The PODfather

The recent post about the story of Intrepid to print made me think. I sometimes assume that as we’re all designers and publishers we all know all we need about the subject. I’ve self published stuff but I still learnt from John’s experiences.

So here are some of mine:

First of all, I am completely blown away by what you can achieve working on your own in your bedroom but I accept that my products don’t look FULLY professional. Some of my graphics, particularly, are a bit ropey but my games are out there, are playable and are, I think, value for money.

Secondly, I didn’t think the amount of money I’d get coming in justified the purchase of a professional DTP product like IN DESIGN. As a teacher I got my hands on a free copy of Serif’s PAGEPLUS, and I also downloaded and experimented with the free open source SCRIBUS program John referred to. Both were up to the job but I wasn’t. Too steep a learning curve and, for what? I actually use MS WORD to produce all my products. Apparently the .pdfs it produces aren’t perfect for professional printing but I’ve never had a problem using print on demand.

When you use print on demand services you’ve basically got three choices to make:

Hardcover/softcover. Softcover is cheap and easy, hardcover is relatively expensive and only worth it if you’ve got a good reason for doing so.

Black and white or Colour Interior. Covers are always full colour. Usually colour interiors are on glossy paper and relatively expensive to print. So generally you wouldn’t produce a full colour interior unless you’ve got some really good artwork and layouts – basically like the big boys produce. B&W is good enough for most purposes.

Size – I used to do A4 books but not all POD printers produce this size in all countries. It is NEVER made clear but it seems that sometimes, if you produce an A4 book, the POD company prints it in Europe so your American customers end up paying for transcontinental shipping. So I switched to American Letter size and this seems to be printed locally wherever the order is placed, reducing postage costs. Recently I’ve noticed a lot of Indie RPGs come out in Trade Paperback size, which seems to be almost universal currency in POD printing.

The deal is always the same. It costs X to print a book. You can buy the books from them to sell yourself. If they sell them, you add on a profit margin Y. The book sells for X plus Y. The POD company take out X and usually a share of Y, so you get part of the profit margin.

Over the years, I’ve used three POD printers:

LULU.COM
The first one I used. Easy to use, good results. It used to be very obscure and secretive, however. The web-site is good but if you tried to contact them or speak to someone, it was impossible. It was like a huge automated machine that ran itself. Also it wasn’t clear exactly where printing took place. I suspect a lot of the printing used to be done in Spain and I seem to recall it was LULU where someone in the US tried to buy one of my A4 books but got to the final stage and was stung for massive postage. As I say, possibly transcontinental shipping but nowhere was this explained or made clear. Printing in Letter format seems to solve this issue and things may have improved recently.

Some people use LULU to print their books and get them sold on Amazon. I’ve never explored this option. I don’t use LULU much because of their massive postage costs. About twice as much as it should be and never made clear until the very last screen. You can think it’s going to cost a couple of quid to make a book, go through the entire publishing process and then come to the final screen and find the postage costs twice as much as the book. You can sell your books through Lulu and their system is good but I don’t because I don’t like my customers being ripped off for the p&p.

That said, apparently if you sign up to their newsletter, they sometimes do special offers, like free postage, and that would be a good time for you to stock up on copies of your book. And If I want a proof copy of a book quickly, I’ll set one up on Lulu and order it. They are good quality, easy to use and reliable.

ROGNOW.COM
Also known as DRIVETHRU et al. The website that sells .pdfs of games. Really good website, we should all sell our stuff through it. They now work with a company called LIGHTNING SOURCE to print on demand. Lightning Source are a proper printers and a bit more fussy than LULU. But there’s good help advice on the website so it’s not that hard getting your head around things. I’d say the LIGHTNING SOURCE printing isn’t quite of the LULU, quality, the colour on covers looks a little washed out when they’re held side by side – but that’s the only time you notice.

Getting file approved for printing and ordering a proof takes several days – up to a fortnight in total – and you can’t sell a book until you’ve received and checked a proof.

However, it scores on many fronts. The fact that is backed up by the RPGNOW website helps marketing. And the customer and publisher support is great. Good advice and videos on the website and personal contact virtually on tap.

Postage is reasonable – seems to be the right amount.

LIGHTNING SOURCE offer B&W or glossy colour printing as normal. but they also offer something called STANDARD colour. Basically this is really cheap and nasty colour printing, like comics used to be. I wouldn’t recommend it for full page colour. But if you’ve got colour GRAPHICS, not photos, it works great. Me, I do a superhero game, so it’s perfect. I can produce a standard colour hardback book which I flog for £20. I’d be ashamed to tell you what it costs to produce. Let’s just call it “reasonable”.

They also have great POD for games boards and packs of cards but, unlike books which are always printed and shipped locally, these are currently only printed in the US so the final products are expensive over here due to P&P. Damn!

CREATESPACE
My wife is an Amazon fan. She ordered a recipe book from them once and, when it arrived, it was awful. It looked like an ordinary softcover book but, inside, was like a couple of dozen home made photocopied sheets. She sent it back, full refund etc. However, before she sent it back (I think they actually refunded the money and asked her to keep it….) I looked at it. In the back it said it was produced by CREATESPACE “An Amazon Company”.

Amazon have bought Createspace to be their in house POD. They could have bought better. There are three issues:

1) options are limited. They only do soft cover B&W.
2) though final printing is done locally, for some reason your first proof copy HAS to be printed in the US, so you have to wait 2 months for it or pay a stupid amount in postage. I now proof the book on line and order an analogous proof copy from Lulu.
3) I’ve had issues with product quality. Specifically, Angus Abranson (of all people) complained about the front cover curling and laminate peeling. This IS Amazon so I suggested he return it and complain. Initially Createspace, didn’t respond to my customer concerns but an email to Amazon’s CEO brought them round. As far as I know the issue’s resolved.

BUT:

This is AMAZON! You can upload a .pdf – it’s more,Llightning Source than Lulu in complexity but not hard – approve the online proof and have a book on sale on the Amazon site within a couple of days.

Then ANYONE in the UK, US or Europe can order your book, free P&P, and get it the following day. Printed on Demand and delivered. The following day. It’s MAGIC!

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3 thoughts on “The PODfather

  1. There’s a thread over at Story Games called Compareing POD Services. Check that out. They comparisons got Creative Space, Lulu, Ka-Blam and Drive Through RPG.

    I’ve only been using Lulu myself. The shipping cost has increased horrendously the last four years. They do have discounts on shipping 3-4 times a year, and that’s when you should order anything.

    Lulu is simple to set up and works well. The online shop looks crude and you can’t do much with it. The really bad thing, besides the shipping cost, is how Lulu cuts the pages. Expect white stripes at every second page, even if you know what you’re doing (how to handle bleed). Another thing is that they have messed up the orders half the times I ordered 50 books. I remember one time when I ordered 25 copies of two books each and got 26 of one and 24 of another.

  2. Great post, really useful. Just one question how does the whole proofing work? I get the concept that it’s to check the quality of the print, but I was just wondering how many pages get printed, what does it cost and how close is it to the real deal?

    • Proofing is you order a copy of the whole entire completed book, at cost price. Some companies offer “on line” proofing where you check the .pdf, but this doesn’t show you what the cover looks like, print quality etc. I also find it easier to proof an actual book and markup the errors in pencil.

      1) Lulu you get the book in about a week but this the first time you realise just how expensive the P&P is.
      2) RPGNOW it takes about a fortnight to get files approved and a print delivered if you use standard colour (which would be PERFECT for BHAW).
      3) Createspace the proofs are printed in the US so you wait two months or pay over a tenner for faster postage. It’s actually quicker to approve the book for sale on Amazon and order your copy from them! Trouble is someone might buy the unproofed version if you did that.

      I’d guess you could get copy from all three for c. £10 apiece inc. P&P (if you wait for the Createspace one) so I’d recommend uploading the same files (b&w interior) to Createspace and Lulu and a colour interior to RPGNOW. The you cancp pare them and decide which one to go with.

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