Author Question – Why Does It Take So Much Longer To Create a Print-On-Demand Book Than an ePub?

You would think that a book is a book is a book is a book, regardless of its final, destination format. Quite the opposite is actually the case. Yes, the content will be the same,  regardless of final format. But, that’s where all similarity ends. The differences between creating the files for POD (print-on-demand) and the files for an ePub are greater than night and day.

Before we go into the differences between creating POD and ePub, here is briefly what they both are. If you are a self-published author and your books are available on Amazon, your hardcopies will be sold in the form called print-on-demand and your Kindle eBooks will be sold in the format of .mobi, which is very close to the .ePub file from which it is derived. You, the self-published author, interact directly with Amazon Kindle Direct. Any eBooks or updates that you upload to Kindle will go live the next day.

In the case of POD, you are interacting only with the POD company. The POD company is a third-party aggregator and will conduct all interaction on your behalf with all online book stores for the sale of your hardcopies. Any POD files or updates that you upload to the POD company will take much longer to go live in the online book stores.

Now here are the reasons why it takes so much longer to create the files for a print-on-demand hardcopy book an ePub eBook:

1. The number one reason is the amount of formatting needed for the print-on-demand book. The hardcopy book is…. a hardcopy book. Every page of the book will be formatted from top to bottom. Every element of every page of a hardcopy book will have its own place on that page. An ePub eBook has very little of the on-page formatting that a hardcopy book does. ePub eBooks don’t actually have “pages” due to the ePub’s reflow capabilities. The contents on an ePub “page” that would show up on your e-reader screen would totally depend on your e-reader’s screen size and the font size that is set by you. You’ll never see page elements such as headers, footers, or page numbers in an ePub eBook because ePub “pages” have no set page length due to the ePub reflow capability. The only significant formatting issues in ePub eBooks are where to start the beginning of  each “page” and the horizontal positioning of elements, whether centered, floated left, or floated right. All ePub formatting is accomplished with CSS. All POD formatting is accomplished by directly placing each element in its designated location on its page. Adobe InDesign enables the use of CSS through its paragraph and character styles. I, however, don’t use InDesign to create print-on-demand files because my clients usually don’t have InDesign. They would not be able to open up an InDesign file that I am working on for them in order to give me feedback.

2. Right on the heals of point number 1 above, the additional formatting requirements of a POD book usually result in significantly more interaction between myself and the author than is the case when I am creating an ePub eBook. It is my job to make the book exactly as the author wants. I use Microsoft Word when creating the POD so I can send updated versions to the author as soon as I change anything. The authors always have Word so they can see exactly what I am doing and provide instant feedback. That’s the way they like it and that’s the way I like it too. The back-and-forth interaction between myself and the author when creating a POD definitely adds to the total time it takes to complete the job – but the end result is that the author gets exactly what he or she wants. And that’s what I want. Occasionally authors will apologize for the amount of feedback they are giving, and that always surprises me. When that happens I try to remind the author that the more feedback that he or she can provide, the better the book will be. I want their feeback.

3. An ePub eBook is only one .epub file. Creating a POD book requires creating two .pdf files. One of the .pdf files contains the book’s content and the other .pdf file contains that cover artwork.
4. The required specifications of an ePub file are much less stringent than .pdf files that will be sent to the POD company. ePub files have to meet the guidelines of the most current ePub standard. I put an ePub through a process called “validation” to ensure the current ePub standard is being met. If I have been careful when creating the ePub file, very few errors will need correcting upon final validation. Creating the two .pdf files for POD is a completely different story however. There are no ordinary .pdfs. These .pdf files must be configured to meet all of the standards of professional printing presses. Without going into details, I found the learning curve to be steep when I first started creating print-on-demand .pdf files for my own books.

5. One final factor that significantly adds to time it takes to get a POD hardcopy out on the market is interaction that you’ll have with the POD company. Compared with setting up an account on Amazon Kindle Direct, an account with a POD company seems like it takes forever to get going. I use a company called Lightning Source for all of my POD and I highly recommend them. But, like any POD company, there are lots of forms to be filled out. Right now I believe Lightning Source has five or six forms that are part of its account set-up process. Really, that’s not a huge deal but just takes a little longer than setting up with any online store to sell eBooks. One consolation is that the POD company will handle all interaction on your behalf with all online book stores from here on out.


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