POD is Bad Business

An on-demand book printer at the Internet Arch...

An on-demand book printer at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco, California. This smaller, color printer prints out covers on 11x17 glossy card stock and feeds them into the automation for binding. Image via Wikipedia.


I have discovered a terrible truth about Print on Demand publishing.  I already knew that it was more expensive per book than traditional printing, but what I have learned in recent days is much worse for aspiring authors than most realize.

You see, normally book stores don’t pay for most of the books that you see in stores until you, the customer, actually buy the book.  That’s right, they might pay shipping, but the only persons who typically contribute money to the printing costs of books are you and the publisher.

Except with print on demand..aka. POD.

With POD, the publisher only orders and pays for books that they will stock themselves.  Orders placed by distributors, and the book stores who buy through them (like Barnes and Noble), and not direct from the publisher, have to pay up front to print any POD books with which to stock their shelves or sell at book signings.  With non-POD books, the books are printed and warehoused ahead of time and are typically ordered by stores on credit (something like 90 days) with a full return policy that often gets fully utilized if the book does not move before the bill is due.

So bookstores usually respond to this issue by not ordering POD books at all.

An on-demand book printer at the Internet Arch...

Image via Wikipedia


That’s right.  All you folks who look forward to self publishing your books with POD, along with all you small publishers who think you’ve found in POD an easier, lower-risk way to get books printed and to market, all you have found is an easy way to see your name in print on books that will probably never find their way to a bookstore shelf unless you either become so widely known on your own that you don’t need bookstores, set the books on the bookstore shelves on consignment (with little or no margin for you), or negotiate with each small store whose business model allows them to buy direct from publishers (ie. not chain stores).  Sure, it may be a good deal for you authors who want to personally shake the hand of every reader who ever buys your book or who like buying and hand-carrying your own books to book signings.  But if you dream of seeing your book on bookstore shelves nationwide you will most likely never see that dream realized through POD publishing unless you personally sell enough books to attract the attention of a big-name publisher.

An on-demand book printer at the Internet Arch...

Image via Wikipedia


I spoke with a printer the other day who caters to self-published folks and read through the email that they sent me listing their services.  The things that they offer are tempting and compelling—PDF-to-publish is totally free.  The various marketing services that they offer all seem quite reasonably priced, but when I asked if I can pay up front for the printing and go non-POD, so that the book can be more easily ordered by bookstores for stock and for signings, they said that they don’t do that.  Also, the marketing services that they sell are all important things that all authors who want to be successful should do, but I am doing all of those things already with the help of Cowboy Logic Press and my publicist.

The reason why I am writing this is that the above facts about POD publishing have just killed my release date book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Layton, UT.  I can still hold a cozy little get together with family and friends at a Wendy’s or something, but I can’t advertise to the greater general community for a larger event, I simply do not have the resources to sponsor something that size on my own.  The staff of the Layton B&N, bless their hearts, could do nothing for me.  Even though they worked to make it happen, their hands are tied.

So look out.  I have heard independent publishers and self-published authors accuse the large chain stores like B&N of “good-ol’-boy-networking”, arrogance, and out right discrimination against small-press publishers.   That is not my impression of their reaction toward me or my book.  Several weeks ago, before Into the Dark was listed in B&Ns inventory database, I visited every B&N between Orem and Layton in Utah and received a mix of acceptance and rejection…mostly some level of acceptance.  In fact, some of them behaved in a manner that I can best describe as outright excitement when they saw my galley.  It was only when the book was listed, and they could see on the computer screen that it was POD, that they cooled off.  Two of the stores’ managers were kind enough to explain to me that the only reason they could not hold a signing for me, or stock my book, was because it was listed as POD, and so company policy regarding how they buy and pay for books made it impossible for them to do business with me.  This in spite of the fact that Cowboy Logic paid to print a very large supply of the book right from the start.

Barnes & Noble store at the Layton Market Center, 1780 North Woodland Park Drive, Layton Utah.


I should note that Barnes & Noble are very customer oriented and that you the customer can walk into any B&N in the country and order my novel or any other book that they have listed, POD or otherwise.  B&N also sells my book on their website.

The POD stigma (should it be spelled KOD, Kiss Of Death instead?) will not be on my book for much longer.  Cowboy Logic Press immediately went to work to correct the problem as soon as I told them.  I hope I will get future signings from B&N, though I may have offended them with my pushiness, but it looks like I will not get the POD situation fully settled quickly enough to hold my release party in the Layton B&N as I have advertised.

I will distribute the link to this post to several places where aspiring authors hang out, so that they know.  I hope my experiences in this matter will help someone else.  I for one will never again sign a publishing contract where POD is not explicitly ruled out.  It is not reasonable to ask bookstores to pay up front for an unknown book when they have lots of known books that they do not have to pay for until they are sold.

That and the reseller hesitance surrounding POD just makes selling a new book much harder and more troublesome than it has to be.

~ by Bill Housley on September 8, 2010.

10 Responses to “POD is Bad Business”

  1. POD is a good choice if you want to sell on just Amazon and other online retailers. It’s also good for getting fifty copies of Aunt Mary’s memoir to give to family for Christmas. Whether it works for you depends on your goals for your book.

    To get into Barnes & Noble, it is helpful if your publisher has a distributor or at least a wholesaler, although sometimes the margins don’t work out for a distributor when you print POD. The other option it to submit your book to B&N’s Small Press Division (Marcella Smith). You need to have a good marketing plan, but since you have a publicist that shouldn’t be a problem.

  2. Thank you, Marny, for your enlighting comments.

    However, I think that Aunt Mary’s memoir wouldn’t need an ISBN registration or distributer access, so a good bound galley printhouse might do those 50 copies way cheaper.

    Cousin Bob (the person collecting Aunt Mary’s memoir) should at least get a quote from CountryPressInc.com before going forward with POD. If her memoir is 350 pages long then 50 copies would cost Bob under $300.

  3. I posted this article on http://www.writingroom.com, another writing network that I use. Is that alright with you?

  4. When iUniverse was just getting started, they bought out AOL’s writers club and told the authors, myself included, that by signing with iUniverse they had a contract with B&N that our books would be stocked on their shelves. At first they greeted us with open arms, and I was able to schedule book signings at several locations in L.A. and NY, however it didn’t take more than a year or two for B&N to be flooded with requests from POD authors to hold signings at their stores, and while it was fun for the author to have all their friends show up to support them, there wasn’t nearly enough profit for the hosting stores.

    The writing was definitely on the wall when nearly all of the local Borders and B&N’s got rid of their community managers and totally stopped all of their in-house book events. POD authors can still sign books at local book fairs, or if they have an “in” with a specialty book store, if they’re a mystery writer and can hold a signing at a mystery book store, but there too, if the store owner sees the POD, there is no incentive for them to do so.

    There are very few self-published or POD authors who can sell enough copies of their work to get “noticed” by the “big guys”, but it does happen.

    POD was a great way to avoid the countless rejections by agents and publishers, but it certainly isn’t and will never be an easy road to the NY Times’ Best Seller List, unless they add one for POD, or even e-books, no matter how much time and effort the author spends on promotion and marketing.

  5. One of the things that iUniverse will be the first to tell you, ravenwest, and I’m sure you know, is that there is more to getting your book published than just finding someone to print and warehouse it for you.

    Book signings are a fanbase building excercise, but what you and I are sitting here doing right now is too.

    What is your book? Is it still in print? Tell us about it.

  6. To answer your last question first, my first book, “Red Wine For Breakfast” was one of the first published with iUniverse in 1991, then it was re-published by an independent Florida publisher, not a POD, Lighthouse Press in 2001 along with my second novel, “First Class Male. (about a hero postmaster, a writer and a NY district attorney)

    Both books are still available on Amazon in print and Kindle copy and also in download e-book format at Smashwords. My agent is trying to sign me with a larger publishing house, but it’s difficult since the books have already been out for so long.

    As for the marketing, promotion area, in the good old days (is 10 years considered the “old” days?) Where no one heard the words social networking, blog,tweet, or iPad, I was signing books all over the place, BEA, local Borders, B&N, in NY and L.A. and I had a book signing at the National Association of Postmasters of the US (NAPUS) national convention in 2005 where I sold out all 500 books I brought with me. Should have brought more!

    Once iUniverse began, their contract with B&N made it much easier to schedule book signing events there, but, as I mentioned in my previous post, that stopped in a few months. It was also a bit unsettling when I would go into a B&N and see a huge banner display with someone else’s photo that read “You Can Be A Published Author for only $99!” The going price at that time.

    I’ve just finished my third novel and have sent it off to my agent. If it sells, I have a very good L.A. book publicist who would be more than happy to help promote and market the book..for a price, of course.

    What I am also seeing is a new trend of “sharing” books I haven’t seen in a long time. I keep telling people the term is Best SELLER, not best LOANER. When I tell them I’m a published author, they want to read my books for FREE. Which is also a problem with Smashwords. I’ve had hundreds of people reading the “free” chapters, but only a few sales, because why should the pay for something they can get for nothing? However, numbers do matter.

    If you’re going the POD route, you really need to know the BUSINESS of book distribution and publicity. It’s the other side of the brain from the creativity side and it’s a lot harder than it looks, especially with all the competition out there. Writing a book is the easy part, any way you go, the marketing and promotion part is a lot more difficult. Unless you have $$$ to hire a publicist, its nearly impossible.

  7. Bill –

    I’m so sorry that you got this far in your book journey and are just now discovering the pitfalls of POD. The post that you have written will hopefully serve as an educational piece for others who are in the process and wondering why they are having such a difficult time getting sales with POD.

    It is not impossible to get good penetration, but it is surely much more difficult. If you want true book store STOCKING, not just book store LISTING, you really need a trade distributor, which entails having your book actually stocked at the distributors warehouse for distribution to the wholesale and chain store warehouses and eventually on to the actual retailers locations. Of course, that entails your publisher investing in and paying for a print run long before the books are sold and paid for. The “float” is easily 120 days.

    Here are a couple of blog posts that you might also find helpful:


    • Carol,

      Thank you.

      Here is an update for you and others that follow this thread.

      There is an extensive and informative thread on LinkedIn in response to this post, the largest response by far that I’ve ever gotten from a blog post. Some of the posters doubt what I have said in this article, but I have only repeated what B&N managers have passed on to me.

      My book is listed with Ingram and can be found everywhere, listed like you say, not stocked. It is stocked only in the stores where I have held signings, which have been small Indie bookstores and a Hastings store in Rock Springs Wyoming.

      However, if you check my schedule in the sidebar of this site, you’ll see a group signing at the Barnes & Noble at the Gateway Plaza in Salt Lake City, Utah on the 20th of November. Last week they called and said that they successfully ordered copies of my book and the signing will go off as planned. It is a foot in the door; we’ll see what happens next.

      I’ll also be quite busy doing return signings and débuting my book at several additional Hastings stores over the holiday season.

      If the signing at the Gateway B&N goes well I’ll use that success to resell the book to the other B&N stores that I have contacts with, using the Gateway store as a reference and encouraging them to go through the purchasing method that the Gateway store used.

  8. Just as a follow-up, I do have a group signing at a Barnes and Noble coming up in Salt Lake City Utah and they have confirmed that they could order the books. This was actually the first B&N who penciled me in for a signing before the string of cancellations that followed the book’s listing.

    The signing is on Nov. 20th at noon in the Gateway Plaza for any of you who live in Salt Lake City.


    It is a group signing featuring the following books and authors. Look up their books and see if you want one, then come on down and meet us.

    by Patty Rosvall

    World of Graham (Worlds of the Crystal Moon Series)
    by Phillip Jones

    Morgan’s Pasture
    by Wallace J. Swenson

    A Dog for All Seasons
    by Patti Sherlock

    Into The Dark
    by Bill Housley

    The Golden Spiral (Hourglass Door Trilogy Series)
    by Lisa Mangum

    Danse Macabre
    by Gerald Elias

    Devil’s Trill
    by Gerald Elias

  9. Personally I’m torn on the PoD thing. I published my first novel in August. Pattern Seeker via Amazon. I decided to do eBook and PoD. Tickled at the eBook price but horrified at the PoD price. Due to the length of my novel and the fact that I turned on expanded distribution the book must retail for $22.95 to make any profit at all. I enjoyed reading the string about PoD.

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