There are a lot of POD companies out there, and most of them will not tell you the disadvantages of publishing through print on demand. Some companies will offer you blue skies forever. I’ve been told by 1st Books (before it was AuthorHouse), for instance, that for just $598, I could turn my book into a bestseller that will be selling in quantities of 5000 a month. And they’d never even seen the book! Most companies are not this blatantly self-serving, of course, but here’s where we set the record straight. The disadvantages of POD are these:

1. Distribution: Yes, I know we said that distribution was an advantage, and it is…when compared to the non-existent distribution offered by other types of self-publishing. On the other hand, when POD distribution is compared to the distribution enjoyed by major publishers, it’s a serious problem. The difficulty is that although POD books are available in some 25,000 bookstores, most of those bookstores will not stock them.

For one thing, POD books are just that: print on demand. If there’s no demand, there’s no reason to stock it. By definition, POD books are to be ordered when someone wants one. This also means, however, that it’s difficult to get your book onto bookstore shelves. Not impossible, but not easy either.

2. Cost: When compared to books printed in large quantities, POD books are expensive. The same 200 page book that could be printed for two dollars in quantities of 3000 or more, and 75 cents when printed in quantities of 50,000 costs about $4.00 to print through POD. This means it has to be priced higher than books offered by traditional publishers.

3. Availability: Booksellers are still being educated regarding POD and often don’t know how to order these books. Lightning Source once said that Ingram would at some time in the future change their system so that iPage (the Ingram database) will list POD books as having to be “print ordered.” But that never panned out. At this time, POD books often come up on the Ingram system as “unavailable” or they come up as having to be “back-ordered.” This can and does drive both publishers and authors crazy. Many booksellers use systems that do not allow backordering. (See definitions for more details.) When Ingram changes its systems in the first quarter of 2005 as promised, the change in availability of POD books will be tremendous.

4. Returns: Booksellers are in an amazingly risk free position when ordering books from major publishers. Because the big publishers take unlimited returns, a bookseller can order 50 books and then give them all back if they don’t sell. POD publishers cannot compete with that because as self-publishing companies, they don’t usually take returns. This started changing a couple years back when a company called Springboard Logistics took on the risk of returns (for a price) through POD publishers. Some authors also take returns themselves so as to level the playing field, and some publishers are working out methods of taking returns.