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I would agree that not all POD production houses are vanity
publishers; that is not, however, to say that Trafford is not a vanity
publisher. As I understand it, they truly are.
Vanity publishing is, simply speaking, publishing where the primary
costs are paid by the writer--compared with the traditional publishing
model in which the *publisher* paid the costs (and often the writer in
the form of an advance against royalties).
Thus, by pointing out that the majority of POD publishers *are* vanity
presses is not to disparage them or the methodology...merely to state
an established fact. As in every other business, there are good and
bad firms in all phases of publishing--including the vanity press.
For someone seeking to "do his own thing" and "on his own dime" a
vanity press is often a reasonable avenue. For others, who burn to be
published but who cannot sell their work to a traditional publisher,
it may be the *only* feasible route to physical book output.
All parts of publishing are being affected by POD...which is, after
all, only a *method* of printing and distribution.
In fact, short-run offset presses have had on-press plate imaging
available for some years now. These allow the image to be
electronically transferred directly to the press, bypassing many of
the older pre-press functions that involved negatives and separate
plate making, and making the setup of the press much simpler. This
reduces labor, which is after all a major component of printing
What is necessary, then, is to calculate the point at which printing
at an offset house makes sense in terms of quantity. As has been said
before, it is usually best to choose a printer who is set up for book
production...very often, with a web press of some sort--especially for
An earlier point--that a self-publishing author can use Word for the
master--often results in a product that *looks* like it was done in
Word with all the limitations that entails. (See earlier thread on
typography and word processors...).
Where the "premium services" come into the equation depends upon the
services the writer *needs*. Let us suppose that the writer is quite
capable of mechanically composing attractive and printable pages...but
has a definite need for an *editor.* Is it a benefit to be able to
cheaply produce a product badly in need of revisions?
A full service publisher--vanity or otherwise--will offer editorial
services. Of course, freelance editors are also available on the
market, often less expensively than using those working in a vanity
People who have little experience with printing and publishing, I
think, should learn to think of the physical part as a manufacturing
business. What equipment the printer has and how it is set up has a
large bearing on how efficient they can be--so two different printers
may charge wildly different prices based simply upon how efficiently
they can produce a particular job. That is why, for example, a book
specialist is far preferable to a general job printer for books even
if all other factors are equal.
You may also find it interesting to know that the majority of printers
do relatively little binding. In fact, the majority of bound documents
are sent out to binderies--although many printers will do relatively
small "perfect binding" jobs such as booklets and the like.
So--the equation for this kind of calculation is at times a complex
one. As others have said, your willingness and ability to market your
work is crucial...and a "full service" publisher may not be a
reasonable answer. For example, many POD publishers are not at all
well represented in the book stores--for one thing, the prices are
often too high for the "customary" markups given in the bookselling
industry. For another, the POD publishers are often not well
represented in the various trade selling avenues such as distributors
and the National Booksellers' Convention.
Thus, as a rule, if you are going to self-publish you should
definitely have your own marketing plan and be prepared to carry it
forward without relying upon the POD publisher's representations of
helping you market. If they come through for you, fine...your efforts
will simply add to your success. If not, your efforts may represent
the large majority of what is done.
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