The Difference Between Book Printing & Book Publishing

David Rogers


Here at Advanced Print & Finishing Book Printing, we often hear some form of the following question: what is the difference between book publishing and book printing?

A couple of decades ago, that question would have been fairly easy to answer. But the book publishing world is changing quickly, and the answer takes a little more explaining these days.

Since book printing is the more straightforward of the two, we’ll start there.

Book Printing

Advanced Print & Finishing is a book printer, though book manufacturer may be a better descriptor. In addition to printing, we also are responsible for binding, lamination and any other processes involved in creating the finished book.

However, we do not provide editing, marketing or other services in addition to the printing. Like most book printers, we print files as they are presented to us (though our prepress team ensures these files print exactly the way you intend them to).

While this is the definition of a printing company, many book printers today are offering additional services. Advanced Print & Finishing, for example, offers layout and graphic design services.

Other book printers have even added full publishing services, which is where the line between printing and publishing can become unclear.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Publishing

There are a variety of types of book publishers, and the following is an overview of the major delineations. Keep in mind that many publishers today don’t fit squarely into any one of these categories; there can be overlap between them. Well known examples are the Big Four book publishing houses: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette Livre.

Traditional Publishing

Traditionally there has been one main type of publishing, now appropriately known as traditional publishing. This is what most people refer to when they talk about publishing.

A traditional publisher buys the rights to publish a book from an author. In return for those rights, the publisher is responsible for all aspects of manufacturing, marketing and selling.

This means the publisher will have the book printed, get it into stores (traditional and online), and then also market and promote the book.

Because the publisher is paying for all services, the contract that the publisher signs with the author entitles the publisher to the money from sales of the book. The contract will specify a certain amount of royalties will be paid to the author from those sales. The contract often includes an advance for the writer, as well.

Because of the risk to the publisher, they understandably are selective in choosing which works to purchase. Most of the time, attracting the attention of a traditional publisher will be done through an agent instead of directly from the author.

Self Publishing

While the definitions of self publishing are wide and varied, there is one factor that thoroughly delineates it from traditional publishing: anyone can publish any work, provided they have the money to do so. There is no selection process like traditional publishing houses.

But there are quite a few self publishing methods available to you. Here are a few:

Perhaps the most common meaning of self-publishing is that the author acts as a traditional publisher. This means you are responsible for every aspect of your work, from writing and editing to printing and marketing. Of course, you also are responsible for paying for everything. You can outsource some aspects of the process (just like traditional publishing houses do), but it’s all your responsibility.

You Sow, You Reap

In return for this work, you get to choose exactly what you want to print, and you keep all money made from the books.

The downsides, though, also are obvious. The work is hard and you typically don’t have a connections and/or a complex marketing machine to help make your book a success. The financial risks are large.

Get Some Help Along the Way

There are services available that offer printing, editing, marketing and other services as a package, but still allow the author to print whatever they would like.

Companies offering this sometimes include book printers themselves, and usually offer a variety of packages that can include ebook creation, ISBN numbers, author websites, distribution and copyright registration, as well as other services. Some of these companies then take a share of the sales, while some simply have an upfront charge for all of the services chosen, and then the author keeps 100 percent of the royalties from sales.

Hybrid Publishing

Finally, there are new companies emerging lately that are a hybrid of traditional companies and self publishing companies. What this tends to mean is that authors get less in advances (i.e. sometimes none at all) and less promotional assistance then they may receive from a traditional publishing company. In return, however, they retain a larger royalty share.

Typically at companies like these, titles still must be chosen to be published, which separates it from the combination style approach where anyone can print anything. The companies don’t necessarily have the large and influential marketing and distribution channels available at traditional publishing houses, but do have offer more experience and help than an author attempting to do everything his- or herself.

The hybrid model varies largely from publisher to publisher and is consistently evolving, so there’s no exact definition of hybrid printers at this point.

Print On Demand

While print on demand is not a specific type of publishing, it has facilitated the rise of many of the types of self publishing.

When all books were printed on offset presses, the setup costs were simply too high for it to be cost effective to print just a few copies of a book. However, the advent of digital printing reduced the setup cost significantly and made it possible for an author to print just a few copies of a book. Read more about the details of why this is in our article discussing the differences between print on demand and short run printing.

Print on demand has been particularly great for authors that need a few copies of certain types of books and don’t necessarily want to present their book to a larger audience. This includes genealogy books, yearbooks and more.

With all the options, it’s easy to see why folks have so many questions about publishing these days. It’s definitely not as clear as it used to be.

If you have any other questions or need clarification about what we do here at Advanced Print & Finishing, always feel free to shoot us an email at [email protected], or give us a call at 888.664.8166.