Pros and Cons of Print-on-Demand

The following is adapted from a talk I gave a while back on the merits of POD, or Print-on-Demand publishing.  

POD still has a bit of stigma. There are those who say a book is not “a real book” unless it’s published by a brick-and-mortal house based in New York City.

That said, there are enough success stories out there to validate POD as a legitimate way to go, especially if your book is one of those “niche” titles that traditional publishers are buying fewer and fewer of today.

Whether you’re a first-time author or a writer with a built-in platform, you can use POD as a springboard for other possibilities. After all, few readers are as discriminating as editors or book reviewers. For most readers, a book is a book is a book. Doesn’t matter whether it’s published by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, iUniverse or Lulu – in the eyes of the reader, you’re a published author. That gives you credibility, which can lead to opportunities that may not have come about otherwise. For example, if you’re a speaker, POD means you can always have books readily available for people to buy at the end of your talks. If you’re a first-time author, POD can help you establish a readership—which, if it’s impressive enough, may attract the attention of a traditional publisher down the road.

I went the POD route myself back in 2004, when the rights to my book on The Rockford Files reverted to me, and I decided to update it and republish it as a new edition. While I considered shopping it around to “real” publishers, POD made sense to me because (1) the book is a “niche” title, and (2) I knew I had a built-in audience and media platform around which I could market the book better than anyone else.

I re-released the book in 2005 through iUniverse, and it continues to perform well. So POD has worked for me. That said, there are minuses as well as plusses. With that in mind, here are some Pros and Cons for Going the POD Route, based on my experience:   


  • Quick turnaround time. Your book is usually available for purchasing within two to three months of the time you submit the manuscript.
  • Decent distribution through all major online vendors (amazon, barnesandnoble, booksamillion, et al.).
  • Relatively inexpensive. In many cases, you can get the book published for about $300. Not a bad investment, when you consider you’re investing in yourself.
  • No returns, and therefore no dreaded “reserve against returns clause.”
  • The book is out there, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case had you gone the traditional route.  This not only gives you credibility, but enables you to use the book as a vehicle for other things – such as back-of-the-room sales for talks or appearances, or as a nice “prop” for you or your agent to display when seeking a publisher for your next book.


  • Doesn’t have the same cache as being published by a traditional publishing house. Many newspapers and magazines, for example, consider POD to be no different than vanity presses, which explains in part why it’s difficult (though not impossible) to get a newspaper or magazine to review a POD book.
  • Usually not available in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Customers can order your book through their favorite bookstore, but most stores will not order it for placement on the shelves. The reason why, of course, is that if the store orders copies and fails to sell them, they can’t return them as they can with books distributed through traditional publishers.
  • It costs money. Yes, it’s less expensive than a lot of vanity presses, but it requires a financial investment on your part just to get the book published.   
  • There’s no marketing department to speak of, so it’s up to you to promote the book.  However, since you’re a smart author, you’re going to promote it anyway. No one knows how to promote your books, or yourself, better than you, the author. (NOTE. While some POD companies have marketing packages available, they usually cost extra: anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 on top of whatever fee you paid to publish the book.)
  • There’s no advance-against-royalties paid.  In that respect, POD can be a real roll of the dice. There’s no telling how well your book will perform until it’s finally out there.

POD is like any other investment: you have to weigh the pros and cons, before deciding whether it’s the right route for you. But it’s also an investment in yourself. When you look at it that way, the reward is worth the risk.  

Ed Robertson 

1 Comment

Filed under Articles, Book, Entries by Ed Robertson, Essays, Nonficition, Publishing, The Book's Den Newsletter, The Writing Life, Writing

One response to “Pros and Cons of Print-on-Demand

  1. Very concise and helpful…I liked how you weighed it out…if you know exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it…I see no shame in going the POD route. Unfortunately I dabled with it a few times before finally “getting it right,” but now I feel I have a breadth of knowledge (built on mistakes and success) that could be of use to others out there weighing the options. The stigma of “self-publishing” can build a little character, too! A little adversity is good for the soul.

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