Ink, Toner, or E? What’s Best for Your Book?
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Ink, Toner, or E? What’s Best for Your Book?

Today, Michele takes some of the questions self-publishers face concerning formats and printing options. Please welcome her and feel free to ask questions.

Book printing has its own jargon which can be intimidating if you’ve never worked with it before. And the complications are increasing every day, with the current buzz about e-books dominating the news. As technologies evolve and options increase, it’s getting more difficult to figure out exactly which printing (or rather, dissemination) method is best for your book. Having an expert on your side before you take this important step can make a world of difference.  

There are presently three ways to get your book into the hands of consumers: Offset printing (ink on paper); digital printing and print-on-demand (ink or toner on paper); and e-books (nothing on paper). The best choice depends on how you sell books, who your target audience is, and how they (not  you) prefer to read.  

(1) Offset Printing (ink on paper): this method offers the lowest unit price possible when manufacturing books. To achieve the savings though, it’s necessary to print 1,000 to 3,000 books and arrange for storage until they are sold. Once the only method of book printing, today this choice makes the most sense for anyone who knows they will sell a large quantity of books in about a year. (If your time frame is longer than that, the cost of storage and the time value of money begins to erode the savings.) For example, authors who sell books at the back of the room during presentations, authors who have signed up with a distributor, or authors who have a substantial number of pre-publication orders waiting will benefit most from offset printing. The quality of ink on paper printing (assuming you have chosen a competent printer) is excellent. There are virtually no limitations on the type of design that can be accurately reproduced using this method.  

(2) Digital Printing and Print-on-Demand: Here’s where the terminology gets a little muddy. Digital printing can mean ink-on-paper printing in small quantities, or it can mean toner-on-paper printing in small or one-at-a-time quantities. Printers don’t often explain the difference, so it’s important to ask which method is represented on any quote you receive. Either way, these methods cost more per unit than offset printing, but the publisher can order books in smaller quantities or even one at a time as they are sold. If cash-conservation is your primary concern, these methods are worth considering. The ground is always shifting on price, but generally speaking, 500-700 digital books cost the same as 1,000 offset books, so once a steady stream of sales is established, another look at offset printing is warranted. The quality of toner-based digital books is almost indistinguishable from ink-on-paper books…if your book is the typical black and white interior with a color cover. Full color photo books are best printed with ink on paper. If you plan to print with toner, be sure your designer knows this up front. Solid black text will reproduce well, but large areas of  light-gray (such as sidebar boxes) may not print evenly and should be avoided if possible.  

(3) E-books: You thought you were confused before? Well, join the club. The field of e-books is changing so rapidly that it’s difficult for everyone to keep up. With about a dozen file formats and just as many devices on the market (some that will be extinct in as little as 18 months), what should an author do? Don’t listen to the buzz…listen to your readers. At present, e-books are about 2.5% of all book sales, and this figure is expected to rise to 5% by 2014. A surprising statistic, given all the attention devoted to e-books. For this reason, it doesn’t make much sense to release a book ONLY in e-book format, no matter how much the perceived savings may be. No business that hopes to survive can lock out 95% of its potential market. 

One way to make your book available in all the e-book formats is to post  your title on Smashwords.com. They will convert your book to all of the common e-book formats for free and take a small commission on every book sold. Apple just signed an agreement with Smashwords to offer their books on the iPad, which is just icing on the cake. After all, it’s not very useful to have an e-book file without a sales outlet. Unfortunately, Smashwords doesn’t protect e-books. Their point of view is that DRM (digital rights management) reduces sales. This may be true, but if you’re concerned about piracy, then it may be better to work with e-book conversion services who can make sure your book is only readable to those who actually buy it. 

Our advice: For most new self-publishers, the way forward is to keep abreast of new technology while remembering that old habits die hard. Most people still like to curl up on the sofa with a book, even if they do sometimes read on electronic devices when they are on the go. Releasing your book in print and e-formats will satisfy everyone. When your e-book begins to outsell  your print book,  you can always stop printing.


Michele's company, 1106 Design (http://1106design.com) works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. Top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert advice. All available from one convenient source. All offered with our most important service, hand-holding. Prompt, personalized service. Satisfaction guaranteed. We’ll take better care of you and your book than any “self-publishing company.” How may we help you?