If you're self-publishing a book, you have a few choices of how to get your book printed: vanity publishing, subsidy publishing, off-set printing or Print on Demand (P.O.D.).
Both vanity and subsidy publishers print and bind books at the author's expense and offer packages of services that include editing, cover design, interior design, distribution, and marketing. Authors maintain all rights to the books. They are essentially clients to the publishers and that's how they make their money. The main difference between the vanity and subsidy publishers is vanity publishers will publish most anything and subsidy publishers are more selective.
Self publishing is more for authors who do everything themselves. When I first self-published my novel, that's the approach I took. I formed my own publishing company. I hired my editor, cover designer, illustrator, interior designer, publicist, and set up my book with a P.O.D. printer. I also ordered the ISBN number and bar code, which your book needs in order to sell it in the market place.
As a self-publisher, you will eventually come to that moment where you have to make a decision between offset printing and Print on Demand.
Offset printing is when you hire a book printer to print and bind a large volume of books, usually 2500 or more. Offset produces the highest quality, however it can be expensive, because not only are you paying for the costs of printing and binding, you also have to cover shipping and warehousing, which usually requires renting a pallet in a distributor's warehouse. You can store the books at your house, but boxes of 2500 or more books takes up a lot of room. A friend of mine went this route and spent over $10,000 up front just for printing and binding. Offset printing has a higher financial risk, because you have to sell all these books to recoup your investment.
P.O.D seems to be the more cost-efficient way to go these days. I highly recommend Lightning Source. They are owned by Ingram, the wholesaler that Borders and Barnes and Noble, and most small book stores order through. When I was using them for my first book, LS had an incentive for P.O.D. publishers: any books set up with Lightning Source would go into Ingram's library. This means readers can go to Borders and Barnes and Noble and order books. Most self-publishing companies have difficulty getting their books into the system of book stores. LS gives the self-publisher an extra advantage. LS also puts your book on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. And you decide the retail price. The setup fee is relatively cheap. I paid $100. And the last I checked the fee for keeping your book stored in the LS library is $12 a year. They keep two digital files of your book in their library: the cover and a PDF of the interior. You have your own account and you can order copies of your book to be printed and shipped to you any time. If someone orders the book off Amazon, Lightning Source sends the book to Amazon, and you don't have to do anything except collect royalty checks that are profits from each Amazon sale.
With P.O.D, instead of ordering 2500 books at once, you can order any number you choose. This is perfect for authors who just want to print 50 or 100 copies to sell to friends and family or for a one-time event. This year I am using Lightning Source to print a memoir that my grandmother wrote. We're going to print about 50 copies and hand them out as Christmas gifts to family members. You can even order just one copy at a time, if that's all you need. Or 5 or 10, however many you need. For my novel, I often ordered 40 books at a time. I'd take them to book signings, and when I sold out, order another 40.
The quality of P.O.D. has gotten so much better, and Lightning Source is one of the best. I was very pleased with the ink and binding of my novel. The illustrations on the cover and inside came out perfect. Borders and Barnes and Noble carried my book, and managers I spoke with told me they thought the quality stood up to books coming out of NY publishing houses. Lightning Source now has the capability of printing books with color art, such as children's books.
So if you've reached that point where you are deciding between offset and P.O.D., I recommend considering P.O.D. as a fast and inexpensive way to get your book into print. I was completely satisfied with my experience with Lightning Source. Their staff was friendly and the quality of the finished product met my high standards.