Definitions: POD, subsidy publishing, self-publishing and more

You will encounter a great many unfamiliar terms in marketing and publishing. Here is a useful guide.

Perhaps the most important terms to understand are "print-on-demand (POD)," "subsidy publishing" and "self-publishing." The first two are often confused, which subsidy publishers tend to encourage. They may refer to themselves as "POD publishers" to avoid the perception that they are subsidy publishers, also known as "vanity publishers."

Subsidy publishers require an up-front fee to publish and market books. They usually make their money by charging fees to authors, not from selling books. For further information on subsidy publishing, see the article Using a subsidy publisher.

In contrast to subsidy publishing, POD is a digital production process that allows a book to be printed in small quantities at a reasonable price. POD enables authors to produce their own books for on-demand sales through Amazon and other outlets and to make a profit.

Commercial publishers may use POD rather than offset printing to meet a small short-term demand between editions of a book or to test-market a book. With POD, the 500th book costs just as much as the first book. Offset printing's economy of scale usually kicks in at about 500 to 1,000 copies. For further information on POD, see the article How to print on demand and make money. Self-publishers may also use POD if they have limited funds to pay for an offset print run and/or to get their books in print initially to begin marketing and selling.

Self-publishing is the business of producing and marketing one's own works. It may use POD or offset printing. Self publishing will mean more work and investment. You will have to hire an editor and designer, manage printing and do your own marketing. You may also hire a publishing consultant to help you through the process. If you use offset printing, you will have to come up with the money to pay for it. However, with self-publishing, you will have much more control over your book and will realize a greater profit. The article Deciding to become a self-publisher covers these issues in more detail.

For other publishing terms, see the Rainwater Press Publishing Primer.