book printing

Why do we have suggested minimums for your print run?

This post answers two questions about our quoting process for custom book publishing:

1. Why do we recommend minimum print runs?

2. Why don’t we use print-on-demand services for smaller print runs?

If you’ve ever requested a quote for custom book publishing services from Orange Frazer, you know that we request five primary pieces of information: hardcover or softcover, word count, black and white or full color, book size (dimensions), and quantity (or print run). When a client discusses a project with us for the first time, he/she often has no idea how many books to print, so we offer suggestions based on unique retail goals, the targeted audience, and cost. We want a client’s book to be successful, and we do not profit by upselling clients to thousands of books: often, we find ourselves convincing clients to print fewer books when we know that the investment in a larger print run may never see its return in sales.

We also have recommended “minimums” that vary based on the other manufacturing aspects of a book project. For example, if a client is printing a book in black and white, we suggest printing at least 250 copies, whereas for a full-color book, we would recommend starting out at 500 copies. This is often to keep unit prices low. A full-color book requires special paper that is more expensive, so printing more of these books will drive down the unit cost. These are suggestions—one can print any number of books from one to one million, but we do know what does, and doesn’t, make sense, so we try to offer recommendations for minimum print runs based on our experience.

So why isn’t it cost-effective to print less than 250 books?

Over the course of twenty-seven years, we have chosen the best book manufacturers in the industry to create our books. We rigorously judge the final product, and settle for nothing less than excellence in manufacturing. We want Orange Frazer books to last lifetimes. Books of this printing caliber are not at all cost effective when printed one-at-a-time, or even in quantities of less than several hundred. Unit costs of books in a short print run—e.g. of a full-color, hardcover book—through one of our book manufacturers would be exorbitantly expensive. It isn’t until the print run reaches several hundred that you see a unit cost that offers a client any potential profit margin. We know that because we have quoted thousands of book projects (and will quote thousands more) and so, to save the client time, we recommend minimums that we know will produce a more cost-effective quote.

To answer the second question, why don’t we transition our services to digital, print-on-demand publishing? The self-publishing industry has been trending toward small print runs (or no print runs) and higher unit costs. Print on demand is very cost-effective for beginning authors because books are only printed at the time of purchase. It’s better to spend $10 per book and ensure that every book printed is sold (as it is only printed once it is sold) than spend $5 per book and never sell 500 of them.

We believe that there is a great future for print-on-demand publishing (we recommend it to a lot of potential clients that request quotes from us), but for the clients that choose Orange Frazer, it doesn’t yet make sense.

Because we work with book manufacturers, rather than commercial printers or print-on-demand digital printers, we are able to do projects that many other companies can’t—coffee table books, specialty bindings and interiors, lay-flat books with glossy pages, and so on. Quality and unit cost are chief concerns. We are able to produce books of high quality (in both manufacturing and design) and deliver unit costs below that of print-on-demand alternatives.

But this is a lot to put into an email, so often, when a potential client requests a quote for a print run of twenty-five books, I point him/her toward a print-on-demand service, such as CreateSpace. If he/she requests one hundred books, I generally suggest considering a larger print run, to make the books more cost-effective. And if a client approaches us requesting a quote for ten thousand copies of his/her first novel, I generally say, “Hold up, and let’s first talk about your goal.”

A Guide to Book Printing: offset printing, short-run printing, and print-on-demand

This post defines three very different categories of book printing: offset printing, short-run printing, and print-on-demand. Offset printing: Offset printing is done by machines the size of ballrooms. These machines are ideal for high-quality printing because they offer the most versatility in paper type, cover type, ink type, colors, etc. They are built to produce thousands of books quickly and cost-effectively. Book manufacturers work primarily in offset printing because it allows them to create detailed and unique products—books with sewn bindings, nontraditional cover materials, custom paper, full-color artwork and photography, etc.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective for larger print runs
  • Any dimension, paper type, cover type is available
  • High-quality product with long lifetime
  • All books available up-front

Cons:

  • Investing in print run before sales
  • Only cost-effective for larger print runs

Ideal for:

  • Companies, nonprofits, and other large organizations
  • Clients who wish to use books as professional portfolios
  • Clients who wish to use books as marketing/branding collateral

Does Orange Frazer use offset printing for clients? Yes

Short-run printing: Short-run printing is often done digitally and typically limits the author/client to predetermined sizes and paper types. Short-run books are most cost-effective as softcover 6x9 or 7x10. Because these books are printed digitally, and not by large offset presses, they can be done cost-effectively in smaller quantities. This printing route does not make sense for larger quantities, simply because offset can deliver better unit prices for larger print runs. Like offset, however, a short-run project means that you will have your entire print run up-front. If you want additional books after doing a short-run project, you can choose to reprint and invest in a second print run.

Pros:

  • Smaller quantities
  • All books available up-front

Cons:

  • Higher unit costs than offset printing
  • Limited size, paper, and specialty options
  • Investing in print run before sales

Ideal for:

  • First-time authors
  • Small organizations with limited potential readers
  • Writers groups that publish yearly anthologies of members’ work

Does Orange Frazer use short-run digital printing for clients? Yes

Print-on-demand: Like short-run printing, print-on-demand is done digitally and typically only in a few sizes and paper types. Unlike a short-run project, print-on-demand books are only printed once they are sold, so the author/client does not have the entire print run up front. For a print-on-demand project, the author/client is told how much each book will cost him/her to produce, and the author can list the book on Amazon, paying for its production only when it’s purchased.

Pros:

  • Books are not printed until sold
  • No print run waste

Cons:

  • Higher unit costs than both offset printing and digital, short-run printing
  • Limited size and paper options
  • Final product is often lower quality (cheaper binding, ink, and pages)

Ideal for:

  • First-time authors

Does Orange Frazer use print-on-demand services for clients? No