on demand and what the hell is print on demand?

Lauren: That's a great question. That's also not the way Matt usually phrases that question. 

Matt: This is a family show. So I rephrased it. 

Lauren: We have not yet crossed that line. 

Matt: No, we won't. 

Lauren: Let's try to answer that question instead of just dissecting the parts of it. So, what is print on demand? 

Matt: Print on demand is pretty much the process of printing things as they are needed. And so it uses a different type of printing process in many cases, depending on the items that you're printing. So you can use print on demand for coffee mugs, t-shirts, in our case, we're going to be talking about books, obviously, but almost anything can be printed on demand these days for the most part. But it generally again, as the name implies, refers to the practice of not having to house inventory because an item is printed or created on demand when the order is placed and then fulfilled and shipped at that point, so. Yeah, textbook definition, it is just like its namesake. Something is printed or created on demand. 

Lauren: Yeah, it's always kind of the easy go-to answer for that one. It's pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. I don't know how to elaborate further without getting in enormous depth about it. Print on demand, sometimes referred to as POD. 

Matt: Yes, often referred to as POD. Sorry, I should have said that. We will use POD quite often. So important to know that when we say POD, we are talking about print on demand. 

Lauren: Yep. And definitely not just us, there are plenty of other POD companies out there that you might not even realize are POD companies. Companies like Printful or Printify, RedBubble, Society6, TeePublic, places like that. You know, if you’re ordering merch for your favorite podcast…

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And they have a TeePublic store, like, those shirts are being printed on demand. There isn’t an inventory somewhere…

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: That is stocking a hundred different shirts in different sizes just waiting for someone to order them. 

Matt: And in fact, I think you'll find if you pay close enough attention, these days, most things you're ordering, you know, off of Instagram or from your favorite podcasters or authors or even bands, like most of the time now, it's often being done print on demand style, so that these these entities don't have to carry inventory, which is costly. And that also means when you're carrying inventory, you've put a lot of money out upfront to have all of that stuff printed and created and then stored until somebody actually buys it. Whereas with print on demand, you're not putting any money out front really. You're not front loading a bunch of inventory into a fulfillment warehouse. It's being created as it's ordered. I think a lot of people don't realize just how often they may be getting print on demand merchandise.

Lauren: Matt just ran through a lot of the reasons that print on demand is so popular. 

Matt: Oh, episode over.

Lauren: Oh yeah, we're done. 

Matt: Have a good day. 

Lauren: Have a great day everyone! Have so much fun. Uh, but before we dive a little deeper into those reasons, just quickly, what is the alternative to print on demand? I guess specifically when we're talking about books, and we're talking about book publishing, Lulu is a book publishing print on demand company. The alternative to that would be…

Matt: Offset printing. And those are the print machines that most people probably picture in their head when you think about a book being printed, or so many movies have some B-reel in it of newspapers being printed and they come off these long conveyor belts. And it's very similar, yeah. So offset printing often utilizes plates and inks and all these different types of things that many people consider outdated, and are definitely not very environmentally friendly, whereas print on demand, totally digitized, different type of print machines being used in most cases or printers and a lot more environmentally friendly for multiple different reasons. But yeah, the alternative is offset printing. So typically if you're doing a book, it's either going to be printed on demand or it's going to be an offset print. If it's offset, it means you're buying a bunch of copies upfront, or your publisher is, because offset printing is not like print on demand. You cannot run those machines to print one book at a time. They have to print thousands at a time. 

Lauren: Yeah. And in case that wasn't clear, in case we didn't already make it clear, I honestly can't remember if we did or not print on demand, at least with a company like Lulu, the minimum number of books that we print is one. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: So you can get just one single copy. And that is probably one of the key differences between print on demand book printing, and offset printing is that, you know, you wouldn't do the whole process – you couldn't do the whole process of offset printing for one single copy of a book.

Matt: That's right. 

Lauren: But you can with print on demand. 

Matt: Yeah, I would imagine there's an offset printer out there that would do it for you, but they'd still charge you thousands of dollars. 

Lauren: Yeah, I'm sure the process would be a lot for that one single copy of that book. So you're probably not getting it for a reasonable amount of money. 

Matt: Yeah, that's true. Before we get too much further into this topic, I think it's also important to note when you talk about print on demand and the differences between print on demand and offset printing. And we touched on this briefly, but again, you know, one of the biggest barriers to entry for a lot of authors and creators who wanna write a book, especially if they don't have a traditional publisher, is money. So the idea of having your book printed at an offset printer, which most of them are overseas at this point, unfortunately, again, you're talking about an outlay of thousands and thousands of dollars upfront, and then the work goes into a queue and it gets printed, and then it gets shipped over on a container ship from usually China. So there's a lot of time involved there too, but yeah, I just wanna make sure people are very clear that if you're going the route of self-publishing and you're really trying to be conscious about the money you're spending upfront, offset is generally not a good idea at all. You will get a slightly, not slightly, you will get a cheaper cost per book, when you price out your book to be printed from an offset printer versus digital printing, the price is gonna be cheaper from an offset printer, but again, it's because it's a different process and they're able to run 3,000 at once and you're paying for all of it upfront. So you are getting a little bit of a better deal per book, but by the time you factor in all the shipping from overseas, the wait time, some of the other things you have to do, your per unit costs generally creeps back up to where a POD book would be anyway. 

Lauren: Yeah. And I think that's an important argument to make – and one that we will make later in this episode – is that, yeah, when you're just looking at like the flat rate of what each copy of the book would cost, when you're doing print on demand versus offset printing. If you're just comparing cost to print the book, there might be a difference there and you might see the book cost less when you're doing offset printing, but you're not factoring in all the other things that would go into that that are probably gonna level up the costs if not raise the cost of offset books.


Matt: Yeah, well, let's talk about them now. 

Lauren: Okay, sure. Matt said, forget the outline.

Matt: For those listening, you know, there's a lot of care that goes into these outlines that Lauren creates, that I promise I definitely read them. And I definitely, I definitely go through and take very generous notes. But nonetheless, yeah, let's just jump right into some of the reasons why print on demand is a popular business model, especially these days. And honestly, print on demand in general, not just books, really took off around the time COVID hit us hard, for lots of reasons and we don't necessarily need to go into that right now, but it is a very popular business model these days. And one of those reasons that we already started talking about was how budget friendly it can be. When you do something print on demand, again, there's no fees really being put out upfront for the most part, at least for the printing portion of that. When something is ordered, that's when it's paid for. So you do save some money there. 

When you're printing a huge bulk of something upfront, like we talked about, there's always going to be a cost associated with that. And again, yes, it might mean your per unit cost, your per book costs, come down a little bit from where it might be per unit with a print on demand provider. But at the end of the day, when you factor all your costs in, your time spent doing things, what you have to put out upfront versus what you can pay on the back end later, and some of that other math, when you start adding those things up, in most cases, for most people, self-publishing with print on demand is usually the more budget-friendly and cost-conscious way to go.

It also affects things like when you're dealing with time sensitive products like date planners and calendars, an online course workbook that you need to modify or add new sections to, things like that. When you're utilizing offset printing, you don't have the luxury to just pop a new file in there and say, oh, you know what, from now on, this is the version that needs to be printed and shipped. No, because you're sitting with 5,000 copies already in your garage or at a fulfillment warehouse that need to be dispersed to everybody 

Lauren: Right. 

Matt: Or recycled if it turns out that you need to make changes. If you're using print on demand, you literally can just swap out the file real quick before the next version is printed and everything's good to go. 

Lauren: Yeah – oh, sorry, go ahead.

Matt: I was just going to say it saves you a bunch of money. 

Lauren: Yeah. Matt also just pointed out a couple of things that when we say that print on demand is more budget friendly, we're not just talking about the cost of the book. So he just said you're storing 5,000 copies of the book that you had offset printed in your garage. You gotta store those books. When you order 10,000 copies of your book, printed through offset printing, you've got to put those 10,000 copies somewhere. And if you can't conceptualize what 10,000 copies of a book looks like, it's a lot more than you think it is. I have wall to wall bookshelves that are full of books and I have under a thousand books. So 10,000…

Matt: Yeah.

Lauren: Books is a pretty sizable amount of stuff. 

Matt: Well. It's pallets of books. 

Lauren: Right. Well, yeah, but still, where are you going to store…I can't store a pallet of books on my fourth floor loft. Where are you going to put these things? If you have a garage, great. Good. I hope you have somewhere else to put your car. 

Matt: And everything else in your garage. 

Lauren: And if you don't – and everything else in your garage – then you have to pay for some kind of storage option, whether that's just, you know, something as simple as a storage unit somewhere or something as robust as a fulfillment center that's going to help you out by also helping you with the shipping and fulfillment. Which, spoiler alert, you're also going to have to pay for. We're also talking about things when we say budget friendly like the dated planners or calendars that Matt talked about. It's the new year, it's 2024. Any 2023 calendars that were dated, any planners or guided journals or anything like that that were dated, are now completely obsolete. So if you ordered 10,000 copies of your awesome planner for 2023 and you sold 8,000 copies, which is great, awesome, good for you, you sold 8,000 copies of it, those other 2,000 copies now are just junk. You just have to eat the cost of those.

Matt: Recycling 

Lauren: They're completely useless. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: You could line your bird cage with them. 

Lauren: You could also not have a bird. 

Matt: Well, that's an option. 

Lauren: I'm terrified of birds, so.

Matt: Learn something new every day 

Lauren: Actually, I feel like that's information I should not have given you. 

Matt: Yeah, I was gonna say, for everybody listening, for holiday this year, if you want to send Lauren a gift, send her a bird. A real live bird. 

Lauren: Oh no. 

Matt: Yeah, you're definitely in trouble. 

Lauren: I know. 

Matt: I'm already trying to think of how I can get a bird into the office here. Yeah

Lauren: I feel like I've been holding onto that one for so long. And it just…oh no. 

Matt: Yeah you messed up. You messed up. You can edit it out all you want too, but I've already locked it into memory. 

Lauren: I know. It's fine. 

Matt: Mm-hmm. 

Lauren: It's fine. Okay.


Matt: Moving along. So budget friendly, and we've already started touching on this one. We'll go into the next one, which is inventory. 

Lauren: Yes. 

Matt: Right? So, print on demand is great for obviously not having to carry a lot of inventory, as we've already talked about. You've got nowhere to put that for most people. You can't just store three pallets of books in your garage – or you can, but you're going to be displacing your car and everything else. Your mother-in-law's not going to let you put them in her garage for sure. 

Lauren: Nope. 

Matt: You might have a nice neighbor that'll let you do it, but ultimately you're gonna end up having to pay for somewhere to store those things. Or a fulfillment warehouse where you could have your books delivered to them. And then every time you have an order come in, you send it to the fulfillment warehouse and they will pack and ship the book for you. But there's a fee associated with that, obviously, you're paying to have your book stored there, and then you're paying each time they fulfill and ship one for you. So, these costs add up. When you talk about the difference between print on demand and offset printing, and the ancillary costs that come along with it, are parallel costs like storage and fulfillment and shipping and all those things. The math usually works out to be in your favor to use print on demand and inventory is just another example of that, not having to store all of that inventory. You know somewhere in your garage or in Lauren's case up in the loft where she keeps all her pop dolls, which means those have to get boxed up and put somewhere and that's a tragedy. 

Lauren: There's simply no room for them anywhere else.

Matt: Yeah.

Lauren: It's fine. But no, I mean, great point honestly. And also, the point of when you only have a few copies on hand – which you should, we always recommend that you should have some copies on hand – but there's a difference between ordering 50 copies of your book to keep on hand and ordering…

Matt: 5,000

Lauren: 10,000. 5,000 copies of your book to keep on hand. But if you want to make any changes at any point. Not just me saying that your book becomes obsolete when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, but just little things like ‘I want to update the content of this chapter’ or ‘I want to replace the word Twitter with the letter X.’ I'm going to find as many excuses as possible to sigh heavily about this. Although I'm getting further and further away from that pain.

Matt: Yeah. I think the news cycle on that one's pretty much dead. 

Lauren: Well, I mean, my personal interest in it has faded. 

Matt: As, I think, have most peoples’. And he just got a lower evaluation, uh, or valuation on Twitter. I think the running theory is that he's trying to get the valuation so low that he can buy all of that back for himself. And then we think maybe he'll change the name back to Twitter and start over again.

Lauren: Oh for – okay.

Matt: You know, who knows? But anyways, we don't care. 

Lauren: Alright, well, the point is that if you so choose to make updates like that to your book, if you have thousands of copies on hand, it's a lot harder to make those updates. Unless you want to get a little White Out and hand write every single change that you want to make in every single copy of the book, which also please don't do that. Just don't do that. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: But yeah, you know what? No matter what you want to do with your book, it's easier to do it when you have quickly editable copies that you can just update the interior file and order new copies and, or have your customers order copies that as soon as the next order that they place comes through, it has the correct updated file. 


Matt: Yeah. So, you know, again, using print on demand, things tend to be a little more budget friendly for you. There is that lack of inventory you have to carry, which is not only a budget friendly benefit, but it is also a convenience not having to have packing and shipping parties in your garage every Friday with friends and family and things like that. And then I think one of the other main things that make it such a popular business model is this concept of, you know, everybody's really trying to be a little more environmentally friendly where they can be. And print on demand is verifiably a more environmentally friendly way to print and fulfill books. 

Lauren: Yeah. And not just in the ways that we've mentioned so far. I mean, obviously in the ideas of like, if you're only printing products on demand you don't have that leftover waste at the end. Like you don't have thousands of copies of books potentially that have to get pulped or recycled or whatever the case may be. So you're eliminating wasted materials and wasted products and stuff like that. Also in all the other ways that large offset print and fulfillment will have an impact on the environment. Everything like production of those big orders, shipping them if they're coming internationally, they have to be shipped internationally, all kinds of things like that. They have to be stored somewhere. That all has an environmental impact, and a larger one than a small order of books being distributed locally or within the country that it's printed in, which we do have a worldwide print network. So most of the time your orders are coming from, I mean, not local, local, but nationally.

Matt: I think that's a pretty fair assessment. I think there are lots of other ways that print on demand contributes to a more environmentally friendly product and process, by the way, lots of things that we never think about when our books are being printed or even some of our other items that are done print on demand. But nonetheless, you know, verifiably most places that utilize a print on demand process, digital printing of some sort, can provide you, upon request in most cases, a lot of the different things they do that contribute to a much better, and much more sustainable carbon footprint. So, you know, the types of inks they're using, just how much water they're saving by using a print on demand process versus some other process, all of those types of things. And again, I think when we talk about us as creators making conscious decisions to do certain things on certain processes, we really should think about that. And where it is an option, where it's affordable, and it's an option for us, we should try to utilize those processes as best as possible, so. 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that as content entrepreneurs and small business owners and content creators and stuff like that, we've all kind of adopted that mindset of…not shop small, but, if we have the option between buying from a big online company or buying from an independent creator we're all going to choose, or most of us are going to choose, the option that is supporting our peers. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: I think this is a very similar mindset when it comes to like making environmentally conscious and environmentally responsible choices, when it comes to everything that we do as consumers lately. 

Matt: Yeah, I agree. I'd like to just kind of roll into some of the common questions we get about the print on demand process and just print on demand in general. All the events we go to throughout the year, we get a lot of questions about that. We get email questions. Even over the break, I had a few questions emailed to me from some authors I'm working with around just what they could and could not do with print on demand technology for their books, things like that. Let's jump into some of the questions that we get fairly regularly. What are some of the ones that you get? 


Lauren: Okay, well, from my years as a social media manager, number one question that we got all the time: where's my book? Why does it take so long for me to get my book? I ordered it three days ago. Where is it?

Matt: I knew it. Yep. Yeah. 

Lauren: So, where is it? Where's my book? 

Matt: Well, the answer to that is offset printing, where they have to run thousands of copies at once, it's a slightly faster process, obviously. When you're doing print on demand and you can literally print one book, one copy of a book, one copy of another book, one copy of another book, one massive roll of paper that's loaded onto one of these printers at one of these facilities, they might print 5,000 different books off of that roll, anywhere from one to five or ten copies. You know, it's a bit of a different process. It does take a little bit longer. And the process of creating a book itself is not a 20 minute process. You have to create the book block, which is the interior file, like all the inside of your book. But then, you know, you're attaching a cover, which has to be glued. There has to be sufficient drying time. If you've ever gotten a book, either in the mail or at a bookstore, and when you open that book up and looked at the pages and they were really wavy, that's because that book didn't have sufficient drying time for the inks or the glue that's binding it. 

So there's a lot of work that goes into making a book, whether it's offset or print on demand, but print on demand does generally take a little bit longer. You might run 3,000 books offset in a matter of hours and then glue them up, attach the covers and have that whole order done, in maybe one to two days. Print on demand, a standard paperback might take two to three days, but I think we crank them out probably in 48 hours, roughly, on average. And a hardcover book, because the cover process is a little more intricate and involved and takes a little more glue and things like that, you're talking anywhere from 3 to 4 days production time to create that book. So yeah, it does take a slight bit longer to do that. I think the other part of that question about ‘where's my book, why does it take so long to get it,’ more often than not is less about the production time to create that book and more about the carrier time for it to be shipped. 

Lauren: Yeah, there's a difference between the production time and the fulfillment time. 

Matt: Yeah, I mean, we've all been trained by the giant to expect everything we order to show up on our doorstep tomorrow – which they're not even hitting those timelines anymore, by the way, but we've all just come to expect that. When we order something, we wanna open our door the next day and there it is. And that's just not the reality of the world we live in. For most of you, you've probably seen this. We're recording this in January of 2024, but I can tell you coming off the last six months and the holidays, nothing has showed up on time. And in fact, tracking has completely broken down for most of these carriers. 

Lauren: Oh, I've given up on, I've given up on package tracking. I don't bother anymore. 

Matt: It's insane. It's absolutely insane. So, you know, again, where's my book? That question is extremely common, but it's not always just about print on demand. Print on demand will take an extra day or two to print your book. Yes. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, that's, that's nothing when you think about what you're saving, who you're supporting, and the overall scheme of what you're contributing to. So more often than not, it's a carrier thing, which obviously the printers don't have any control over that. 


Lauren: Yep. Definitely true. I also want to circle back on the production process of it. Matt and I were both lucky enough last year to get to tour one of our print facilities and it was so cool. It was so cool. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: As a lifelong book nerd, I just walked around like, jaw on the floor the entire time. It was so cool to get to see it. And we are, of course, fully aware that we cannot invite every single customer and person that we meet at conferences or anything like that to tour these facilities, too. So instead, we made a video. 

Matt: That's right. 

Lauren: Our incredibly, incredibly awesome in-house videographer made a video called The Life of a Book – which I will link in the show notes, you can find it on Lulu's YouTube channel – that shows the behind the scenes production of a book being made. And it's such a cool process. But it's really such an intricate process, which I don't think a lot of people realize. I know I didn't, I didn't realize how hands on it was. I didn't realize how much of the process was done by people. Of course, there are tons of machines involved in the process. It's not like there's anyone hand-binding books at major print facilities right now, but there are still people involved every step of the way in the print on demand book production process. That's a great thing. I think that's a benefit of the process. I think that's one of the things that adds to the quality, adds to the value, adds to the final product of it, but it does add to the timeline as well. It's not something that can run overnight because the entire thing is happening completely automated. At some point during the process, someone has to put their hands on the book. 

Matt: I love that too. I love the idea that there's a human being that is shepherding that book through its process and making sure that it's hitting all of its checkpoints and quality control checkpoints. There is a slight downside to that too. I mean, obviously, when there is a human involved, there is the potential for human error. And it does happen sometimes, especially with print on demand. It's more noticeable when it does happen with print on demand, usually easier to catch. When you talk about offset printing, again, imagine you're running a massive roll of paper and printing 3,000 books at once. Chances are if there's a mistake on one book, there's a mistake on all 3,000. So that's a big mistake to fix. Whereas with print on demand, because of the process and the way things are done, and even if there is a human error, a mistake that's caused by a human error versus the machine or something else, it's much easier to correct that and just reprint that one book or catch that mistake when it's being made. I like the idea that there is a lot of human involvement, a lot of human touch that goes into these books being created. Again, the video Lauren referenced, take a look at that video and just see how many times there's a human involved in the process. 

Lauren: Yeah.

Matt: And we can say, based on our experience and Lulu printing millions and millions of books every single year, the amount of mistakes that happen are extremely low, very small. And part of that is because in our print facilities, we do have human beings that are in there that actually love books and they love the printing process. So this isn't just another job to most of them and they are paying very close attention to everything that comes off that printing press. 

Lauren: Yeah. Which is also something that was really cool about the experience of being there was seeing people that this wasn't their like part-time job over the summer. It was people that had been there for years and were actually invested in the process and actually cared very much about the products that they were making. Which is nice, because I know that on this end we care very much. Like we're all not all a lot of us are book nerds, including me and Matt. 

Matt: For sure. 

Lauren: And I know from being on the other side of working at a bookstore and being on the, like, bookseller part of it, most of the people that are working to sell your books are book people. So it's nice to know that in the middle of that process too are people that care very deeply about the product that they're making. 

Matt: Yeah, I agree. Which is not always the case in a lot of other processes or products. 


Lauren: No, no it's not. I guess that actually kind of leads us into one of the other questions that we get a lot, which we've kind of already started to answer a little bit, which is what is the quality of the product that comes out? You know, how does it compare to the traditionally published books that I see if I walk into Barnes & Noble and I pick up a book that is published by Penguin Random House? Is a traditionally published book going to look better or worse or the same than a self-published book? 

Matt: That's a loaded question. 

Lauren: Yes it is. 

Matt: I would say fifteen years ago, maybe even ten years ago, if you looked at a bookshelf, there were two books there. One was offset printed from a traditional publisher. The other was print on demand, self-published, whatever. You probably could tell the difference for sure. And more than likely, the one that was printed on an offset printer would look a little better than the one on print on demand, sometimes a lot better. The technology, though, has evolved so much more rapidly over the last ten years, especially in the last five years for digital printing for books specifically versus the technology for offset printing, which has not evolved as quickly and again is, quite frankly, just an outdated and archaic process. Now you would not be able to tell the difference. And if you did, more than likely, the book that was printed on demand would look better than the one that's offset printed not only because of the technology, but as time has gone on the materials that offset printers are using have actually sort of gone backwards in terms of quality. So paper's getting a little thinner. And for those of you that shop at bookstores quite frequently, which a lot of us do, next time take a look. Oftentimes the paper that you're starting to see in these books is a lot thinner. You can start seeing through the pages a little bit more. The ink oftentimes is a lot fainter. They're using a little less ink or a different type of ink. 

There is a reversal of that quality spectrum that's been happening over the last eight to ten years. And I would say, at least for our books and everything we've seen come out of our print facilities, I would put one of our books up, full color, black and white, it doesn't matter, against any other book printed at any other print shop for that matter. But I would definitely say that the quality of print on demand books is lightyears better now than it was ten to fifteen years ago. 

Lauren: Yeah, actually, it's funny that you say that about the quality of the offset books and specifically with the paper. My friends and I were talking about this over the holiday break because we annotated books for each other for Christmas. And one of my friends and I read a lot of print on demand books. So the books that we had chosen for each other were print on demand. And then the books we chose for other friends were traditionally published books. And we both commented on the fact that the print on demand books that we had annotated and highlighted, you couldn't see the highlight through the pages. So you could like write on one side of the page and then when you turn to the page like you couldn't see any of the notes behind it. And then on the traditionally published ones with the same highlighter the same pen we were seeing that bleed on the back of the page, and realizing like, oh these print on demand ones like are actually like a little bit higher quality paper, it's a little bit heavier paper. So we were just, I was just having this conversation in the real world. Although I don't know if we would necessarily call it the real world that my friends and I had a lengthy conversation about annotating books and paper weight. 

Matt: I feel like I'm being baited into something here and I'm gonna steer clear of that, because normally I'd probably make a comment about the world that you and your friends inhabit but I'm gonna steer clear of that. 

Lauren: I surround myself by book people. 

Matt: Nothing wrong with that at all. I completely co-sign and endorse on that. 

Lauren: It's great. But yes, the long and short of it is yes, I do think that I agree with Matt where the quality of the products that printers are using is at the very least on par, if not better than what a lot of the offset printers are using. It's a little bit of a loaded question. I'm not sure if this is where Matt was going with that or not, but it's a little bit of a loaded question in the sense that sometimes, yes, there are still very clear visual indicators that your book was self-published. Yes. But that's more about author choice and user choice.

Matt: That’s right.

Lauren: And not about the actual production quality and the materials used. If you want to dive deeper into that, I'll link a blog post that I wrote a few years ago that is essentially just me up on a soapbox screaming about five signs that your book was self-published, because you chose to put your text facing the wrong way on the spine or something like that. But those are definitely going to be like personal production choices and not actual product production choices. 

Matt: Well, personal design choices. 

Lauren: Yes. Great. Yes.

Matt: So quality, we're talking about the actual production quality, aside from your own design choices, your own editing or lack of editing, we're not talking about the design and content, we're talking about the production, the quality of the book itself. Yes. The other stuff, again, as Lauren just said, that's all personal choice as the creator. You either chose to work with an editor or you didn't. 

Lauren: Right. 

Matt: And you know, spoiler alert, you should. 

Lauren: Please.

Matt: Design-wise, you know, again, we've absolutely seen people with their titles upside down on the spine or no text on the spine, which obviously doesn't look great on a bookshelf. There are design and content things that obviously our production facilities can't control. That's not their job. We would never do that. We would never touch the content, but the book will look good from a quality standpoint. It won't fall apart when you open it. The spine won't crack in half the first time you open it. The colors will be visually pleasing. Yeah, we just can't control that content, so. Which is why, honestly, we try to tell everybody, make sure you get a proof copy of your book. 

Lauren: Yes. 

Matt: Before you hit that publish button or distribution button or before you load it to your website for sale to the general public, get a proof copy. Absolutely, you've got to know what that book looks like before you release it into the world. 

Lauren: Which is one of the benefits of print on demand, because you can order one single copy of your book before you publish it officially, before you start selling copies to all of your fans, make sure that you order one single copy for yourself and just make sure everything looks good. 


Matt: Yep. I think we've got time for one more of the most common questions, and it's the one that we hear a lot at events. And I think there is some validity to this question, and oftentimes I think it's just that people haven't done enough of the homework yet. And that's okay too, oftentimes they're in the process of that. But we often hear this question of ‘why is it more expensive to have my book done print on demand versus offset printing?’ And we've already touched on that a little bit. We've alluded to the difference in the price and why that might be. So we won't spend a lot of time on this particular question, but to really drive the point home, when you talk about the difference between offset printing and print on demand and the pricing that goes into that. Most of that usually boils down to the difference between bulk production, i.e. offset printing, and then individual production, which is, you know, print on demand, and the costs that are associated with setting each of those up from a process standpoint. Again, with offset, you're setting up a roll of paper to print thousands of copies of one book. So somebody can set that job up on the printer and walk away and just let that thing run for however long it takes to do 3,000 copies. When you're talking about a print on demand process, where you're doing a book of one in many cases, thousands of times over for thousands of different titles, there has to be somebody there quality control, checking every single one of those that comes off that line. And that's just one example. There's a lot of things that go into the production for print on demand that does again, increase the costs a little bit. 

The important thing here is to understand that when you look at the cost of a book, you can't just look at the unit price of a book and compare it from offset to print on demand and then just go, ‘okay, end of story, I'm going to use offset because it's $1.50 cheaper per book.’ You have to factor in those other things that come into play, like your time, the fulfillment of those books once you do receive them, who's going to pack and ship them every time you get an order. If you're talking about distribution, there's a cost associated with that. There are lots of other costs that come into play. And again, those things really start to add up when it's you on the hook for the 5,000 books that you just had delivered in your driveway, and you've got to figure out how to take care of all those other things that go along with it. Versus print on demand, where you can utilize something like Lulu Direct, where it's automatically fulfilled for you. We're printing it and shipping it right from the print facility to the person that ordered it from you. And that's cutting out all of those other inconveniences when it comes to time and costs associated. So you've got to look at the total cost for you as the creator when somebody orders or buys one of your books.

Lauren: Yeah, I think that's  really the most important way to look at it. Yes, like Matt said, if you're just comparing the production cost of the book there probably is going to be a difference and he did explain the reasons why, which kind of makes sense if you think about it that way. But do almost like a like line item breakdown of exactly what it's going to cost you to produce and fulfill an individual order. Everything from the cost of the book, yes, sure, but the cost of the packaging materials that you want to package your book in and then the actual time and effort of packaging your book. The time and expense of taking all of those packages to some kind of distribution center, whether you're paying somebody at a fulfillment warehouse, like we talked about where they're storing your books and you're paying them to fulfill the orders for you. Or something where you're just bribing your friends with beer and pizza every Friday night to help you pack up a bunch of books and then Saturday morning you're loading them into your car and driving them to the post office and having those all shipped out from there. All of that costs money, all of that costs time. If you are an entrepreneur, if you're a small business owner, if you're a content creator, if you're a person, your time is valuable. Your time has a cost associated to it. And how much of it are you willing to spend on something that could be automated? 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: When we talk about print on demand, when we talk about using a direct sales model like Lulu Direct or something like that, all of those steps are automated. 

Matt: Yep.

Lauren: You don’t have to do any of those things. You don’t have to fulfill your own orders, you don't have to package them up. You don’t have to handle the shipping. You don’t have to worry about what happens if a customer reaches out to you and says, “oh no, USPS –” sorry, I'm not going to throw the post office under the bus – “UPS threw it into a puddle instead of putting it in my mailbox like they were supposed to, and now my book is ruined.” And it's not on you to worry about replacing that at that point. All of these things that, yeah, maybe you saved $1.50 per book by getting offset printing, but I think all of those things add up to well more than $1.50. 

Matt: Absolutely. And again, the most important, I think, takeaway here is that time is the one thing you can't get back. It's the one thing you can't just make more of. Yes, every day we each get another 24 hours, although that's not guaranteed to you. But at the end of the day, time is your most precious and important sort of asset, commodity, however you want to look at it. And so time spent packing and shipping orders when you don't have to do that. You could use that time to be creating more stuff for spending time with family or friends or your dogs or, in Lauren's case, her cats and her pop dolls. And in my case, my kids, or Disney World or wherever else. I mean, I would much rather be able to spend that time doing something, anything other than packing and shipping books. Period. Nobody wants to deal with the post office. I'll throw them under the bus. Nobody wants to deal with your local pack and ship center. Although the guy at mine is very friendly. I don't want to spend every day in there.

Lauren: True.

Matt: Time is the one thing that we, we really should value a little more. And to me, let's just say that cost is an extra $1.50 for print on demand, but that's also going to get me some automated fulfillment. Fine, sign me up. 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: My time is more valuable than that, so absolutely.

Lauren: Yep. I think it's also important to remember that cost isn't always just money or time. I mean, I know I just made the comparison that your time is valuable, but you know, let's say you're attempting to go the cheaper route or what you consider the cheaper route. So you bulk ordered a bunch of books and you're using some cheap, barely padded mailers and the lowest shipping cost possible. And you're doing everything as cheap as you can. And you get a product out to your customer and they get a low quality book that has some errors in it that were production errors because they were offset printed. And it's very probable that if you're offset printing, some of your books will come in not perfect condition.

Matt: Oh, absolutely, 

Lauren: You know? And you might not catch that right away, and you might put it in an envelope and it gets banged up in the shipping and delivering process. And so it's in even worse shape and your customer saved a few bucks on the shipping, and you saved a few bucks on the production, but at the end of the day that customers never gonna order from you again.

Matt: Or the money you saved just gets eaten up because they turn around and want to return the book to you and you have to resend them a new one. But yeah, I agree 100% 

Lauren: Yeah. Think about what you're spending that's more than just the actual print price of the book. 

Matt: Your brand. I mean, essentially, protecting your brand. If your brand starts to get associated with crappy quality print books or things like that, then that's on you.

Lauren: Yeah.

Matt: It's not on the printer because that's not how your customer, your reader is going to look at it. They're going to look at it as that's your brand. It's just cheap, crappy printed books.

Lauren: Yeah. And I can't speak for all consumers in the world, but I know I can speak for a good number of us when I say like, we remember. When you order something from somebody and you're disappointed by the quality of what you got, you don't forget. 

Matt: Absolutely. 

Lauren: You don't forget that. 

Matt: Well, let’s end there. 

Lauren: Alright. Well, welcome back to Publish & Prosper, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us for our first episode of 2024. And we look forward to bringing a bunch of new episodes in the coming weeks and months.