Print on demand makes it easy to sell print books without the hassle of storage and shipping — but it's limited to what the established POD printers allow. What if you want to do a special print run, either for a crowdfunding project, or because you want higher quality print production with extras?
White Fox help authors with special print design and publishing, as well as other aspects of the author business. In this episode, we talk about some of the options available to authors. WhiteFox also have a great free resource on crowdfunding your book.
John Bond is the CEO of White Fox, a premium publishing and book marketing partner based in the UK and U.S. Chris Wold is the sales and business development director at White Fox.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Why are print books still so important even as digital continues to rise?
- When might an author consider a special print run? Slow, artisanal printing vs fast POD
- Design options for special print runs — and how they might impact price
- How timelines compare to POD — and why that might not matter for a crowdfunding project, as long as you communicate timings to backers.
Transcript of Interview with John Bond and Chris Wold
Joanna: John Bond is the CEO of White Fox, a premium publishing and book marketing partner based in the UK and U.S. Chris Wold is the sales and business development director at White Fox. Welcome back to the show, John, and hello, Chris.
John: Thank you very, very much for having us.
Chris: Thank you.
Joanna: It's good to talk about this today. I think this question's important. It's crazy really, but:
Why are print books still so important and beloved in a world that also feels increasingly digital?
John: That's such a good question. When we started in 2012 in London so we just had our 10th anniversary and when we got going, we imagined a world where every project would include an app or an enhanced ebook. And we have done some of those things, but nothing like the amount that I imagined was going to happen.
What's just been astonishing is how many people are still in love with this format that's been around for centuries and which still seems to resonate with people as something which has authority and gravitas and which is the opposite of ephemera.
You can't delete it. It's a rather extraordinary thing.
What seems to have happened actually is the opposite. Maybe of what we thought was going to happen, which is that more and more people want to put more effort into creating more beautiful objects with higher specification and better paper. And it's almost like the two go hand in hand.
As we become more digital, some things have ended up becoming almost iconic objects, which you can still gift, you can still own. So, no one was more surprised than me that has been where we've ended up.
Chris: I have to say that sitting here in my front room, which seems to be, once you start noticing it, it's dominated by bookshelves in our home.
And it is, I think the book as a printed object also is seen as a kind of a reflection of yourself and especially in the home or mine anyway. They're treasured for that reason, but also it is a little bit of a trophy case side of things.
The books that I've held onto for a long time are precious for lots of reasons. But the ones that really stick around are the nicer ones, I have to say. And there's something to be said for something that sticks with you for your move four or five times just for the sake of moving it and putting it back on another shelf in another house, another part of the world
Joanna: I know what you mean. I moved from the UK to New Zealand, then New Zealand, Australia, and then back here to the UK, and there are some books that have come with me all over the world and I've paid for shipping by weight.It's amazing how much I would've paid in shipping.
Both of you mentioned interesting things there and it's funny because actually one of my mottos at the moment —
One of my overarching themes is more digital, more physical.
And that's both work practices. So, actually getting out in the physical world more but also more online, and it's also for books. It's like you say, John, it's surprising in a way.
My question for you is what do we see then in terms of buying behavior? Are people buying just one or the other or both, or even just what we do as individuals?
How is the choice of print and digital affecting book sales across all the different formats?
John: We are not anti-ebook. We love ebooks. Everything we produce, we produce an ebook for, but it's just been fascinating that certainly in the last two years, we've seen what the market has seen, which is a kind of uplift in physical sales.
It was almost as if the pandemic, which for a while, obviously stopped people actually physically going into bookshops and browsing seemed to reinforce this idea of both I guess. The people that were in love with E continue to buy E, and the people that were stuck at home or not traveling were buying physical and that.
So, I think it's, as you say, the two have seemed to go hand in hand, and obviously, there are sorts of books which lend themselves to those respective formats at children's books, or, as I said, gifting and cookery, highly illustrated books. It's very difficult to replicate those as well digitally. But that's our experience.
Chris: Just to jump in there. I would say that I think early days, a lot of the fear was that people were going to be completely agnostic about a format that there was fear of the ebook overtaking the print book because they thought, ‘Oh, everyone's just going to buy ebooks now. And what would happen to him?' And quite the contrary, as you've mentioned, John, the opposite happened.
People are buying books and ebooks and audiobooks of the same book often.
I found myself last weekend, I heard a great interview on a radio program, loved it. He was entertaining, bought the audiobook first, loved that so much but realized it probably wasn't going to work for me on a commute. And the next day, I searched it out of the bookshop. So, he got me twice and I've loved both. Same content.
Joanna: I've done it. I do exactly the same. Very often I'll get an audiobook because I want to listen while I'm doing cooking or whatever. And then I often buy the hardback. So, the more expensive print edition of those audiobooks that I particularly want to look at again, but of course, I don't need to read the whole thing. I just know, right. I want to go back into that chapter and take some notes on that.
And the same, I'll often get the ebook with the audiobook. Like you're saying, I buy multiple and I think that's important for people to remember. You're not going to necessarily cannibalize sales. We have to offer all these things.
We're talking about print today. Most independent authors, myself included primarily use print-on-demand and that's something we're very used to doing.
When might an author consider a special print run? When is it worth the money, and what kinds of projects have you seen at White Fox?
John: Maybe I should start with the last question about the actual projects because they will illustrate the sorts of things that we've done because they've been quite varied.
We worked with a rather extraordinary teacher called David Hargreaves, who co-wrote a 780,000-word, four-volume 100-pound box set of an oral history of the first world war. And he decided that he would like to try and cover the cost of the production of that particularly kind of quirky idiosyncratic project, which he could engage with us.
It was much more difficult for him to engage either himself or directly with a traditional publisher because the project was so out of the box and he managed to actually privately crowdfund that book. He had a mailing list of around 500 people, but he managed to persuade 300 of those 500 people to pre-order a copy of this book, which enabled him to invest in the production, the marketing.
We helped him with that. We produced some assets. There were some videos that actually Chris was part of, to tell people what they were buying into. And he was very successful in that.
He then managed subsequently to sell many thousand copies of that once it actually became available and was in discussions with university presses and things like that. So, that was one example.
A completely different one was a book we did with James Hoffman. He's a coffee nerd and he's an expert in all things to do with coffee, has traditionally published a book, decided he wanted very, very engaged with his community, very engaged with his readers, of his blog.
What he wanted to do was to create a deluxe version of the blog content he kept which was illustrated at very, very minute intricate niche details about coffee, and set up with a more traditional crowdfunding platform, managed to pre-sale again, 800 plus copies, which enabled him to fund the production of a beautiful line inbound hardback 25-pound book, which was really for collectors, really for engagement with his super fans.
Those are two examples of the things where in both cases the writer felt this was something they wanted to do with existing content and wanted to reach a market that was a gateway potentially to a bigger market.
Chris: I think it's worth noting too, that with both of those projects, one was that they felt that the POD has limitations for certain things you can do with it. And it's an amazing system for the right types of books and we encourage many of our clients to take it up. But for these projects, it just was outside of scope and that's okay.
Also, for their markets, their market was looking for something that was as much object as content on it. An interesting side note is that David Hargreaves did his massive four-volume, 2300-page Opus as an ebook, kind of as a, well, let's give it a try. He called up one day and he said, ‘I've just had a company send me a check of some thousands of pounds for ebook sales. And he had thought he would maybe sell 10.' And it still works into many other formats. You can use both channels very effectively together.
John: And James Hoffman's book was an ebook as well. So it's, as we were saying before, I think these are not just always having to be one particular format. There are multiple opportunities for them.
And just to clarify, we also think this model works for fiction fantastically well, and we have a number of discussions ongoing with projects which are in their early stages of people that want to appeal to a core group of fans, having engaged with a network and created a platform for themselves. We definitely think this isn't just something that can work for non-fiction.
Joanna: Absolutely. And in fact, one of the famous Kickstarters is Brandon Sanderson's Kickstarter for his fantasy novels of over 40 million US dollars, which, of course, pretty much let's say none of us are expecting to make that money!
As you mentioned, you had a couple of examples there with a few hundred. It's even worth doing the few hundred pre-orders, but one of the issues, and we've all talked about this with a project that I had been proposing is that we just don't know the costs. It's really hard to budget the costs.
What are some of the design decisions that impact the costs of production for these special print runs?
Chris: Actually, the book production side of special runs is probably one of your easier areas to estimate because they're fairly established and it's really about having a good partner, either a printer or somebody who's print knowledgeable to assist you and lay out the options for you.
The harder aspect of that, especially in considering crowdfunding scenario is things beyond the book.
So your extra pledges and importantly, the really the time and the cost for fulfilling that, that's where often a lot of these projects can stumble a little bit and maybe sour, even if they've been successful in raising the money.
It almost points to the more successful campaigns being from people who are a little bit further down the road in their career crowdfunding is often not the best route for first-time authors, it's for somebody to perhaps build on an audience that they have started to gain trust with and establish relationships with.
Joanna: I've done a number of different shows on crowdfunding and with different authors who are doing it. I've covered the marketing side, the promotion side. We're really just trying to cover the print side really in this episode, I completely acknowledge the problems there.
Coming back, you amusingly, and this is because of your expertise. Chris, as you said, it was easy to estimate these costs, but I want to just dig deeper on this because when I came to you guys, it was, ‘I literally don't know anything. I don't know about choosing paper, I don't know how the size of the cover might impact the cost, I don't know about how I should format things with page count to impact the cost.'
All these different things that I don't usually have to think about because I just go with a standard thing that I do with print on demand.
Can we get into a bit more detail about the design decisions around the print edition that impact cost, and what we need to think about?
Chris: Sure. The dangers of assumed knowledge, right?!
Joanna: Absolutely. But it's nice to know that you think it's easy.
Chris: When I say it's easy, I mean that there are costs and processes that are quite established, and coming back to your position on it, looking at it from that one is that if it's a new area for you, especially for an independent self-publishing author, if you are going to make the leap from maybe print-on-demand or really straightforward traditional printing, we would highly, highly recommend that you work closely with a print expert to guide you through what the options might be, what are the reasonable costs?
There are lots of printers, big and small who can help or houses like White Fox. And that's not just a show for us, it's just that we would bring a level of expertise about what the options are. But the things that you need to be considering are bindings.
Options for bindings
With the POD option, it's pretty binary for the most part, hardback, paperback. But when you're going to a higher spec, perhaps a hardcover might be cloth, but you could have the option of leather or faux leather or all these extras like embossing and debossing foils, edge dipping. There's a whole world out there and it truly the sky is the limit for options.
But of course, budget is going to reign supreme there. What we also see is that if you are putting together a deluxe package like that, you may want to add some illustration into your books and that might be plates that are spaced out throughout the various chapters in your book and papers, that sort of thing.
So, there are avenues from which you can find the cost for the artists that are available out there, but also that would have an implication into the print process itself.
That's where a good printer should be able to help and guide you and give you the options of what's the cost with it, what's the cost without it. You can make a comparison on that and then you could keep going, do you want to sign them and number them? Do you want to put in a personal dedication? That's more about your own time on that.
What about housing for a book if you have a series?
Maybe you want to put it in a slipcase, a good printer would be able to give you clear options there, but maybe it might be more of a clamshell, something that's sort of a box that you open up and they would give you the option on that side. You really can't give a standard cost for any of these things. That's where the expertise of a printer comes in.
John: Also, there are additions that you can add which cost nothing, which is your time in creating extra content for a limited edition, that there are things that you can add to special print run, which is not just the specification of a book, which is, as I said, additional content or notes around something, reader's notes. Or just to give that feeling that you have something which is special and of limited availability.
Joanna: I love that there is this almost other language. Chris, you mentioned the edge dipping, you said clamshell, slip case.
In my head, it's like a box set for a physical box set. And I feel like this is part of it.
We all have these special languages in the indie community. We use acronyms and we use all these names that we know in our community. And you have the same words in this print sense, which is, again, why you need someone to talk about it.
I do have a couple of specific questions. So, for example, memoir, I know a lot of people listening will be doing memoirs or I'm doing travel memoirs in particular.
So, photos are something I was thinking about or you mentioned illustrations, but photos of a kind of particular thing, and also the impact of color interior, whether it's a children's book or whether it is these photos or extra color in the ink or other things like that.
Any comments on photos and illustrations?
Chris: I would say that it's a fun little experiment on IngramSpark, the price calculator and playing around with different interior processes and they do have a black and white versus the color option there. But that's a curious one to see what the POD impact is like cost-wise.
With traditional printing, you might have some other options that aren't available to print on demand, which would be, say color plate sections that were probably very familiar with from biographies and memoirs wherein you have a normal black and white book. And then there'll be a section of photographs that are either black and white or color that references part of the story on that.
As far as I know, that's not an option that's available on POD yet, but I can imagine that's the technology that might come down the road pretty quickly. It's been advancing quickly. But at the moment, POD seems to be quite binary. You have to either choose to do color or black and white, and that might not be appropriate for all books because of the limited amount of color. Even a little color can cost a lot of money.
John: The issue on color and on the quality of the reproduction of photos when they're not in place sections when they're actually integrated within the text of the book, which can look absolutely beautiful, then leads to the discussion about the quality of the paper, the printers that do that, the weight of the paper and that takes you in a different direction.
For some books, that is absolutely beautiful and differentiates them usually because it's something that you associate more with a kind of art book publishing area, but it's definitely possible. There's been some beautiful memoirs and autobiographies and biographies that have been incorporated those photos throughout to illustrate something.
But again, to get the maximum amount of those, it needs to be on paper that doesn't suck the color or the clarity out of the image.
Joanna: What is the quality and weight? What would you say to a printer?
What are the words we use for quality and weight of paper?
Chris: Sure. So, in the UK, we being sensible people, we deal in metric system, but in America, it's Imperial and as an American, I can say that. So, most options on IngramSpark give you a standard 55-pound…I don't what that is in GSM equivalent, but a 55-pound paper. I think that's just a couple of steps up from sort of a newsprint weight on that.
When we say weight, we mean the thickness and density of the paper. You can really feel the difference in some books. With color books, you probably are getting up into the 80, 115 pound range even, and that becomes quite noticeably different to your hand when you're touching it. But more importantly, it's about, as John has mentioned, it's about how the page reacts to ink than the process that is used to apply it.
Joanna: That's fantastic. And then just a couple of things because I really think about bling. You did mention foil briefly, but what are the kind of cool things that we could do on a cover? I also like ribbons. So, these are my two blingy things.
Any comments on foil and ribbons?
Chris: Oh, gosh. John, what's the coolest cover you've ever seen? I think for me, one has been, I saw and this is really hard to pull off. There was an amazing hardback that had what we call a die-cut, so a hole in it, and that made a shape in the front cover. And on that cover, it was printed. So, there was an image and then you could see through to the interior paper page and there was another image and it all worked together.
Then when you opened the book up, it became an entirely different-looking scene that was a real contrast. It looked quite peaceable on the inside and then when you open it up, it was on the outside, opened it up. It was quite an active illustrated picture. That's one that that's really stood out for me.
John: And talking about the U.S. has Joanna. We talked about it before deckel edges. So, that's the hardbacks, which where the paper has been cut and it looks sort of, it's not been kind of guillotine, very smoothly. I love that.
Then there's the actual binding. A cookbook called ‘Popo,' which was based on Venetian cooking where they actually took the casing of the spine off. So, you saw the binding of the pages, which was absolutely beautiful but a slight danger in terms of the book falling apart. So, it's sometimes what looks amazing kind of come with some health warnings.
Joanna: I guess all of these things are possible. Like, you said,
Everything is possible, but you have to think about your budget.
Would you suggest that authors, when they're thinking about these things take pictures of things they like or find examples like that cut edge you mentioned?
I've got the book on it somewhere, again, looking at my bookshelf, but I found examples of books, so, I'm like, ‘oh, I really like that. So, I'm going to keep that as a reference type of physical book that I like, and we'll maybe we can figure out what that's called later on.'
Should authors make notes of the things they really like and bring those ideas to work with book designers?
John: I think that's a really great idea. I think there's nothing that sends a signal than that this is what I like, this is what my community likes, this is what I think my network will like, this is something I want to replicate, not exactly, but in a style of, and all of those things represent a shorthand for us to be able to say, ‘Okay. This printer, this country, this kind of run, this occasion that we can build into the whole thing.'
I think that's an incredibly useful way of helping, as you say, define the language around it as to what your objective is.
Joanna: Anything else on the design aspect that either of you wanted to mention?
John: I wanted to mention, in preparation for this, Joanna, we've done a bit of work in creating a free downloadable resource, which you can find on our website, which is wearewhitefox.com/crowdfunding.
We've really tried to think about lots of the questions that people will ask and want to have access to before they make a kind of informed decision. And that includes aspects of design and specification and things like that. So, that would be one thing I would suggest.
Joanna: I know that's super useful and I really appreciate that. And of course, I will have explained it up front, but I really wanted to have you guys on the show because in our discussions about this, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there's so many things to think about.' So, having a resource is super useful. I appreciate that.
One of the things I wanted also to talk about is with print-on-demand. So, basically, I get the files back from my designer. I upload them to KDP Print and IngramSpark. And I can literally order a book within a couple of hours and it could even arrive tomorrow. So, I can just do that right now, and that's amazing.
I think most indie authors and people listening, they're like, ‘Yeah. If I want to print book, I just upload files, and here they are.'
How does timing differ with a special print run like this? And what timings do we need to take into consideration, especially in these times of supply chain issues?
John: Well, you are completely right. And just as we've been talking, I've been thinking about exactly that and the speed and efficiency of POD, which is incredible. I think we have to think about something that one might be charging quite a lot of money for.
You're going to have to think of it slightly more in a sort of deferred gratification way, which is that once you've defined what it is you want to achieve, then it's a job for somebody like us to say, ‘Okay. Well, we think this is the place where you will get the best replication of the quality that you want in as timely a fashion as you possibly can.'
You are completely right to say that the print supply chain issues that have been going on all over the world is something that… I think we would just say we have a myriad of different options of people that are in the UK, in the U.S., in Europe, in the far East, and that there are lots of places.
Chris, I know, saw a printer this week who was fantastic. And I think it's in one way, the market is challenged, in another, it's just making people up their game. And we've never been as approached by as many printers who want to work with us because the traditional supply chains have been challenged. As I say, I mean, Chris, you might want to add in something on that.
Chris: Yeah. I don't think that the POD is necessarily immune from those challenges either. It does happen on both sides, but with something that really pops up for me in this discussion, and we were talking about the speed to market aspect of POD, which is, frankly, phenomenal and the right thing for the right type of publishing.
But a lot of what we've been talking about during the discussion is very old school and quite artisanal in many ways.
And for a lot of authors, that process of being able to slow down, look, consider, plan, is really appreciated and enjoyable as much as it is work. A lot of people like that considered aspect for certain types of product.
It's oftentimes, we're working with parts of the world where old school machines still exist. We are doing a lot of color work out of the Baltics where they have these just monsters of print, almost feel like Soviet-era printing presses who can do things that new digital mechanical presses just can't do anymore.
Speaking to timelines on this with traditional printing, it's certainly much more extended.
At the time of recording here, we're still dealing with a lot of supply chain issues in various parts of the world. And that's really stretched the capacity issues that are available on various printers, BU in the U.S or Canada or the UK or Europe.
So, you should, if doing a traditional print run from the point of saying, ‘Go to a printer that you've decided on everything that you've planned out,' you must at least give yourself six weeks at a minimum if you are in the UK. And at the moment, in the States, it can be quite extended into months.
Again, if you're working with a printer, when they give you your price quote for going forward, they will include a quote about what that process time looks like for you, including shipping. And that's not an unsubstantial amount depending on where you're printing and shipping to.
Joanna: That's great. And in fact, Chris, I like what you said earlier about the artisanal idea, and I think that's the angle or the mindset shift we need to make as indie authors is look. ‘Okay. So, yeah. We can get the ebook out. We can send the ebook to people and say, ‘Look, your special print edition will be a couple of months for fulfillment, but you can have the ebook now, you can read it now. And then your special object, your special, beautiful object will be on its way later.'
I definitely think it's about communication with backers. Say on the crowdfunding, it's like, ‘Yeah. You're not going to get it as soon as this is finished funding. Basically, it might take a while.' But again, I also think having backed a lot of crowdfunding campaigns, sometimes it's a year later.
I don't want people to feel like they are trying to compete with Print-on-Demand. I think that that's the main thing, right? It's a completely different product, really.
Chris: Absolutely. And I think that's a really good point because this campaign back to the Brandon Sanderson project. That went live at the beginning of this year. And I think it was funded by March. Now, the first of those books will not..and ebooks even, will not be sent out until January, 2023.
What he's been very good about is also making that clear, giving himself enough time to deliver. And just as an author, he's traditionally been one of the most transparent I've ever seen. He has a graph on his website that shows where he is in writing the various projects that he's working on. That is a quite exceptional thing.
And he's great about updating that and showing where he's going to hit. And if he's going to miss, he gives you plenty of warnings. So, that's key to the crowdfunding sort of thought process is that you're very right. It does not have to be immediate.
The moment something is funded does not mean that you have to be able to deliver, but you have to be able to know when you can deliver.
John: I think people who are used to communicating with their readers in some way, shape, or form can benefit sometimes from having versions of their engagement with their audience over a period of time.
So, there's almost like a kind of staging of things where rewards, if you want to call it that, come at different times through the process so that it isn't just immediate bundling of all formats available instantly, and that there's things that happen down the line with different formats and of the same thing.
I think it's how people are successfully engaging and keeping their readership engaged with them over a long period of time. And that is how one might see a limited edition physical run happening, as you said a bit after the initial absorption of the novel or the memoir or whatever it is.
Joanna: Absolutely. And that's great. And having talked with you guys and looked at projects together, and I'm like, ‘I am not doing this on my own.' Of course, authors can do this with printers, as you say, they can find a printer, they can do that work.
If they want a partner to help, what does White Fox offer and what sort of questions should people be asking?
Chris: We get these inquiries daily, not necessarily about crowdfunding models and products on that side of things. But really, I have a book idea, I want to bring it out in this way. How do I do so?
We're very happy to have an initial conversation and give some options there to make sure that we're both on the right page over time and cost and quite very early on in the process.
But should an author come to White Fox, we give a very clear agreement of what we can offer and what we can't and what that entails. And I think that we provide a pretty open door service as far as consultation, where we're very happy to advise and advise very objectively around what are the options that are available and worth it.
I think that's also the key side of things because the last thing we were able to do would be pushing either a service or an option that just wasn't value for the investment from the author for doing it.
John: And those queries are coming in from all over the world. As you said, right? At the top of the show, we have an office in the U.S., we're in London as well. And those queries sometimes depend very much on knowledge of different markets and what different objectives people have in different countries. So, we try and put as much thought and effort into that.
The more thought and energy and consultation and effort we put in right at the beginning of a process, the better it is and the clearer everybody is about what they want to achieve. And we're helping authors across the board in pretty much everything from nose to tail in terms of their publishing objectives.
We like to feel that we are holding their hand from the moment a manuscript comes to us, or even sometimes in the process of a manuscript being written to everything through production, design, sales, distribution, do they have an eCommerce strategy? Is there something which represents a direct consumer or is it through the trade through marketing, through PR?
But really, that's what we do. We help by consulting on a project because in this world that we live in, this ecosystem and publishing is so varied and disparate across adult and children's and fiction and non-fiction and trade and academic.
There are so many things that we try and get sorted at the beginning through a process where we really try and understand what it is somebody wants to achieve and the timelines and the schedules and the objectives, and what success looks like for them — which I know is an awful phrase — but it's the best way of describing it because we don't have a publishing schedule.
We're not like a traditional publisher. We don't have a publishing schedule into which books fit. Every project we work on has its own schedule. Every writer is a unique engagement for us. So, we have to get that consultation process right.
Where can people find more information and everything you do at White Fox?
John: Well, thank you for this opportunity. As I said earlier, free downloadable serial, which is available at our website, which is wearewhitefox.com/crowdfunding. And we've really tried to on this specific subject, put in as much information, be as transparent as possible, look at different platforms and options.
There are some case studies, some pros and cons, and try to put it all out there, which we hope is a really, really useful resource for people.
And on our website, you will find details of other projects that we've worked on, other case studies. Examples of everything that we have done and are just about to do in terms of holding writers' hands through this process of publishing.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much both of you for your time. That was great.
John: Thank you very, very much, Joanna for the opportunity.
Chris: Yes. Thank you, Joanna.