View Full Version : Print on Demand cost vs competition

10-12-2015, 03:28 PM
What exactly do online Print on Demand services have that local copy shops and printers don't? That enables them to be so much cheaper? Am I missing something obvious?

Office Depot's website claims to do print on demand booklets, etc., but their per copy cost is far higher than the online POD places.

Duane Korslund
10-12-2015, 03:41 PM
I think it has to do with the actual printers used if I recall correctly....POD companies, and large scale print companies that print booklets and comics and such product in massive quantites, they use an inline, vs offset printers I believe...It makes it more economical to print color booklets than any of the smaller scale printers....office max and local printers qualify as smaller scale, they dont go for the in line printers due to lack of bulk demand. Sure you'll get one or two people here and there, but in order to make it worth the money spent, you have to have a lot of demand. Companies like Kablam do have a lot of demand.
I could be wrong about the specifics, and I dont have time to research it right now, but the theory is basically right.

10-12-2015, 10:33 PM
Printing is all about economies of scale. Different equipment is more cost effective for particular kinds of jobs than others, and different printers will have different sweet spots based on what they're using and how they choose to be profitable.

Also, printers in a storefront in a major city or town are likely paying higher rents, wages, and local taxes; printers in a remote location might not.

10-13-2015, 02:59 PM
I guess what confuses me is that Kablam does not have economies of scale, as I understand that term...

i.e., I can order ONE booklet from them, and they will charge say $3 (for my page specs)

vs. Office depot's "print on demand", and they want about $9.50 for one booklet of those specs.

10-13-2015, 11:50 PM
@TimR economies of scale in their own operation, I guess I meant, not in your specific project.

KaBlam is targeting comics, so they've structured their operation to be most profitable for them and attractive to that audience. OfficeMax doesn't specialize in POD booklets for small publishers, though they can do it, it's not where it's worth putting their efforts.

Printing is about specialization. There's a cost to switching to different kinds of jobs, and each printer's going to choose an area where they can efficiently profit.

Plus, as I noted, overhead. Your local retail shop probably has a lot, compared to someone operating in an exurban industrial space.

10-14-2015, 02:23 PM
Thank you bramjm for your answer. I still find it curious because it seems like there would be a lot of demand for booklet printing at a local level (not just comics) and thus, somebody could use this Kablam tech to outcompete all the local copy shops. But yes, maybe real estate is a big factor. (Assuming these store are actually making profits --- sometimes I think it's all just a big private equity scheme coasting on fumes.)

10-14-2015, 05:49 PM
You looking for true "print on demand" i.e., printing one copy at a time as your customer purchases; or small print run / digital printing, which allows you to print on a smaller scale than traditional offset, i.e. print runs of 50 to 100.

Because technically there is a difference

10-15-2015, 01:35 PM
But I don't think Office Depot or the UPS Store are using traditional offset printing, right? They're taking your digital files you hand them (or hard copies I guess is an option, if you just scan it right on a color copier.)

My UPS store quoted me something over $4 for one, double-sided, 11x17 color print.

Turn that into a 5-sheet booklet, of 20 mag.-size pages (incl. cover) for around $20.

Order 200 of those, and the price per copy comes down... a little.

But somehow Kablam and online POD places can do one whole color booklet for $3. With special cover stock, trimmed and stapled.

Stewart Vernon
10-15-2015, 02:48 PM
Without getting into details, some of which I do not have at my disposal... The kind of equipment that is used for book production by these other printers is expensive... but once they have them, the actual jobs can be done more efficiently and inexpensively.

Your local Kinko's, however, is not likely to be able to justify the expensive up-front investment that might not pay off for them down the road if they don't get enough local print jobs of the type that would make such an equipment purchase pay off.

Even if you live in an area where you have a lot of creative types who are coming up with their own comics or books, they aren't likely to need a lot of regular high-volume print jobs that would help pay off that equipment.

But the online print shop that advertises throughout the country (maybe even the world) has a better shot of that, especially if they make it their specialty.

Now... I haven't checked locally to see prices, but there are a couple of high-volume publisher-type printers within an hour of where I live. One of them in RTP, NC, printed trading cards for some major companies a while back... so if you live near a print-shop like that you might have a better chance of getting better price because they too already own the proper equipment and are getting big jobs to pay it off, so they might welcome smaller jobs sometimes for some added profit.

10-15-2015, 11:45 PM
Yeah Stewart explained it better than I did: certain equipment pays off better for different kinds of jobs. The sort that's profitable for a walk-in shop like a UPS is not going to be the same for one doing books like Ka-Blam. A walk-in shop's going to buy one kind; Ka-Blam's going to get something different.

They are both digital print on demand, though, essentially the same technology. Differentiated from traditional offset in that the image used to produce the duplicates is a temporary electronic construct.

There aren't and I blame myself for bringing up this term inappropriately above economies of scale in digital. Offset's front loaded with a bunch of setup costs that get amortized over a longer print run, so once you hit that number, the cost per unit goes down (the old printer's joke about "keep running it until it's free.")

Tough, because you want to work local with people you know. There's a cost because they're not set up for your job. But it may be worth it if you need to have a person that you can work directly with.

10-16-2015, 01:27 PM
I guess it is different equipment.. Here's a picture of a POD printer from Wikipedia:


I will add an answer of my own that occurs to me, is that the online places have a marketing plan behind their low single copy price. They want to build up a catalog of titles, and maybe the few big sellers/ buyers will support the many that don't sell a lot (but still require setup time.)

I do wonder still though -- If these useful, inexpensive-to-operate POD machines are so expensive that only a few national/ global places can afford them, how do the POD machine producers make any money? "We sold 5 printers, the market is saturated..."

I mean, couldn't every mid-sized city support at least one local POD printer? Considering that all the business in town would go to them, if they advertised that they charge 1/5 or 1/6 what the competition does.

ps. My personal reason for wanting to work local is mainly just to avoid the cost and time delay of S&H. It makes it difficult to print a test copy too, because then your wait time is doubled, to place and receive a larger order.

Stewart Vernon
10-16-2015, 01:43 PM
I do wonder still though -- If these useful, inexpensive-to-operate POD machines are so expensive that only a few national/ global places can afford them, how do the POD machine producers make any money? "We sold 5 printers, the market is saturated..."

Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but Doctors have the same situation when setting up a private medical practice. Things like an X-Ray machine are REALLY expensive, so most Doctors go WAY into debt when they first open their practice and only pay off equipment over a long period of time using the equipment and billing for services.

The company that makes its living off selling those X-Ray machines makes a bundle off each individual sale, but goes a LONG time between sales sometimes. That's part of why the equipment is so expensive too... if more people needed it, the cost might come down.

Home printers that almost everyone wants have come down to next-to-nothing prices these days... but the more specialized the task and higher-quality output, the less people actually need them. Also, the print shops that need this equipment don't want to be replacing high-volume machines every year... so these machines need to be built to last... and that cuts down on frequent sales too... so the prices stay high.

There's probably only a handful of worldwide manufacturers that sell the high-volume, high-quality equipment... so they can name their price and make up for the lack of volume sales and stay in business doing it. They might also pepper their sales with some low-volume, low-quality alternative to sell larger volumes to have some regular income to keep the lights on too.

10-16-2015, 09:44 PM
Again, Stewart nails a great comparison there.

So while, as noted above, by some purely technical definitions PoD is a machine that prints and spits out a book as you stand there, it's really a category of printing. One of the most common machines for that is a really expensive Xerox DocuTech with a lot of optional add-ons.

Something that Stewart kind of touches on, too, is the cost of the consumables. Not only is that machine a huge expense, but the toner you need to get, the service, the special paste, that's where the company, who is the exclusive supplier of those, makes the money in the long run.

Among the things that sets apart a good printer — IMHO, service being the main one — is how they maintain those machines. Some will make sure they're clean and calibrated, others are going to just turn out whatever quality comes out.

You're smart to keep an eye on shipping costs, that's something that adds up, often after you've committed to the order. Any rush there will do you in as well.

It's all about trade-offs. Printing's been around an awfully long time and though some aspects of technology have changed, the people who do it successfully have worked it out.

10-17-2015, 02:51 PM
Thank you both.. I suppose that will have to content me, though I'd rather just harbor a vague suspicion that local copy shops are charging way more than is justified for their shoddy products......