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What is Print-on-Demand?

Print-on-demand is a method of printing where you supply the contents and your printer makes books (or other products) as customers order them. Using print-on-demand (POD for short) is cost-effective and gives authors and artists extensive control over their products.

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

How Does Print-On-Demand Work?

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 drop shipping fulfillment services. For example, Lulu not only provides POD books, we also ship those print orders to your customers! 

In almost all scenarios, print-on-demand will work with PDF files to print your book. POD slashes the upfront cost to print and enables authors to publish without maintaining a stock of books on hand. The technology now exists to produce books at the same quality as offset printing. Now any published author has the opportunity to create their books.

Uploading your designs to Lulu simply means preparing your PDF to meet our specifications and providing some basic details about the book (like title and copyright info).

Book Creation Guide

Includes PDF specifications, spine guides, and formatting terms to help you print your book.

Lulu Self-Publishing Book Creation Guide for New Authors

Print-On-Demand Books

It has never been easier to create custom products. Print-on-demand services like Lulu have created an entirely fresh market for creators. You have the means to write, design, and publish all from your home. And with freelance professionals and the burgeoning service industry around book creation, you can easily find help to create and sell your books like a pro.

This creator-friendly environment comes with a change in how people buy online. 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 book creators. This needn’t be limited to authors—businesses use books and manuals, or look-books and photo books. Non-profits might sell calendars to raise money. Educators at all levels create workbooks or custom curriculum. 

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 where the buyers are. 

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

Shipping Your Print-On-Demand Book

Selling your custom book online is a three-part process. The publisher allows you to create the print-on-demand product, ecommerce tools provide checkout, and finally, you need to connect to shipping networks to fulfill the order. Most ecommerce services like Shopify include shipping connections or host drop shipping applications to make this simple. Lulu’s platform, like many self-publishing services, offers all three in one. 

If you use an ecommerce platform to sell your book and a POD service like Lulu Direct for printing, you’ll have a variety of shipping options. Our Shopify App pairs the built-in shipping options Shopify offers with our own drop shipping service to keep shipping rates comparable. And best of all, it’s all white label so you can sell directly with your own branding!

Finally, because on-demand products are not waiting in a warehouse to be purchased, there is a production time you must allow for. While next-day shipping is an expectation, for print-on-demand products, it’s unrealistic. Most companies make this very clear when users are buying, but you should be sure your readers know that we create your books on-demand and may take a few extra days to arrive.

Making Books 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 store books. Printing books on-demand means they’re only transported once; from printer to the reader. And there is no waste because there are no extra books printed. 

The benefits of print-on-demand make it easy to see why this is such a popular option for creators from authors to graphic designers. Everyone with an idea can create something unique and make it available easily through online shopping tools and global shipping networks.

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager
Paul H

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.

13 thoughts on “What is Print-on-Demand?”

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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. Hi Patricia,

      No fees, annual or otherwise. Our revenue system is designed such that you set a price and earn 80% of everything over the print cost. For any books you create and want to buy yourself, you just pay the printing cost.

  5. 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.

  6. Augustine Thompson

    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.

    1. Hi Augustine,
      You’re absolutely right on all accounts. For the most part, self-publishing is a means to either target a niche market or get something out there if you already have a substantial follower base to market to. It is unlikely self-publishing will offer comparable marketing efforts to a big publisher anytime soon. At least not at a price a self-published author is likely to want to pay.
      Thanks for you comment!

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

  8. 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.

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