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Some budding authors (school aged young people) want to see their creative works in print, as books. I'm prepared to do some of the pubisher's tasks (eg, get some ISBN's for each book, if required; I'm also searching for FOSS software to convert each ISBN into a bar-code, to reduce bar-code costs).

If we can (together) create, combine & prepare electronic documents for the printers, what are the options for (& approximate costs of) fairly small print-runs.

Are there any low-cost printers, who offer discounts for those who order printing of several books in each order? (Being setup to do batch-jobs cost-effectively, they'd save setup & billing costs, etc. and pass-on their some of the savings, to be more competitive.) Are there parts of the world where printing tends to be cheaper?

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IF you're interested, Featherweight Press (whom I'm an editor for) accepts submissions from school aged authors. We currently have a few young authors already on our roster. =) –  Ralph Gallagher Oct 23 '11 at 22:24
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3 Answers

I have been using Lulu for about six years now. A word of caution regarding ISBNs. An ISBN changes the nature of the earnings you make from selling a book for tax purposes. I could only ever afford an ISBN once so mostly I have done without. Ironically this means that if people buy most of my books I get my money in the UK sent to me. If I sell copies of the ISBNed one I have my earnings held hostage by the IRS until I pay a notary in this country to countersign some ridiculous document stating that I don't make money in the US and therefore don't have to pay taxes in the US.

You are probably in the US yourself but the distinction remains, selling book-shaped objects that are not officially books because they have no ISBN does alter the way that the IRS views taxation on those products. So you might want to look into the tax implications of sale for US residents.

As to Lulu itself the core publishing part of the business has come on in leaps and bounds since 2005 and its five step publishing wizard is pretty awesome, however I would have couple of goes with it before you try something you actually want to have published just to get used to how it all works. It allows you to download preview PDFs to check everything looks okay.

The customer service at Lulu is pretty terrible or at least it was the last time I needed anything and their knowledge base/support section is needlessly arcane and ridiculous. The best policy I have found is to have a go at something and see if it works. If it's something important Google "Lulu (your question)" and Google may assist you in mining information out of the broader internet where Lulu have failed.

I have been setting some Role Playing Game products over the last couple of years and Lulu's multiple PDF upload wizard, cover designer and their support for extravagant page layouts have all been very useful.

Createspace, as mentioned by Steven above, I only checked out when it was brand new and back then it was pretty ropey. It forced you to have ISBNs even if, as in my case, you didn't want them. Also at that point they had no UK printers which Lulu got about three or four years ago. These are selling points that I'm sure are irrelevant to you. I'd guess that the poor binding and muddy print quality issues Createspace had when they first started are now also a thing of the past but I mention them because when I checked out the service people were not happy about these things.

EDIT: BTW making the PDFs and stuff is free. You only pay for something when you want printed copies of it, for the paper and delivery and stuff. Example price 200 page crown quarto is about $3.50 don't know about US Delivery costs but over here it's a bit more like $5 P&P for courier delivery.

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If you haven't tried CreateSpace recently, then I think you're missing out. Their services have improved dramatically over the past year alone, and they are now considered the industry leader (at least here in the US). I've heard that their UK version is not as advanaced and still has some issues, and that is largely due to the fact that the UK version is still built on the US pricing structure, hence the issues with ISBNs. Assuming they are going to be publishing in the US, I still believe CreateSpace will be a better choice. –  Steven Drennon Oct 23 '11 at 16:13
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I think your best bet would be to go to Amazon's CreateSpace print-on-demand service and take advantage of their self-publishing package. They don't charge you anything for setup or publishing, and they provide a free distribution channel for all your books. They also provide the ISBN and barcodes and they have templates you can use for the cover design. They really are a one-stop shop for publishing on a shoestring. The only cost associated with this is the purchasing of a proof copy of the book that you use to verify the finished product meets your expectations. I believe they have even started waiving that, so you actually have no costs at all. They do provide a discount to authors who want to purchase their own books for reselling locally or on their web sites, but again, that is not required.

I found a review of their services that provides some additional information. It's about a year old, but it looks like it addresses all the key features. I also found another link that discusses how to self-publish with CreateSpace. It is much more current and provides a different perspective. I really believe this will be the most cost-effective approach for your students.

Amazon does provide a separate option called the Pro Plan that allows you to obtain a higher discount on your own books and also provides a larger possibility for distribution. This only costs $39 and is definitely worth the cost if you plan to purchase a lot of your own books and self-promote. Other than that, there are no other costs tied to their self-publishing packages.

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A more general answer, to complement what others have said:

It is unusual today to order a private print run of a self-published book, although I have done this with one author of a private edition because he needed special binding. Vanity presses that would charge you to print a certain minimum number of copies still exist, but they are obsolescent.

The current norm is what is generically called "Print On Demand" (POD). POD generally uses digital presses and standard paper stock (although you can ask for custom), often incorporates guts, cover and bindery in one production line, and has the huge advantage in your situation that there is no inventory to purchase or store. Setup charges are minimal or nonexistent, so you pay only the per-unit price for each book.

In a school-age setting such as you describe, I would look locally before considering the Lightning Source (excellent), CreateSpace or Lulu options. Google "Print On Demand" and look for local printers who offer the service. There are many today, and not just in the biggest cities.

You gain several educational advantages by using a local printer: you can establish a relationship with the printer, who will likely take an interest in the school and possibly provide tours and/or presentations for the kids; you are likely to find one who'll give you a great discount or even donate some funds to the project; you'll have someone you can work with directly on the formatting requirements; and, not least, you can actually see the facility and talk over different options for paper stock, cover and binding styles, etc.

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