There are quite a few print on demand options out there to choose from, so how can you go about narrowing things down to the best one? My advice is pretty simple: Do your homework. Ask questions. Research the heck out of it and check references. Actually, that's the same advice I'd suggest for an author who's making a choice between two or more traditional publishers.
I'd like to think I've done some of the homework for you on one option, Dog Ear Publishing. Ray Robinson is one of the founding partners of Dog Ear. I've known Ray for many years, going way back to when he was the computer book buyer at Waldenbooks. When I heard that he is running an on-demand publishing organization I asked him if he'd be willing to do an interview for my blog. He graciously agreed and offered the following insight:
JW: What are the key services Dog Ear Publishing offers?
RR: Back in another lifetime (2005 to be exact - a lifetime in technology) Tim O'Reilly wrote in his blog about self-publishers changing the world of publishing. Dog Ear wants to do that - and we offer service designed to allow authors to take advantage of truly targeted, cost effective, professional publishing of their works. We bring authors the opportunity to deliver their product to their customers one book at a time. We perform all aspects of the publishing process from copyediting to book design and production, through printing, fulfillment and marketing. We bring authors the opportunity to monetize their knowledge and provide a delivery vehicle to the end user for their content.
JW: There are a variety of on-demand and self-publishing operations out there. What is that you feel distinguishes Dog Ear from the others?
RR: Dog Ear is the only self publisher rooted in the professional / traditional publishing market - we've built hundreds of books for traditional publishers - Wiley, Pearson, Harper Collins, Thomson, and many more. We bring expertise learned over years in the publishing industry to each of our authors' books. Dog Ear is also the only self publisher offering a financially viable model for self published authors - our costs are designed to allow our authors to sell books - slightly higher up-front costs are more than offset by our significantly lower printing costs and higher profit margins. Dog Ear was the original self publishing company (and only one other exists today) to pay authors 100% of the profit from book sales - virtually all self publishing companies pay royalties, but all we really do, after the initial services are performed, is print books. Why should they reap a greater reward based on retail price point? We all have a fixed cost of printing (in almost all cases, we all pay the exact same price for printing!) - it's only fair that we charge a reasonable print cost - not take a royalty from the sale.
JW: Based on the contents of this page on your website, you're pretty up-front about the lower prices and better package features you're able to offer your customers. How are you able to do so much at such a low price?
RR: First is efficiency - we've spent years creating processes and proprietary systems to build books. Each of our production team members can produce far more than any other production team in our industry. See my answer to the second question above - we've done this for a long time. Second - if you look at many articles (even back to Tim O'Reilly's from '05) most of our competitors average 'per book' units sales is somewhere south of 50 units. Ours is over 10 times as many. Dog Ear Publishing authors sell books - and while we take a much smaller per unit profit than any of our competitors, there is still profit in each sale. Many of our authors come back for 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th books. So far our record is 7 books from one author. There are competitors that offer much cheaper pricing for their services - you'll see that I always tie book sales / purchases into my comparisons. If an author doesn't want to or believe they can sell more than 150 copies of their book - then we aren't even close to the least expensive option. Dog Ear is focused on authors with a longer term focus on selling books at a larger profit.
JW: What advice would you offer the prospective author who is currently trying to make the choice between a traditional publisher and an on-demand one like Dog Ear?
RR: If an author has an initial desire to see a traditional publishers logo on their book - then we always recommend they try the agent / traditional publisher route first. Self publishing caters very very nicely to authors who are focused on total control, have a targeted product with a defined market, who desire a greater profit - AND are willing to assume the risk of publishing themselves. Self published authors must be capable of handling a large portion of their own marketing - Dog Ear offers a number of targeted, technical, marketing programs - all designed to supplement the author's efforts. Here's an article on why to self publish on the Dog Ear site.
If you've decided to go the self publishing route - whether as your first choice or after exploring the traditional route - there are some things you should do, and they are fully explained in an article I wrote for Writing-World.com.
We have a number of authors who have been offered the chance to go 'traditional' after successfully self publishing their books. All but one chose to continue self publishing - the profit picture was so much stronger. To be sure, all of these books would be considered 'second' or even 'third' tier titles at a traditional house (they all sell less than 2,500 units a year), but with self publishing these authors are taking home $15-$20K per year, vs what would probably be only hundreds of dollars if they were in the traditional model.
JW: Where do you see the book publishing market heading in the next several years? Are on-demand publishers likely to carve out a larger share and will it be at the expense of traditional publishers?
RR: Self publishers will never replace traditional houses - we can't compete with the money and power brought by large profitable product lines and best-sellers. It's evident now that POD has a place even in traditional publishing models. Dog Ear's goal is to attack niche, targeted markets - markets that may be too disparate for a large organization to reach effectively as well as provide an alternative resource for authors unable to find (or unwilling to search for) representation in the traditional market. Our goal will never be to deliver large quantities of printed products to bookstores and have them pushed on to bookshelves - it isn't effective or efficient, really, even for the best-selling titles. Our approach is to create truly professional product, with a realistic cost structure, that is promoted and delivered directly to the consumers most likely to need and purchase the product.
I see the industry moving in two simultaneous directions - best-selling books will become even more 'mega-bestsellers', but fewer and fewer of them will exist. The secondary and tertiary titles will continue to drop in unit sales via traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. Self publishing companies and independent publishers will fill this niche more frequently as more authors realize that the profit is greater - delivering product either direct to the end consumer or via the online retailers. All done one book at a time in many cases - printed as needed.
As an example - an author can profitably publish a book through Dog Ear in most cases by selling around 500 units - even counting those sold through distribution like Amazon.