Print Distribution – Warehouse or Print-on-Demand ?

POD or warehouse for booksIf you are interested in eBook distribution –  check out this article. This time though I want to talk about the old and new when it comes to paperback distribution.

Most writers we work with understand that eBooks are a new and exciting development in the world of publishing. What they don’t realize that print-on-demand (POD) has also made a huge change in the way paper books work.

Warehouses and Distributors Work With Bookshops

The large book shops in New Zealand (Whitcoulls and The Warehouse) won’t even talk to you as a self-published author. That’s not because they hate self-published authors, more that they have a “central buying system” which is  designed to work with distributors and warehouses not individuals. Their answer would be the same to you if you had a single plastic toy to sell, or a cute home-made widget. They only deal with distributors who offer them a 100 different plastic toys, widgets, or books.

Now as a self-published author you CAN get your book into these retailers – but you’ll need to go via a book distributor, and a couple who work with  Indie authors in New Zealand.

The process is something like this:

  • Get a distributor to agree to take your book on (they will only take on what they think they can sell);
  • Deliver around 500 copies of your book to the distributor;
  • Expect to lose about 40% of the sale price to the books hop and another 30% (approximately) to the distributor, you pay for the printing.
  • You will get paid once the book is sold on the terms of your contract with the distributor.

Issues with this process for a self-published author is:

  • You carry the up-front cost of printing and the risk of returns;
  • You make a very small profit (if any) once you take into account the print costs and percentage required by the bookshop and distributor;
  • Your book won’t necessarily be featured in a bookstore – it will likely be down the back shelves, spine out, because your name is not Random House and you can’t afford to pay for display tables near the front.

Print-on-Demand Distribution – By-Passes the Warehouse

With pure print-on-demand one copy of your book is printed when a customer buys it. The book is printed and shipped direct to the customer. The book is never out of print or stock. This is how Amazon (via their company ) delivers your book to anyone who orders it, whether they are  in London, New York or  Bangkok. It’s also how BookDepository works they order the book from Amazon get it printed in the UK or US and then ship it to New Zealand.

With print-on-demand it’s literally set and forget for the author –  I have one book that I’ve never held a printed copy of – but its been sold all around the world as a POD paperback.

What most authors probably don’t realise is that when they get a book  printed by a local printer in New Zealand – they are using the same  technology that Amazon uses. It’s also the technology used by many of New Zealand’s small presses. There are two main issues  with POD books:

  • quality – the print quality is not as good as commercial off-set printing (used by large traditional publishers);
  • price – the price is higher per a book than off-set printing (but off-set printing will of course need to print a lot more books

You can of course still use this technology and then contract a distributor to get your book into bookshops. Or you can sell your book yourself direct, or you can approach  smaller specialist bookshops who regularly sell indie books (Unity Books, some Paper Plus Franchises).

Indeed for most authors there’s no reason to not combine using a local printer for some of the copies, and having the paperback available on Amazon  to reach an international audience.

Image (c) Sura Nualpradid /


  1. Krsnendu on October 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Any recommendations for fairly priced local printers?

  2. Sarah Anderson on November 19, 2021 at 8:30 am

    The problem with print on demand services like Ingram Spark and Amazon is that by the time you pay for 500 books to be printed, then the cost of shipping books from Australia to NZ (the closest POD service), and then factor in that when you give your books to a distributor you really only make about 30% back, you are at a loss, so it’s not a viable business model. I’m with Krsnendu—does anyone know any fairly priced local printers which will do a small print run of 500 or so books?

    • Lis on November 19, 2021 at 10:47 am

      I agree printing is a huge expense – that’s what is so attractive about eBooks for authors, but I guess we like holding onto our physical books too! 500 is a actually quite a big run for local printers in NZ: most will price right down to 10 books – but obviously more is cheaper per a unit. Have you tried About Print in Wellington (ship nationally)

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