Vertical Integration vs Printing and Distributing Books

Sometimes we all miss the forest for the trees, and a couple recent correspondences and phone conversations with new publishers brought this point home yet again. I've written extensively about the new print on demand publishing model on this website and in my book, but I've learned the hard way that my readers sometimes try to mix and match components of the model with non-compatible approaches. Specifically, I only advocate using a printer with a vertically integrated business model. In plain English, this means a print on demand printer who can also supply your books into distribution channels and big retailers, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

There are only two printers in the U.S. who fully meet this requirement, Lightning Source and Replica. Of the two, Lightning Source is easier to work with and has the better distribution tie-in, Ingram, which beats Baker&Taylor hands-down. The only other vertically integrated print on demand vendor I'm aware of is BookSurge, who was recently purchased by Amazon, but they don't yet provide access to regular distribution and their pricing model is less flexible than with Lightning Source or Replica. That's the entire list: Lightning Source, Replica and BookSurge.

Without the vertical integration, print on demand is just an expensive way to print one book at a time. If that's all you want to do, you're probably better off buying your own laser printer and binder, and at least you'll be able to control all of the variables. The publisher who wrote me yesterday had read all about print on demand on my site, but when it came time to print her book, she somehow ended up with one of the larger print on demand printers who do just that - print books. Instead of having hands-off access to Amazon at a short discount which allows the publisher to net 50% of the cover price on every single sale, she found herself stuck with the Advantage program, which pays publisher 45% of the cover price and the publisher still has to pay for shipping. Yes, that's the way many small publishers work with Amazon, and it's a vast improvement over the old book distribution model, but you can earn twice as much money with half as much labor by using a vertically integrated printer.

So, when you read about print on demand publishing model on this site, remember that it's primarily based on using Lightning Source, who provides the same services for most of the industry, over 3,000 publishers at last count. The three vertically integrated printers don't have a monopoly on print on demand printing, but they do have a monopoly on the business model. I know some small publishers who are so offended by the lack of choice that they either stick with short offset runs or use POD printers who lack the distribution tie-in, but that stubbornness comes at a high price. If you want to maximize your profits and your reach as a publisher using print on demand technology, stick with the big three - they have no competition.

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