Self Publishing – Print On Demand vs Traditional Publishing

Posted by Simon Alison

As a book cover designer, I’m often called upon by authors who are self publishing to explain print services and what this might mean for books. Book cover designers are usually expert in print processes. We want to be sure our creations are properly printed.

At one time the only way to get a great looking book was to use a traditional print service. This is classically the choice of publishers, who have the budgets to commission a large enough print run to make a few thousand beautifully printed books cost effective.

But we book cover designers have seen things change substantially with the advent of print on demand in the self publishing world.

Print on demand

In a nutshell, print-on-demand means when a reader orders a print book, a single copy is printed. This is a great choice for indie authors, who can’t necessarily take the risk on a large print run, or who might have a large online readership.

It’s increasingly a choice for publishers too. Print on demand places a limit on certain colours and many print effects. You can decide whether your cover is matt or gloss, for example, but that’s about it. Extras like foiling or indentations are not possible. But from an ebook cover designer’s perspective, print on demand has improved enormously. It’s now possible to have very professional looking books using this service.

Drop shipping and print runs

The other option is to use a traditional publishing service and commission a large print run. This has several advantages if you’ve a relationship with book shops. Firstly you can offer a substantial bulk discount, which can make a bookshop more likely to stock your books.

Secondly, (and most excitingly for an ebook designer), bulk print runs means print effects. If you’d like foils, indentations, or cut-outs, this is where you go. For most indie authors this choice is prohibitively expensive – at least for the first few books.

So for most indie authors print-on-demand will be the best choice. Now all you need to decide which outlet is best. To find out more, I’ve written a post on how to choose between CreateSpace or IngramSparks.


"Simon understood my thriller book cover design brief, and gave me a cover which has increased sales."

Susanna Quinn

"I gave Simon a tough brief, and his design just took my breath away. This cover looks so much better than other Regency Romance out there. The understated corset on the front is just the right amount of provocative, whilst still being elegant and refined. Simon was a true professional from start to finish. His prices were excellent value, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him."

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