CreateSpace and a brief Print-On-Demand vs. Traditional Printing

I’ve mentioned fairly often that we are going to create a PDF file for the print version of your book and that, specifically, this will be formatted for CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s print-on-demand service. Print-on-demand is a relatively new method for printing books, so you may not be one hundred percent clear on what it is and whether it is for you, so lets take a quick look at printing.

Now, with both traditional printing and print-on-demand methods, you print a copy of your book and someone (possibly you, through your own website, or a traditional book store, from their shelf, or Amazon, through their website, or someone else entirely) sells it, and you and the person who sells it split the profit based on some pre-existing arrangement. Now, with traditional publishing, you print thousands of books because printing in such large numbers means the cost of each individual book is minuscule. However, the initial outlay to print all these books is substantial. With print-on-demand, a book is only printed once it has been sold. The cost of printing individual books is much higher than with the traditional method. However, importantly, you have practically zero setup costs, you don’t have to spend money storing thousands of books whilst you wait for them to sell and you can be a bit more flexible with making corrections after you have gone to press.

The decision about whether to use print-on-demand or not comes down to simply how many units you (realistically!) think you’re going shift in the first few months. It should be quite obvious (i.e. if your marketing budget is tens of thousands of pounds, go traditional. If, on the other hand, it is essentially zero, go print-on-demand.) If you can’t decide, there is very little to be lost from starting off print-on-demand and, if the sales warrant it, moving to mass produce copies of your book. As to whether to go with Amazon’s CreateSpace or another provider is a somewhat trickier decision. On the one hand, it means that your book will easily integrate into the rest of the Amazon store and is instantly available around the world; on the other, Amazon are certainly not the world’s most ethical company and you may not be happy helping them in their evil ways. However, which ever way you go, they are almost certainly going to want you to use the industry standard PDF file, as CreateSpace does. The only difference you might find is whether they want the colours to be RGB or CMYK.

The two standards exist because (as printers use reflective light and monitors emitted light) printers are able print colours that monitors can’t display and visa versa. RGB colours are the sort displayed on a monitor. CMYK colours are the sort printed on a printer. Converting between the two is pretty simple for most people, as, in the majority of cases, the differences in converted colours are very minor and won’t be noticed. It certainly isn’t as great as the variances in colour caused by things you can’t control (especially if you haven’t calibrated your monitor!). The only time it is likely to matter is if you’re writing a book for a corporate client and need to use “exactly” the colours that are used in their logo etc. or if you are planing on using a special ink on your cover, such as metallic gold.

CreateSpace expects colours to be RGB, so if you are using them, you don’t need to do anything (though spending some time calibrating your monitor would be a good idea). If you are using a different company that expects the colours to be CMYK, read the appropriate appendix on how to convert the colours before submitting the file.

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