Why print-on-demand offers easy eCommerce revenue

If you are looking for an eCommerce venture that will maximise your resources and not require excessive startup costs, look no further than print-on-demand (POD). As a relatively new operational pipeline that has disrupted industries as diverse as publishing and fashion, maximising the potential of POD can lead to a profitable new revenue stream, or a means of improving an existing value proposition.

eCommerce is on the path to domination. From large scale corporations to SMEs to individual creative professionals, various players are finding online avenues to create, market, and sell their products. Take a look at this graph from Statista, which tracks the growth of eCommerce sales since 2014, with projections to 2021. It’s not hard to see what the message of this story is.

ecommerce sales projections
Source: Statista

People for print!

Remember when the first portable e-reader arrived on the scene? Crowds were aghast, bemoaning the death of the printed book. Interesting. Because in a 2015 study by Deloitte, the prediction was made that print would still account for 80% of book sales worldwide. Perhaps way back in 2015 that might have been the case, but the facts can’t possibly reflect the global population to be such a band of print-reading luddites.

Surely that number should have declined as eBooks become more readily available? The numbers, I’m afraid, tell a different story. According to the Association of American Publishers, there was a dramatic decline of 18.7% in eBook sales in 2016. Whether it’s that pulpy smell, or the experience of turning the page as a story unfolds, it would seem that people prefer print.

As serendipity would have it, technology has provided the opportunity for people to enjoy print books as much as they always have, and with minimal cost to the publisher. POD has eliminated the nightmare of immovable stock in the backroom. How does this work? Quite simply, by only giving people what they want when they ask for it. Let’s take a closer look.

How does POD work?

Due to the development of toner-based or inkjet printers, publishers found that they could reverse the product to customer pipeline by only printing books once they had already been requested. The ramifications of this are not hard to see – the risk to the business is almost entirely eliminated.

For the eCommerce entrepreneur, the excitement doesn’t end in the publishing house. The same principles can be applied to merchandise of just about any sort. From printing on keychains and mugs for promotional gifts, to developing full online clothing lines, POD is opening up possibilities for ambitious businesspeople in various sectors.

Here’s what a typical experience would look like for you, if you were to embrace life as an eCommerce POD entrepreneur:

  • Create your store on an established eCommerce platform
  • Choose a compatible POD plugin
  • Upload your designs to the store
  • Promote your store using digital marketing channels
  • Your customer selects a product from your online catalogue
  • The choice bypasses you and heads straight to the third-party
  • Your customer receives their product without any production intervention from you

Does that mean that you do not have to be involved in production at all? While it sounds too good to be true, that’s exactly what it means. And what about shipping? Yup. That’s also taken care of. It’s time to have a look at the nuts and bolts…

Your POD store

You might be thinking that to set up an operation that can run this smoothly should surely take a lot of effort and technical know-how. The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the hardest part is determining what you would like to sell. The further eCommerce platforms develop, the easier the technical side of setting up a store has become.

There are various options of eCommerce platforms available that suit the needs of different business types and entrepreneurs. I’ll break it down for you so you know where next to turn.

What is the best eCommerce platform to use for a P.O.D. store?

The quick answer is whatever is most relevant to your business needs. There are two major types – self-hosted and hosted stores. Your selection should be based on your technical know-how, the degree of autonomy you would like to have, what integrations you would like to include, and how quickly you would like to get set up.

  1. A self-hosted store:

As the name suggests, this is the option for you if you are looking to create, maintain and troubleshoot problems with your store yourself. It’s a great option if you are either a coder or have access to a developer whom you trust.

Having a self-hosted store means you have complete control over all elements of its creation. You can customise your store in any way you like and, if you or your developer has the ability, can let yourself run freely when it comes to integrations.

But be warned—only go this route if you are absolutely confident that the technical skills needed to get your site up and running are within your reach. Remember that you may be looking at additional costs upfront and/or down the line for store setup, server hosting and site maintenance.

Here are two popular options to set up your self-hosted store:

Magento is an Adobe Company that provides open source eCommerce solutions. Its products include Magento Commerce, Magento Order Management, Magento Business Intelligence and Magento Marketplace. It offers major flexibility, but be warned – you need to be a proficient developer to get the store up and running. It is a solution better suited to larger businesses that are already operating and are looking to bolster their eCommerce division.

WooCommerce is a popular WordPress eCommerce plugin. Currently the most widely used platform available, it too is open-source and requires that you first set up a WordPress site for your store. Like Magento, technical know-how is a must. WooCommerce will work for you if you already have an online presence with a WordPress website.

  1. A hosted store:

If you’re looking for quick revenue with minimal effort, opt for a hosted store. Quite simply, they’ll take care of everything for you. You do not have to be able to code, nor employ someone who can. They will look after the hosting and server maintenance for you, leaving you with very little else to do other than focus on your product.

Shopify is the most popular hosted platform. Here are just some of the reasons why:

  • Easy to use, no matter who you are
  • A huge catalogue of themes to choose from
  • Integration with Paypal
  • A vast array of plugins to improve customer experience and maximise the profitability of your store

Once you’ve decided which eCommerce platform to use, here is your next step – how do you transform your eCommerce store with POD? With a POD integration, that’s how.

Integrating a POD service

Alongside the development of POD supply chains has been the software to match. POD services can be invisibly hosted and fully-integrated with your online store. That means that your customers will not have to jump through external hoops to get their merchandise printed. In fact, they won’t even know that those hoops exist.

This is how easy it is to set up a POD plugin to a hosted platform (like Shopify):

  1. Select your POD add-on or plugin from the relevant App Store
  2. Follow the step-by-step instructions to install your plugin and integrate with your store
  3. Rely on POD companies to manufacture and ship items to your customers without having to fork out upfront production costs.

The beauty is, once you have your idea, you can be up and running within 24 hours.

Now for the fun part—what are your product ideas?

POD design possibilities

Whether you want to design smartphone cases that sport the design of your grandma on a landline phone, or use your pet hamster as inspiration for a new line of tote bags, the world is pretty much your oyster when it comes to POD design.

What are other people doing with this new freedom? I’ll take you through some of the most popular POD merchandise available today. This is just a fraction of what is available!

Popular POD merchandise

The last thing I want to do is curtail your imagination here. If it is small enough to be shipped, you can probably print on it. However, there are certain merchandise items that have proven to be appropriate to different settings, and certain reasons for entering this dynamic market.

Here are a few ideas to get whet your appetite:

  1. The merch mecca

T-shirts, tanks and vests are everywhere. Walk into any microbrew pub, tourist store, or gym, and you are bound to find a customised line. From SMEs to large companies, it’s a no-fail branding solution. What’s more, customised t-shirts can quite literally be music to your ears. As this Forbes article points out, t-shirts for musicians are instrumental in promoting international brand recognition.

  1. The fashion guru dream

As a startup fashion designer, the gap between dream and actualisation can seem too far to cross. Imagine you could design your own line and not pay for it until after your new followers become customers and pay for their order? Yes, it’s true, your new line of bodysuits could be out on the virtual shelves overnight.

  1. The end of the “starving artist”

It’s true… POD has provided a platform for artists and creatives to monetise their craft by providing something akin to an online gallery space – with no overhead. The real joy is that is doesn’t end with canvas printing. Designs can be placed onto cards, invitations, keychains, smartphone cases, postcards… the list is almost endless.

The process of creating designs

If you feel your artistic abilities have never extended beyond different renditions of the stickman, that’s ok. You do not have to be Rembrandt to reap the benefits of custom print-on-demand.

Freelance platforms

Alongside the growth of POD has been the development of the digital freelance market. Now you can connect to a host of talented designers at affordable rates through platforms such Upwork, Toptal and Fiverr.

As someone who has used freelancers for a range of different tasks in my own business, I have one piece of advice: make your briefs as clear as possible. If you don’t, you will land up in endless revision cycles that can cost you time and money.

But what if you want to do your own designs?

For the more talented among us, creating your own designs can be truly fulfilling, especially when you see them flying off the shelves.

If you’re already a designer, you’ll be familiar with Photoshop, InDesign and Adobe Illustrator and know what your preferences are. There are however specific criteria when it comes to designing for POD.

Here are my top 3 tips:

  1. Make sure that have met the technical specifications of the product. The right resolution and file type must be taken into consideration. Know bleed and safe zones.
  2. Offer multiple colours. While this may not be possible for all of your products, where possible, offer variations in different colours. This will increase the profitability of each product type with minimal effort on your part.
  3. Give your customers options. While quality is of major importance, so is choice. You want your customers to feel that your shop provides them with a host of options.

Finally, it’s time to launch your store. How do you get people to visit and buy?

Promoting your store

If you have not done so already, your first port of call will be to get clued up about digital marketing trends. In the world of the online marketplace, you need to learn how to sell online.

The good news is, you may have already started working on promoting your store without even knowing it. Let me share some ideas with you.

  1. Monetise your existing followers

Your followers on social media are already your fans. They are either personal connections (friends and family) or they appreciate your work. Start with them. They will want to spread your work far and wide. Use your own personality and connections to grow the reach of your work.

  1. Use Instagram and Pinterest

As visual platforms, Instagram and Pinterest are highly appropriate to advertising merchandise. What’s more, Instagram has surpassed Twitter for the highest number of active users. It’s a no-brainer. These are the modern-day town-criers for POD stores.

Note: Read a great case study here of how artist Mathieu Laca used Instagram to increase the traffic to his site by 688%.

  1. Add a Facebook Shop

Facebook has created plugins that allow you to easily set up a Facebook store that is linked to your main site. Have a look here for details on how to get your Facebook shop up and running.

In conclusion…

eCommerce is the site of the modern gold rush. Entrepreneurs are panning for those digital nuggets that will bring the best return on their investment. The growth eCommerce is showing no signs of slowing down, with Digital Commerce 360 reporting a growth of 16% in 2017 compared to 2016. That means that shoppers spent $453.46 billion on the web in 2017.

Print-on-demand is fast becoming an integral part of this growth. From its position as a means of positively disrupting the publishing industry, POD has provided an eCommerce avenue that can prove highly profitable for enterprises of all sizes.

The most exciting part for budding entrepreneurs is that nobody needs to fork out huge upfront costs to get the business started, and ongoing overheads are minimal. It is risk mitigation at its very best, enabling creative digital businesses to sell unique products all around the world.


Charlie Carpenter is the co-founder and CEO of Kite. He is a mobile advocate with over ten years of industry experience.

After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and personalised photo print goods. As well as an entrepreneur, Charlie is a seasoned product strategist with experience of various types of digital projects which include: Responsive and Adaptive Websites, Mobile & Tablet Apps, Hybrid Apps, Cross Platform App development. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.

Make books, make bank: Understanding how to self-publish and make money

Whether you have a book published or you’re still considering how best to go to print, I’ve got no doubt that you’ve stopped and wondered “how long until I’m the next J.K. Rowling?”

I don’t want to shatter any dreams here, but the answer is probably never. Achieving that level of success is an outlier. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some money still!

Continue reading “Make books, make bank: Understanding how to self-publish and make money”

The 1000 True Fan Theory: Achieving Sustainable Income as a Writer

What’s your dream? When I was a teen I read Stephen King’s “The Gunslinger” and decided I wanted to be a novelist. I was already an avid reader but there came a moment as I finished “The Gunslinger” when I realized I didn’t just want to partake in stories, I wanted to tell them.

Back then, I imagined writing a story, handing the manuscript to…someone…and their mind being so blown away that they would heap piles of money on me. From there I would retire to my writing desk to pen my next masterpiece without a care in the world.

Reality check.

Stephen King and J.K. Rowling tier writers are very few and even further between.

But that does not mean you can’t earn a living as a writer!

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly penned an article titled “1,000 True Fans.” In this piece, Kelly argues that the power of direct connection through the Internet allows creators to earn a living from their art if they have only 1,000 True Fans.

Let’s break down Kelly’s theory and see how it can apply to self-published authors.

First, we need to address the two criteria Kelly identifies as requisite for building a True Fanbase:

  1. You must generate enough content to earn $100 from each True Fan per year;
  2. You must create and foster a direct connection between you and your 1,000 True Fans.

Alright, before I lose anyone, I know that both of these criteria seem pretty tough. $100 a year from book sales is unrealistic. If you sell your book for around $15, you’ll be taking home around $8 a sale after printing costs. I’m guessing most authors aren’t putting out more than one book a year. $8 and $100 is a pretty big difference.

Doing the Math

As Kelly points out, his count of 1,000 True Fans is arbitrary. He’s just making a point, which is the core of what we’re talking about today—breaking down your expectations allows you to set real and achievable goals.

Here’s a better way for authors to think about the imperative to reach True Fans: determine how much you want to make on your writing each year. Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans formula results in $100,000 a year earning if all the criteria are met perfectly.

Honestly, though, $100,000 is ambitious. Let’s say you just want to get the ball rolling. You’ve written a book and you have a few people you know will buy it. You’re not quitting your day job and you are set up to earn $8 per sale. 1,000 fans will make you $8,000. That’s a reasonable sum to expect to earn from your first offering.

You’re most likely adding this to your income from your day job, so being an author is still a side gig at this stage.

The key element here is to apply the basics of Kelly’s formula when you design your book marketing plan. You don’t need to aim for selling to 1,000 people initially. But if you set a realistic goal and work toward it, you can earn good money—maybe even enough to quit that day job and write full time!

Hypotheticals Time

Let’s outline a few hypothetical examples to better break down and understand how to make money as an author.

You want to earn $10,000 a year selling books –

Earning per sale = $8.00

Individuals on your mailing list and following you on social platforms = 500 combine

If each follower buys a book, you’re at $4,000.

This means you need to aim for an additional 700 purchases in the year.

  • Around 58 sales a month
  • Or around 2 sales a day

Bottom Line – if you have a fair number of followers and some contacts on your email list, it is completely achievable to earn $10,000 in a year with 2 or 3 sales a day. Not necessarily easy, but doable.

You want to earn $5,000 a year selling books –

Earning per sale = $8.00

Individuals on your mailing list and following you on social platforms = 300

If each follower buys a book, you’re at $2,400.

This leaves you needing an addition 300+ purchases.

  • Around 25 sales a month,
  • Or less than 1 sale a day

Bottom Line – earning $5,000 in a year, with only a modest social following, demands selling less than a single book a day. That’s a very achievable goal!

Even better, if we keep our sights modest and aim for around $5,000 in book sales a year, we have our backlist to think about. That first year’s goal with 300 or so followers and selling 1 book a day is difficult but very doable. The following year when you release your second book?

Well, that follower list will have grown. And you’ll have some residual sales from the first book still trickling in. It’s not unimaginable that you might get up closer to $7,000 that second year. And if you release a third book the year after?

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Investing in yourself

Don’t misunderstand me. Earning a living as a writer is not easy. It will (probably) never be easy.

What Kelly’s piece does is something all creators should do when they start to think about monetizing their work—break their creations down into commodities.

This doesn’t mean you devalue your work. You’ve created something unique and amazing. That’s important in and of itself.

What it does mean is that, when it comes to selling that amazing thing you’ve created, you have to think about it like any other consumer item. You have to look for cost-effective ways to get to your goal. And you have to ensure those goals are reasonable so that achieving them is possible.

Print-on-demand enables self-publishing, which allows authors to put the profit directly into their hands while retaining control over their work. A tremendous boon for authors everywhere. But with that added benefit comes additional work.

Now those very same authors have to learn the lessons larger publishing companies learned decades ago regarding marketing and distributing those books.

  • Set reasonable goals
  • Know your market or niche
  • Engage your audience regularly
  • Motivate your followers to buy.

All of those points lead to one concept – if you want to be profitable and successful as a self-published author, you have to identify and secure True Fans.

The True Fan theory in practice

True Fans, as I said earlier, are fans who will always buy your work. They are assured sales. Getting a core group of these True Fans is likely to be your biggest challenge as a self-published author. But also the most valuable.

So how do you do it?

  1. Start small – attend a local writing group. Or start one. Build a small group of fellow writers. These folks will help your writing grow and serve as a constant inspiration as you keep writing.
    Likewise, seek to build a relationship with the local bookstore. This can be crucial, as you’ll be asking them to host you for a signing and to feature a few copies of your book on the shelves at some point. Build that relationship early.
    And of course, connect with the local library. Volunteer. Get to know the regular readers. And be transparent. Make sure the staff knows you are an author working on publishing. There is a very good chance they feature local authors and you might be able to get a copy on their shelves.
  2. Expand with the Web – Once you’ve begun building a strong core of local, in-person connections, look to expand that online. This can be in the form of blogging, frequenting online writing or reading groups, or even through social media.
    Early on, the best path is probably looking at online forums and engaging directly. Try to find groups focused on your genre, as these will be your most likely readers. Then talk to them about books. Maybe even join a reading group and engage in regular discussions about content from that angle.
    Blogging is a tough one because it is slow and demanding. Still, I advocate for starting and maintaining a blog. You’ll want a website to direct new and old readers (and fans) to, so all you end up needing to do is host a blog on the site. This provides fresh content to encourage return visitors and gives you a medium to publish teasers or excerpts.
  3. Attend and host events – You’ll need to build off of #1 and #2 to be successful with events. Once you’ve got a core group of True Fans, expand that with an author signing or book sale at the local bookstore.
    Or attend a writing or book convention and meet an even wider range of authors, book publishers, and book designers. This is fairly intensive, as it’s going to mean investing in the tickets and trip, but it can pay off in a lot of ways too. For our True Fan search, the biggest benefit may be the opportunity to connect with other authors and attract some of their fans.
    Don’t think of other authors as competition. That’s assuredly not the case. You need to view every single other author you can connect with as a possible extension of your reader network, and a means to acquire more True Fans. Because another author’s True Fans, on that author’s recommendation, can easily become one of your True Fans too.

These are just a few ideas. Be creative in thinking about ways to attract True Fans. Maybe a Youtube series. Or maybe other hobbies like fantasy football or yoga could lead to a group of people you can transition into True Fans.

These True Fans will not be your only source of income either. If you’ve got a relatively large network of online followers, many of them will simply be a follower; someone who might buy a book, might not. They might read your blog or like your Facebook posts, but not rush to buy your newest book. These fans will help support you from time to time, but the True Fans are the ones contributing with a purchase for every product your produce.

That’s why the True Fans are so critical and why generating a strong base group of them is so important to earning sustainable income as a writer.

Lulu Staff Picks: Meet Our Authors

Picks and recommendations are all to common on the web. I make almost all of my buying decisions after carefully poring over reviews. Because we value the experiences of others.

Books are no different. I’ve said it over and over and over: reviews are key to a strong marketing plan. Another piece of that puzzle is simple name recognition through lists and picks. So here we are with our resident Social Media expert to learn a little more about two of Lulu’s favorite authors.

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Standing out from the Crowd: Discoverability

What is Discoverability?

Like many things in the modern age, discoverability’s definition has evolved. Historically, discoverability meant “the quality of being able to be discovered or found.” But online, the meaning is more specific: discoverability is a measure of how easily you, your brand, and your content are found through search or on a website.

How easily discovered your book is online will directly impact how many people look at that book and ultimately buy from you. There is no shortage of content already on the web about discoverability (this Google search as evidence), but today we’re going to look at 4 ways you can help make your book more discoverable.

Continue reading “Standing out from the Crowd: Discoverability”

8 Tips for Marketing Your Self-Published Book

It doesn’t take an expert to realize that publishing a book is a brutal process. Even after you’re finished writing the book, you still have to figure out how to get it out there on the market.

Literary agents reject the vast majority of submissions for an array of reasons, from market presence to content quality. Of those that an agent does pick up, only a portion will then be selected by a traditional publisher. While quality matters, the demands of the market dictate the choices agents and publishers make. That’s why so many people are turning to self-publishing.

Continue reading “8 Tips for Marketing Your Self-Published Book”

The Ultimate Guide to InDesign for Authors (Part 2)

We’re back with the second part of our InDesign series! If you missed part 1, you can find it here. I strongly suggest reading the first part before diving into part 2.

Alright, you all caught up? Great! Today we’re going to get into the fine tuning for your manuscript and the export to PDF so we can take this beautiful file over to Lulu and turn it into a published book!

Continue reading “The Ultimate Guide to InDesign for Authors (Part 2)”

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