There are two types of book distribution for physical copies: print-on-demand (POD) and traditional distribution. (Ebook distribution is separate from print distribution.)

Before we dive into the types of distribution, know that switching distribution methods after you get started is difficult and costly, causing headaches for you and your readers. The following questions will help guide your decision-making process so you find the right type of distribution for you.

  • Do I want to have the opportunity to get my book into bookstores? Do I want that opportunity enough to warrant the additional expenses of traditional distribution?
  • What’s my self-publishing budget? Can I afford up-front printing expenses and storage fees later?
  • How important is printing quality?
  • Do I want my book to have features such as a color interior, hardcover with dust jacket, foil stamping, or embossing?

Print-On-Demand (POD) Distribution

POD means books are printed to order; there’s no physical inventory of your book. When someone purchases your book through or, the order is sent to the POD printer, where your book is printed and sent to the customer.

Bookstores and other retailers with accounts with Ingram or Baker & Taylor can order copies of your book at wholesale price, and the order is printed and delivered. Unless your book is marked as returnable, however, it’s less likely bookstores will stock your books.


  • Lower investment. No need to spend money to print books ahead of time or store them in a warehouse.
  • Less risk. You don’t have to worry about selling through an inventory.


  • Lower quality printing. POD printing typically has toner variance from book to book or even page to page.
  • Higher per-book print cost.
  • Less viable for children’s books due to low color quality printing and expensive hard covers.
  • Less likely to get your book into brick-and-mortar stores (even if you mark your book as returnable).

Traditional Distribution

Traditional distribution is similar to the traditional model of book distribution, where your book is printed ahead of time and stored at a warehouse. A distributor then fulfills orders using your printed inventory.

One benefit of traditional distribution is that a distributor can send copies of your book and its marketing materials to the buyers at Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor, and this exposure increases your chances of getting placed in bookstores.


  • You can use offset printing, which gives you better per-book print costs when printing in large quantities, as well as higher-quality print jobs.
  • More viable for children’s books and other books with specialty printing options.
  • Your book’s presented to book buyers, so you have a higher chance of being picked up by brick-and-mortar stores.


  • Higher up-front expense. You need to print an inventory of books ahead of time to be used for orders.
  • Additional fees once your book is in distribution: storage, returns, and shipping.
  • Higher risk. You may not sell through the inventory you print, leaving you with “leftover” books.

How Mill City Press Helps

Mill City Press offers both POD (or POD with a Returns Program) and Traditional Distribution, and our Publishing Consultants can answer your questions and help you figure out what type of book distribution is right for you.