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Small-Scale Traditional Publishing

When to Consider Small Publishers with Print Runs over Self-Publishing

We are passionate about supporting writers, so this article lays out situations in which the print run approach, which is used by Tulip & Hound, might be the right – or wrong – choice for authors to publish their books compared to other alternatives.

When It Is Not the Right Choice

There are only a few ways in which a book can be published. Here are the ones where publishers using print runs do not do well:

  1. The author wants ebook only.
    Print runs and our model are only applicable to publishing books that will be available in print. For ebooks only, it is better to self-publish or engage a specialized publisher.

  2. The author is working with a traditional publishing company.
    Small publisher with print runs would not be a better choice. At least in our case, even though we can offer higher royalties, we cannot offer the same scale of distribution and selling.

  3. An Amazon-only paperback.
    The best option here seems to be, curiously, to self-publish through IngramSpark with a 30% discount.1 On an $8.99 260-page paperback, the royalty would be 20%. Our own model would yield only 15% on Amazon in this example, but it does unlock other channels.2

When It Might Be the Right Choice

Small publishers using print runs can offer an interesting alternative to authors who are considering self-publishing or have been self-publishing. The model makes it possible to offer books at price points that are comparable to large publishers, and with larger share of the list price left for bookstores and the author.

Let’s take a look how this works, what possibilities it offers, and what limitations there are specifically in our model.

Printing Books

There are only two approaches to producing a book: printing on demand with individual copies made as they are ordered, and manufacturing in print runs at larger volumes, typically on offset presses.

Printing on demand is the manufacturing method of choice in self-publishing, and it is used by most small publishers. It is closely tied to its distribution channels. It has many advantages which are detailed on websites of companies that offer these services.

Tulip & Hound is a tiny publisher, but we are in the category that does not use print-on-demand. Our goal is to offer good terms to authors and bookstores and to contribute to the environment; and all that takes money. Printing books on demand might not seem expensive, but it is, especially compared to offset printing.

Using print runs allows us to drastically lower the production costs, and use this reduction for the following:

  • List the book at a competitive price,
  • Offer an attractive discount to bookstores, and
  • Give the author higher royalties.

Competitive Price: Lower price does mean smaller per-book amounts for the bookstore, the author, and the publisher. On the other hand, if the title is priced too high, it will not sell. Print runs allow us to be competitive, sell more books, and give everyone a better deal at the same time.

Bookstore Discount: Bookstores need a minimum discount of 40%. (Note that this is different from IngramSpark discount.3) We built our model to allow for a 47% discount.

Higher Royalties: Lastly, our model makes sure the author gets a higher percentage from the list price than if they were to self-publish.4 And we give more to the author than what we keep.

If these advantages look good, what is the catch?

The Fine Print

You should always carefully consider the terms, if you need to pay for anything, and what the publisher will do for you. In our model, there are no upfront payments, hidden fees, or usurpation of author’s rights. We can even offer advance payments to authors who can demonstrate their book can sell.

Our model does have a limitation though, and it’s important.

Limited Distribution: At this time, our scale is not large enough to be attractive for wholesalers.5 This means a bookstore cannot simply order the book through a wholesaler, and we rely on individual agreements for stocking the books.

We cannot offer the distribution scope and selling that the ‘big five’ publishers offer. Despite this limitation, a print run model is a step-up from self-publishing.


Before publishing our first title, we looked at options based on print-on-demand, but we did not find a way to achieve a good deal for bookstores combined with a good compensation for the author.

That is why we based our model on print runs. It allows us to match or surpass the reach realistically available through print-on-demand channels while offering a better deal to the authors and bookstores that choose it.

External Resources

If you would like to explore this topic further, we recommend the following articles:

  1. It seems Amazon is less eager to sell books distributed this way, so a better option might be Amazon KDP (even though the royalties are smaller). If you have experience with this model, please let us know. 

  2. Note that our model requires paid shipping on Amazon, not to undercut bookstores. Royalties on other channels in this example would be 27% on website sales, and 11% on bookstore sales. The advantage is more pronounced on hardcovers because they are very expensive in print-on-demand. 

  3. IngramSpark wholesale discount has to cover also the distribution cost. A 40% discount for bookstore requires a 55% IngramSpark wholesale discount. 

  4. The comparison is based on self-publishing a given book at the list price and discount that is achievable through the Tulip & Hound model. 

  5. The access to wholesalers is not limited by the percentage they require but by the volume of books sold. 

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