A while back I took a tour of the Lightning Source facility in LaVergne, Tennessee hoping that I might use them as the printer for The Fiddler’s Gun. After sitting down to talk with a representative and looking at all the services and products they provide, I’ve decided to go elsewhere. It came down to price and quality. First, let’s talk about price. Because POD (Print on Demand) printers like Lightning source offer the option to print as few copies as a single book at a time, the price per book is drastically higher than that of a book printed at an off-set printer and ordered in numbers of a thousand or more. For many who publish outside the mainstream, they will not sell more than 50 to 100 copies in the lifetime of their book, so it makes sense to pay a higher rate per book to avoid overprinting and being stuck with boxes upon boxes of books in their garage, not to mention incurring the huge monetary debt of the print run.
By choosing to print The Fiddler’s Gun at an off-set printer I’m stepping out on faith with the hope that I’m going to sell more than just 50-100 copies. I’m not leaving it to chance, though. I look at the entire publishing process as a business. I’m willing to put myself at risk financially because I’m willing to put in the long hours, the research, the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to make it work out in the end. When I made the decision to publish independently I had to take a step back and objectively consider whether or not I could do it without losing my shirt. Whether I succeed or not is still in question, but I’m moving forward with eyes wide open. And what I see is that it’s much more feasible to print a large number of books at a low cost and devote the man hours necessary to sell them.
So what about quality?
POD books look cheap. I can spot one a mile away. The paper is of a lesser quality and the pages often tend to have a bit of a wave to them that I never see in traditional printing. But I could probably live with that if it weren’t for the cover issues. The only option that a POD printer offers for paperback covers is a glossy finish, and glossy looks cheap. Period. Go to your bookshelf and see for yourself. The cover is the first thing a reader sees of your book and, like it or not, books are judged by their covers all the time.
The products and services that Lightning Source offers are certainly valuable and efficient for some applications such as textbooks and other non-fiction in which the presentation of the printed word has far less impact than it does in publishing fiction. But if I’m aiming to put a high quality, beautiful book in the hands of my readers (and I am), then I can’t afford to sacrifice the caliber of the printed book for the ease of a low-risk investment.