The Six Essential Traits of a Great POD Printer

by Peggy on February 11, 2012

Are all print-on-demand printers created equal? NO.  Of the five top traits of a great print-on-demand printer listed below, which one is a must have for any self-published author? You can’t afford not to read this article if you are evaluating POD printers.  Don’t give up. There are excellent POD printers out there—you just need to know how to find them.

Before I published my book,  Self Publishing for Virgins: the first time author’s guide to self-publishing, I spent six months researching my options with various print-on-demand companies. What I found was surprising, and sometimes, discouraging.

While most of the companies offered similar services such as interior book layout, marketing, book cover design, and editing, the cost for those services was over-priced and in many cases, under-delivered. As I continued my research, I began to see patterns of real abuse—companies that insisted on setting the retail price for an author’s book low while charging 50 percent or more of the list price to print author copies. Outrageous.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel. I found three print-on-demand printers that treated authors fairly, and charged fair market prices for editing, design, and layout services. As a result of separating the wheat from the chaff, I came up with a list of the six essential traits of a great POD printer. Without further editorializing, here they are:

6 Essential Traits of a Great POD Printer


  1. You retain the rights to your book—this shouldn’t be an issue, but it happens. Always read the fine print before you upload your book on any POD site. I recently read a POD agreement that essentially stated that the author was liable for any charges incurred for the publication of his book, even if the POD refused to publish the book. Always print out and read the agreement before hitting the I Agree button.
  2.  Make sure your book is movable, should you want to change printers—this brings us to the sticky issue of ISBNs (Industry Standard Business Numbers). The ISBN is a 13 digit number which appears on the back cover of print books sold in most retail stores. Most POD printers will supply this number to the author free of charge. If you decide to take that number, your book will not be transferable to any other printer, although you will still own the rights to your book. This happens because embedded in the ISBN’s 13 digit code, is a three digit publisher’s identifier code. That means that your POD printer, if they supplied the ISBN number to you for free, is the publisher of record for your book.  This opens up a whole new discussion about the publisher of record. You should always have the option to provide your own ISBN. If you would like more clarification on this and other publishing matters, read my book, Self Publishing for Virgins.
  3.  You should be able to set the list price of your book—many PODs insist that they set the retail price of your book. If your printer insists on setting the retail price, you can bet that the list price of your book will be on the low end, while the cost to print author copies (copies you buy to sell directly to your readers), will be set high.
  4.  You should never pay more than 15-20 percent of the retail price of your book for author copies—this is one of the two most critical requirements. You must be able to buy author copies cheaply. If you don’t you will not have enough profit left in your book to offer other resellers a discount. Most indie bookstores, book fairs, or other retail outlets will want a 40 percent discount to sell your book. If it costs 50 percent to print, five percent to ship , and a 40 percent discount to the retailer, that leaves five percent for the author.  If your book costs more than $2-$4 dollars to print, you are over-paying, and worse than that, you won’t have the profit margin to sell your book through third party vendors.
  5.  No minimum orders—many indie presses, and PODs alike insist that the author order 100, 200, 250, 500 or even more books each time they order. If your POD printer demands a minimum order, run away! The very essence of print-on-demand means that you print books on demand—when you need them, and only as many as you need. If you are making a presentation to a group and you anticipate needing 25 copies of your book, you should be able to order only 25 books without paying a premium for a small order. Never use a POD printer that insists on a minimum order.
  6.  Ancillary services should be competitively priced—it is important that extra services that an indie author may need are provided at a reasonable price. With all PODs some services are more viable than others. In general, I would not spend a lot of money on marketing plans provided by POD printers. You, as the author, are in the best position to market your book. Other services like editing, interior layout, and book cover design should be offered at fair market rates.

Now that you know what to look for, who should you use? My recommendations are for the new author and for the experienced author/publisher. and, are both excellent sites for digital (e-book) publishing. has recently begun offering print-on-demand along with digital publishing. For now I would wait until their print program is more clearly defined.

Do you have questions? Have you used a POD printer who requires a minimum order? Have  you used a small press that requires a minimum order?

Article by Peggy DeKay

Peggy DeKay is a former newspaper columnist, award winning writer, and the author of   Self Publishing for Virgins: The first-time author’s guide to self-publishing. DeKay is a book coach, blogger and the host of The Business of Writing Today Podcast.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

salim e-a ebrahim August 18, 2012 at 11:34 am

I forgot to ask: With Kindle publishing my book does it make much difference if I do not publish with Smashwords because Kindle supplies Apps for use on other pads and devices?


Peggy February 18, 2013 at 4:09 am

Great question Salim. While I am a great admirer of Mark Coker, the CEO of, the reality is that Smashwords has less than a ten percent market share of the e-book market. Since Amazon’s KDP Select program has been so successful for so many authors, Amazon has garnered even more of the e-book market. I think of it as economy of scale…spend most of your time getting your book on the two largest markets…Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s Together these two sites own 95 percent of the e-book market. Smashwords, Kobo, and all the rest are chasing the remaining ten percent. Hope that helps. Thank you so much for listening. Great question.


Peggy June 30, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Thank you for asking. I would always, especially as a new author, be on as many platforms as possible. I am doing a blog post later in the month on e-book aggregators. Smashwords is currently partnering with several companies and countries to make your publishing experience and reach greater. Here are the major player where you should have a presence:
Kindle, iBookstore (Use an aggregator such as Smashwords or BookBaby), Kobo, Barnes & Noble. I recommend uploading directly to Barnes and Noble, Kindle and Kobo.


salim e-a ebrahim August 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

A great article, informative and to the point.


Peggy February 18, 2013 at 4:10 am

Thank you Salim.


Peggy June 30, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Thank you.


Lilli Adams April 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I used to self-publish my book about my living kidney donation “Donor Girl.” I did a fair amount of research and found them to be the most reasonably priced; no minimum orders; a fair author book price; and personal service. My book is readily available on as well as some other sales sites. Once ordered, books are delivered quickly. I have been extremely pleased as a first time author. I was very happy to see you recommended them after doing extensive research. You have to put in the work yourself, but it’s worth it.

Thank you!

Lilli D. Adams
Author of “Donor Girl”


Peggy April 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I love the idea of your book Lilli, what a great way to help others and what a wonderful and courageous thing to do. I am glad you liked your experience with CreateSpace. Thank you for your comment.


Connie Williams April 4, 2012 at 2:08 am

This line is valuable information: ” …You should never pay more than 15-20 percent of the retail price of your book for author copies…”
If I price my book at $14.99 retail, knowing I shouldn’t pay more than $2.24-$3.00 is information worth knowing. Thanks for helping us novice writers, and thanks for all you do!
Connie Williams


Peggy April 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Thank you Connie, My goal is always to let authors know that there is a way to make money and keep down their costs. I appreciate the comment.


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