Publishing Comparisons (POD vs POD)

(Updated because I can’t believe I didn’t include Scribd!)

(Updated again for some interesting International info for non-US folks trying to publish on Amazon!)

I had my mouse cursor hovering over the Upload button at, but I am truly thankful that I took more time to research the POD / self publishing / vanity publishing horizon before I settled on a publisher for my current project. No, I’ve not settled on that publisher(s) yet.  Thanks for asking.  I was originally leaning toward, but all bets are off at the moment.

There may be several dozen ways to organize this data, so I didn’t. This is a semi-random info dump of what I’ve found so far.  Some entries are lump-able into categories, and others just kind of stand on their own.

Since I don’t have a legal department, I’ll issue a disclaimer anyway.  This information is all gathered recently across many web sites. For all I know it is already outdated somewhere.  This information is for rough comparisons only. Your mileage will vary.

Most of these publishers are a mix of paper/digital, so I did not differentiate unless there is something unique in their approach.

NOTE ->  All places where I report the cost of a copy of a single book for an author, it is either a 5.5″ x 8.5″ or 6″ x 9″ paperback trade book – color cover and black text on white paper @250 pages (or similar as described on their page).   I’ve tried to give similar data where it is available, in a similar pattern in the text.  It is extremely difficult to match apples and apples across these many web pages.  

The other cost I list is the minimum cost for your first hundred books, which is the minimum setup fees and book costs with NO additional services selected.  Also no discounts are accounted for, and my math may be fuzzy, but I tried to be consistent.

Mind your security while you browse these sites. Some of these pages are truly horrific throwbacks to not only Web 1.0, but Windows 98 or something.  They tease with a little information and require you to register so they can send you more data.  I did not bother registering with these sites, assuming they either didn’t know how to spell “Internet”, or they were up to something else evil.  Really folks, this is the 21st century. Put your data out where we can find it, or some of us are just not going to play that game and you’re losing authors. Allrighty then?

I may also have missed some significant publishing vendors.  Let me know and I’ll include them as an update.  So here we go.

POD and Self Pub (paper/digital) Publishers (in no particular order)

Most of these entries have editorial, layout, book design and marketing packages that can be purchased. Sometimes the packages are bundled. 

iUniverse [] has a separate service for everything.  If you’re the author who needs a lot of services, the kind of traveler who demands room service and excellent concierge service, this is perhaps your publisher.  I would not be surprised if they have services for their services.  Setup fees range $599 – $2099.  Author cost per book (for our example size as stated above) is $11.19.  The minimum cost per the first hundred copies (your promotional stash) is $1718.  Layout, design and editorial services are abundant.  They don’t seem to have much of an author community, but they do have author podcasts going.  They also offer hosted web sites to market your book.  Only books, no other media.

Lulu []  also offers a suite of services for editing, layout, cover design, and etc.  There are no setup fees, but the services can rack up the cost quickly. The author cost for one book is $8.53. The cost per the first 100 is $853.  Lulu also handles CDs, DVDs, audio books, PDF downloads, and some other media as well.  There is an authors forum area, and they brag about their technical support.  For a confident author with an editor friend and a graphics friend, Lulu can be a low cost entry point effectively.  Lulu has storefront pages for your book collection that is a fairly staid template with your customized background image.


 []  opens their setup fees from $598 to $1298.  The author cost for a book is $9.83. The minimum cost for the first hundred books seems to be $1581.  Authorhouse will grant a free ISBN number, but they didn’t say anything about US Copyright registration.  They also brag on their technical support.


[]  Scribd is the single eBook-only venture I came across (but that is not what I was looking for so that’s appropriate).  You may upload any document to Scribd, and readers can read a sample online for free.  If they purchase that book, they may read it all online, or download and therefore print it.  The author may set any price, and keeps 80% of the revenue.  This is seemingly a streamlined system (I’ve not tried it yet) and the home page is already throwing books at the viewer’s browser, which I like as a marketing approach.  The downside is that the browser must load the iPaper application, which streams the document to the browser, and therefore takes a bit of time to load.  This feature has taken some heat in some forums I was reading through.  Scribd has a fairly complete FAQ area to welcome new authors, so that’s a plus. []  This is one of the sites that requires registration, so I didn’t investigate it very thoroughly.  One odd thing is that a hosted ISBN is $99, and an indie ISBN is $125 and the barcode is another $25.  You can buy 10 bar codes in a block from the source on the Internet, plus bar codes, for that amount.  If you have nine more books in you, I’d venture elsewhere.

CreateSpace [] This one also requires registration a little sooner than I would have preferred.  The author cost for a book is $3.66 (or less if you upgrade your package). They offer a free hosted ISBN, and an indie ISBN for $35.  They pay royalties as follows:  Retail is list price -20%, and Amazon is list price -40%.    They offer hosted web sites for your book.  One big plus is that they handle multiple media formats (including the only video service I found so far).  CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, so if you publish here the next step for marketing should be a breeze!

Xlibris [] Packages run from $299 to $12999 (whew!) and the author cost for one book is $13.19 (whew!). Royalties paid are 25% on retail sales, and 10% of Amazon sales.  The minimum cost for 100 books therefore is about $1618.  

Mill City Press []  This group has a different approach. They claim to only charge the wholesale printing cost to the author without a markup (which is only $3.90 for our sample size), and the author keeps 100% of the royalties.  They also claim to not use book cover templates.  Packages are either $1497 or $3798.  The cost per the first hundred books is $1887.  The less expensive package does not cover things like web site fulfillment and ebook creation, which cost extra. 

Wordclay [] charges an initial setup fee of $245.  A single book costs the author $9.41. The first hundred book cost is $1186.   Layout help is bundled with the Premier package at $999.  Hosted ISBN is $99, indie ISBN is $135.  The scrolling box at the bottom of the sites page says smashwords and ebook formatting is available as of May, but I didn’t see any further info about that.

Dog Ear Publishing [] gets extra points because I love their name.  They also have gone out of their way to compare themselves to other POD vendors, though some of the data is dated.  Tsk.  Packages are $1099 or $3499. Author cost for a book is $4.28.  Cost per first hundred is $1527.  Hosted web sites are available, and they will handle US Copyright registration – but they say nothing about ISBN availability (or I missed it).

Smashwords []  Multiple ebook formats without DRM.  No costs up front to set up your ebook. Royalties are 85% of retail sales.  The books are available online for free, in a somewhat controlled window that takes awhile to load (because it has to read in a book’s worth of data or some such).  This is awkward for some internet readers. But hey, they know Kindle from iPod, so there may be hope.

Green alternatives?

Book Printing Revolution  []  Do you insist that your publisher be as green as possible? There is only one publisher that I found to be bragging on their environmental credentials.  BPR (that’s my shortcut, not theirs) is an offset press / digital combination.  The author retains rights.  Minimum print run is 100 copies.  Your book may hit the press in 10 – 20 days.  They offer editorial, layout, cover design, and distribution help.  I found no information abou
t hosted ISBNs, indie ISBNs, or US Copyright registration.  

How about secure (view online-only) PDF, or print as a book options?

Feeling paranoid about illegitimate downloads of your book? You might want to think about Completely Novel[].   This is a UK-based publisher.  There are no setup or packaging fees.  The author cost of one copy is £3.29 (GBP).  Cover design help is available via a free widget of which they seem to be proud.  Books are all available on paper or online in a variety of formats.  They claim the books online are not printable or downloadable, and can be read by anybody as a teaser for the paper edition.  Another angle is that you can publish your document and embed it in your blog, which I thought was a unique approach.

Vanity Publishers (sorta)

Outskirts Press []  A quirky web site that will not cough up much real information without registering (therefore I did not comply).  Setup packages range from $199 to $1099.  Publishing commences up to 90 days after contract.  They claim to pay royalties by check (awesome! ??) have templates for book covers (yawn),  and only include an ISBN at the $699 level package (not defined as to hosted or indie).  Make no mistake – this is your grandfather’s web site!

Raider International Publishing []  wasted my time with a flash intro that did absolutely nothing to explain themselves.  It’s a pet peeve of mine.  Then when I entered the main site the color, fonts, and display contrasted very sharply.  So I’m lead to believe that they are still experimenting with this intarweb thingy…  Raider wants you to submit your manuscript for consideration.  How nice of them!   Listen, are you going to trust a place named “Raider” to submit your manuscript to?  I’m just sayin’.  Setup and publishing packages range from $699 to $2499.  Think about it – you have to submit your manuscript and then you also have to pay the setup costs.  I really have no idea what they think they’re doing. 

Books go to press up to 6 months after the contract is a ‘go’.  Six months?  Geez, I could go faster on Gutenberg’s original movable type press, in German, translating from Latin.  I don’t know either of those languages.  They offer layout help and talk about international printing options, but I didn’t pursue those avenues fully.

No, I’m not a comedian, nor am I a professional critic of web pages. But as a consumer, I have my preferences, right?

NOTE: International Authors! Trying to distribute via Amazon?  You have two options, either or CreateSpace. I’m not entirely sure of the connections you might need for I found out that CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, and they require either a bank account in a bank that has a branch in the US, or an address to send the check to before you proof your first copy.  Contact the tech support department of either publisher for more info.

Lessons Learned?

Do your own homework. Some of these prices are easily out of date.  Some of these policies may not be in effect by the time you read this blog entry.  Also, if you Google around, some of these outfits have been accused of being scams.  Is it worth your while to pay $499 for a marketing package that is only going to write a blurb to paste into a news release?  Keep in mind it is entirely possible to pay thousands of dollars, and sell only a dozen books.  There are no guarantees.  Read the fine print!

Find your comfort zone.  Many of the base packages are fairly hefty in cost, yet they contain elements that I can certainly do myself.  I’m somewhat handy with graphics programs, I can handle marketing blurbs, and I have at least a fuzzy idea about how to get visibility for my work.  Your mileage may vary.  If you need these services, go with the package you need for the price you’re willing to pay.

Strike your balance.   There is a huge difference between publishing cost, and the cost of printing the books themselves.  If you publish a book for free but you have to spend a fortune for the books to send as promotional copies, you may not have done yourself any favors.  If you pay for a marketing plan that boils down to sending out a newsletter to some dead-end outlets, and/or they send
you a stack of postcards and news release forms, did that really help you? What exactly did you pay for?

Think it through to the end!  Ask about return policies!  Some booksellers in some markets might see as high as 70% return rates. This means there are books coming back that somebody is going to have to eat, right?

Last rant:  I am absolutely amazed that only a couple of sites knew anything about smashwords or Kindle.  Or DRM.  I was hoping to be more informed about electronic and paper publishing convergence, but I’m a little disappointed in the exercise. 

Now then, I’m off to find my ibuprofen because I’ve typed too much.  Cheers!

13 thoughts on “Publishing Comparisons (POD vs POD)

  1. CafePress and also have self-publishing options. These would be the two I would look at, as they already have an established consumer base.

  2. Lightning Source is another option. It’s entirely DIY-based, but they offer much better distribution than anyone else. Their pricing info is hard to come by, but I’d guess that for a 250-pager, the cost per unit is about $4.27. Unlike CreateSpace or Lulu, they get you listed beyon (CreateSpace doesn’t sell internationally, so your foreign readers are out of luck). Set-up per title is $92.88. Oh, and you can try out their Espresso Book Machine project, which lets people buy your book on-demand in bookstores.

  3. Check into Angela Hoy’s BookLocker as well. I think her prices are lower and she’s a little more hands-on through the process. She works with Lightning Source. You might also want to check out a local book packager in your area. I decided to work with a great packager in my area, which is Philadelphia: PM Gordon, because 1) I’m into buying local and 2) I’m especially into working with Doug Gordon and Peggy Gordon, the owners, because I know them. I will be going through the process in a few months for the first time, with a book of personal essays I edited for a Philadelphia writer, so I will be starting a blog about the experience at my website at
    (sign up for an email notification and I’ll let you know when the blog has started!)
    Thanks for all this information; it’s really important that we all keep informing each other in this growing community of independent writers — otherwise we might fall prey to yet another industry that hijacks our power!

  4. I enjoyed reading your article. I could tell you spent a lot of time researching these companies. If you are looking for more information on self-publishing and print on demand technologies, please check out this open-source project from the Rochester Institute of Technology, called the Open Publishing Guide. This blog entry will be posted on our site. Thank you for this excellent break down of self-publishing options!
    -Rachael Gootnick

  5. Debra is right, this is a good resource. It is important that independent writers keep each other informed, and subsequently imperative that information reaching them is accurate. As a professional publishing consultant and representative of Outskirts Press, I’d like to correct a few pieces of information for readers.
    Outskirts Press is a custom, on-demand self-publishing option in the same vein as organizations if the first category like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, and Lulu. In fact, I work with many authors who transition from those publishers to Outskirts Press for a variety of reasons, vanity publishing not among them. Perhaps it’s a matter of impression or semantics. Neither Outskirts Press nor its authors consider themselves a vanity press.
    Outskirts Press does include customizable book covers at each package level, and exclusive full-custom covers are available as well:
    ISBNs – necessary for distribution – are included beginning at the $399 Sapphire package level. Packages can be compared side-by-side on the Outskirts Press website for author convenience here:
    Finally, easy website navigation is important, and feedback is always welcomed. Here is link to the Outskirts Press publishing overview page:
    Thanks to all for sharing information and resources.

    1. Hello,

      Question: their added services seem a double charge for what you already paid in the package. Isn’t it?

  6. I would like to get published. But I really would like to meet a good publisher who is not out to fleece me.Whre can I get such?

    1. The more well known outfits are pretty legitimate. I would have to encourage you to just do your research, check their web sites, and search for critiques or reviews of their services to be sure you’re comfortable with your choice.

    1. I started with Lulu, but have not been active there. I really like Smashwords for purely eBook production. I don’t think there’s a paperback printer that really gives the author a good deal unless you’re buying thousands or something.

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