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Print on Demand vs. Publishing

Published on Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:30am

The terms printing and publishing are often contrary―and for good reason. Many times, these terms are used interchangeably, and often the meaning and outcome are one and the same. That said, printing and publishing are two distinct aspects of the book production process, and Mid-Continent Public Library offers both opportunities for aspiring and established authors. In the next entry, entitled The Story Center’s Role in Publication, I will look at the specific publication services offered by The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library.

What is Print on Demand?

Print on demand is a book-printing model that does not require a minimum number of books to be printed or ordered. Unlike a traditional printing press that makes impressions of each page, the print-on-demand model prints completed books one at a time using digital files, which are often uploaded directly to the printing company or physical printer. This process allows the author to order as few as one book or as many as he or she would like without having an overstock or inventory of books. 

In the case of online or web-based print-on-demand models, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace/Kindle Direct Publishing, the files are uploaded to an account created by the author, and books are printed as orders are placed. This means that regardless who places the order―the author, individuals shopping online or in stores, book retailers, etc.―the books are created when the orders are made and distributed accordingly. This model of printing requires less financial investment for both the author and the printer when compared to previous printing models, often allowing the cost-per-book price to be reduced. 

What Does It Mean to Publish?

In today’s world of self-publishing, independent/hybrid publishing, and traditional publishing, the lines between printing and publishing can be blurry. Many authors using print-on-demand models do not recognize themselves in the role of self-publisher; likewise, many authors using print-on-demand models falsely assume the printer is their publisher. These undefined roles can cause confusion and unrealistic expectations. 

While printing focuses on the physical product (the printed book), publishing focuses on making that book ready for print―the process. There are a number of ways a publisher can make a book print-ready. Some common ways might include editing, formatting, layout, and cover design. Depending on the publisher and the contract, this might also include marketing, securing reviews, creating advanced reader copies, securing media interviews, acting as or assigning a publicist, and organizing a book launch. Suffice it to say, depending on the publisher and contract, quite a bit can go into the publishing process well before the final product even makes it to the printer.

The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library offers print-on-demand and publishing services for our customers. We provide print-on-demand services primarily through our state-of-the-art Espresso Book Machine, and we’ve published five books to date through our award-winning Woodneath Press imprint, with new publications coming each year. For more information about publication offerings through The Story Center, please visit our website at or contact me at or 816.883.4774. 

Dave B.
Story Center Publication Manager

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