What is Print-on-Demand?

What is Print-on-Demand? Learn more from the experts at Lulu

Print-on-demand companies of all sorts, from Lulu for books to Printful for t-shirts, provide a way to print custom designs. The POD business model also incorporates or works closely with dropshipping fulfillment services. For example, Lulu not only provides POD books, but we also ship those print orders to your customers! 

What is Print-On-Demand?

Print-on-demand is a method of printing where you supply the contents and a network of printers makes books (or other products) as customers order them. Print-on-demand (POD for short) is great for businesses because it’s cost-effective, low-risk, and gives authors and content creators extensive control over their products. It’s also the most environmentally friendly way to print books—a significant factor in helping Lulu become the first B Corp-certified self–publishing company!

With print-on-demand, there is no entry cost to print your content. You can use Lulu to upload your book files completely free and order exactly as many copies as you need.  

Most print-on-demand sites will use PDF files to print your product. That’s exactly how the process works at Lulu—when someone buys your book from your online store, we use the PDF cover and interior you provided to print a copy of the book and ship it to your customer.

POD slashes the upfront cost to print and allows you to create books without maintaining stock on hand. The technology now exists to produce books of the same high quality as offset printing, allowing you to offer on-demand products and shipping with the minimum setup cost.

Use our Book Creation Guide to learn how to prepare your PDF files for Lulu.

Book Creation Guide

Our free guide to creating your book PDF files and preparing your work for publishing and printing with Lulu.

Print-On-Demand Books

Have you ever wanted to buy a book, only to learn that it was out of print? What does ‘out of print’ mean? Well, historically, it meant the publisher wasn’t printing the book any longer. Most often because traditional publishers print thousands of copies at a time to save money. 

Print-on-demand book printers don’t have that issue. That means you can sell products without having to worry about the book being in stock. 

You can write, design, and publish everything from your home. With ecommerce services, it’s easy to create your own WooCommerce or Shopify store using Lulu Direct to connect our print-on-demand services. And with freelance professionals and a burgeoning service industry around book creation, you can easily find help to create and sell your books like a pro.

Your Book, Your Way

Sell books on your website with Lulu Direct.

Sell Your Book,
Your Way

Sell books on your own
website with Lulu Direct.

The burgeoning creator economy fosters a change in our online buying habits. Yes, Amazon is still massive and useful for buying tons of things. When you need a lamp or a computer monitor or a bag of dog food, Amazon is there. But what about when you need something unique? Personalized gifts. Indie music. Books.

Print-on-demand is the natural adaptation for content creators and entrepreneurs. This needn’t be limited to authors—businesses use books and manuals, artists make lookbooks and photo books, and content entrepreneurs use books to establish and build their authority. Non-profits might sell calendars to raise money. Educators at all levels create workbooks or custom curricula. 

Print-On-Demand And Ecommerce

While print-on-demand has revolutionized publishing, it’s in combination with ecommerce tools that we’ve seen the landscape of online retail change. If you have a product to sell (like a book), you need more than an efficient means to create that product. You have to be able to sell it to your fans

That’s what ecommerce is all about. You use affordable companies (usually at a monthly fee) to handle payment processing for you. That gives your readers assurances that checkout is secure and simplifies selling online for you.

Just look at these companies revolutionizing online commerce:

Ecommerce Logos

And thanks to Lulu Direct, our ecommerce ready print-on-demand app, you can integrate Lulu’s printers with your Shopify or WooCommerce store. Best of all? Using Lulu Direct is free!

How Lulu Direct Works

You can learn a lot more about Lulu Direct on our site, but here’s a quick rundown of how the service works.

First, you need to use Shopify or WooCommerce for WordPress. 

Lulu Direct & Shopify Print-On-Demand

Lulu Direct works with all Shopify plan levels, from the most basic Shopify Starter to their enterprise-level options. Once you have your Shopify store set up, you’ll add the Lulu Direct app and follow the setup instructions to add your files and shipping costs. 

The Lulu Direct app includes a calculator to help you plan your retail prices and start selling your books in no time!

Watch Our Lulu Direct & Shopify Video Guides

Lulu Direct & WooCommerce For WordPress

WooCommerce is a retail plugin for your WordPress site. If you’re already invested in using WordPress, WooCommerce is the best way to connect Lulu’s print-on-demand for your book.

Using Lulu Direct and WooCommerce is done through your Lulu account. Just sign in and go to My Stores to get started. We’ll walk you through connecting to your WordPress site.

You’ll need to publish your books using Lulu before you connect them to WooCommerce. Once you’ve set up your store, you’ll be able to select from your published books to make that book available for sale on your site!

Watch Our Lulu Direct & WooCommerce Video Guides

Shipping Your Print-On-Demand Book

Shipping times for print-on-demand products are often longer than you might expect (thanks to Amazon for distorting our expectations about shipping times…). That’s largely due to the production time required to print, bind, cure, and package your books. Book printing companies like Lulu are always going to be a little slower when it comes to shipping your books, just because of that production time.

But there are numerous benefits you’ll enjoy when you use print-on-demand! First, you’ll always be in control of the product. Imagine you publish your book and get a few sales, only to hear from one of your customers that there is a major typo on page 273. Annoying, to be certain, but you own the file and can easily correct the error and upload the amended file. Now all your future customers will see the correct version and your first few buyers have a unique, very-limited edition first printing!

Additionally, we offer fully-automated fulfillment. That’s more than just a mouthful of text—it means you can set up printing, shipping, and retail prices for your book, then save a payment method to remove yourself entirely from the buying process. When someone buys your book, all you’ll have to do is watch your revenue increase!

Finally, you’ll have options to customize your site, your book, and even the packing materials. When Lulu drop ships your books, we let you add your own logo and message to the packing slip, creating a fully white-labeled experience. Your buyers don’t ever have to know who printed your books, only that they’re buying them from you!

Making Books Buying Better For Everyone

While print-on-demand might mean an extra day or two for your readers to get your book, there are a plethora of benefits to offset that delay. For you, it means no upfront print costs or storage for boxes of unsold books. And you can forget about out-of-print because that’s a thing of the past. 

There are environmental benefits too. Lulu is a certified B Corp, adhering to the highest standards for environmental and social good—something we couldn’t do if we had to print and warehouse books. Printing books on-demand means they’re only transported once; from the printer to your readers. 

The benefits of print-on-demand make it easy to see why this is such a popular option for creators from authors to educators to entrepreneurs and artists. 

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager

Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.

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Great blog, these are some good ideas that is extremely relevant, something more useful and interesting. It is very useful. Thanks!

Patricia, i am experience same with Outskirts Press. Lulu is a good place. considering publishing

Okay, thank you. I published with Outskirts Press. They charge $25 a year. I missed payments and they say I have to keep paying now and pay for those missed years. I can’t do that.

I want to know if your print on demand service charges rates by the year? And if they do, does the author have to pay back-fees when they miss any year of that payment? Say missing paying for three years.

To follow up Augustine’s post and Paul’s reply, I do think it is a pity that Lulu doesn’t provide more marketing tools. I would love to be able to tell my online customers that they get a discount if they buy more than one of my books at a time. Or a 3 for the price of 2. More importantly, I would like to be able to give my friends and colleagues and even agents a personalised Coupon code that they could use when they promote my books at conferences, workshops and anywhere. They might even use this in their own publications, catalogues, fliers, etc. Any books bought with that code would share some of the profit with the promoter. This is not rocket science for Lulu’s programmers, but I’ve suggested it several times and there hasn’t been the slightest interest. I feel certain that it would motivate enough people to promote each other’s material.

This was a useful post, but left out one issue: pubicity. I have published academic books with Oxford Univ. Press, Penn State Univ. Press, Catholic Univ. of America Press, and Cornell Univ. Press. Yes, they do all the set-up etc., but most importantly, they advertize their books, sell them at conventions and conferences, and have the “status” to get them reviewed in journals and magazines. Recently I published another book with in “in-house” press—because I wrote it for the organization. The production aspect too more of my time and I doubt the publicity will be very great. But the ultimate market was the organization.
That said, I have, as “Dominican Liturgy Publication” published some score of books through Lulu. These are books for which there is a “captive audience” of people who want them: mostly they are Gregorian chant or litrugical texts. Yes, this cuts out the publisher and is fast and “what I want.” But the major sacrifice is having someone market the book. I love Lulu, but their “marketing package” is nothing like the marketing of a commercial or academic press.
So, what is best depends on your audience and what is necessary to get the book before the public.

Thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.

Thank you for the good news

Nicely explained. POD is a great avenue for those of us who do not aspire to be the next Hemmingway.

Before I discovered POD publishing, I ended up with boxes of books I didn’t even want to sell because my work had advanced. I’ve donated quite a bit of work published this way. POD and ebook publishing allow me to make my work available with almost no overhead.

Great blog post nice one for posting, Warren

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