The break-even point: traditional offset vs. POD
Having just released my first POD title, I can make some comparisons, including the number of book sales I must sell to cover costs related to printing and designing a book. Here's a comparison of this "break-even" sales point for a POD title versus a title printed through more conventional means, to wit:
POD title: about 133 books
Conventionally printed title: about 435 books.
These numbers are based on moi Meritage Press' experience -- but possibly reflective of many poetry presses. The comparison results mostly from how a publisher doesn't have to incur right away the costs of creating an inventory, which, for Meritage Press titles, historically has been about 1,000 copies. That inventory cost offsets the advantage of conventional printing in its lower cost-per-book basis.
For a POD title, I'd probably first order about 200 copies to cover anticipated review copies, some initial sales, author copies and so on. That's 200 versus 1,000 copies I need finance right away. (Of course I'd order more than 200 copies, depending on a particular poet's "market" but it likely still wouldn't near 1,000 right away.)
Now, if you're a poet or publisher, you know that selling 133 books -- let alone 435 books -- is a chore. It's probably a near-impossibility for many poetry books, at least within a reasonable period of time. (Let me stress -- I'ma talking real poetry sales, not comps or trades. Sales.)
As Eileen notes, the break-even point will vary for each publisher, and is affected by how much is spent on promotional activities such as advertising and complimentary review copies (and their postage), etc., in addition to the base operating costs of running a press (which depends on the size of the outfit, number of employees, distribution system used, etc.) But her analysis gets straight to the advantages of POD over traditional offset printing and warehousing of a full print-run: less money up front and greater flexibility in terms of resource commitment and even storage space (which some publishers have to pay for as well). Cheers to Eileen for sharing, and don't forget to check out Meritage's books!