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Understanding the Key Differences Between a Publishing House and a Printer

In the world of book writing and publishing, it's critical to distinguish between the role of a publishing house and that of a printer. While they both play important roles in bringing books to life, their functions and responsibilities differ significantly. 

A publishing house is an organization responsible for acquiring, (sometimes) editing, producing, (sometimes) marketing, and distributing books.

Depending on whether you work with a traditional publishing house or a hybrid publishing house, your publisher may or may not edit or actively market your book. Those may be aspects of your publishing journey you need to source separately from your publisher. (And, of course, if you're self-publishing, you're responsible for all of the above. But unless you're printing off copies from your office like Nick and Jess did for The Pepperwood Chronicles in "New Girl", you're the publisher, not the printer.)

The publisher acts as the intermediary between authors and readers, providing comprehensive services throughout the book publishing process.

Printers are more behind-the-scenes, specializing in the physical production of books, whereas publishing houses offer a broader range of services, including editorial guidance, marketing expertise, industry connections, and distribution networks that extend beyond the printing phase. Publishers leverage their experience and knowledge to ensure a professional, top-quality book is delivered while nurturing long-term author relationships. 

The printer, on the other hand, specializes in the physical production of the book (think Amazon's KDP, IngramSpark, or a standalone off-set printer, which is often overseas, used to do large print runs for traditionally published books or times when a self- or hybrid-published author needs to print thousands of copies at once). The printer is responsible for manufacturing and printing copies based on the specifications provided by the publishing house.

Before a book can be properly printed, the publishing house is responsible for: 

  • Editing and proofreading manuscripts to ensure quality and coherence
  • Designing book covers and formatting the content for print publication
  • Distributing books to retailers, wholesalers, libraries, and online marketplaces
  • Managing contracts, royalties, and other legal aspects related to publishing

Printers primarily focus on the physical production of books, including:

  • Preparing the files provided by the publishing house for printing (after they've been properly formatted by the publishing house; the printer will not do the formatting for you in most cases)
  • Printing and binding books in various formats, such as hardcover and paperback
  • Applying special finishes, such as embossing or foil stamping to enhance the book's visual appeal (this is an expensive endeavor and is a service provided only by off-set printers for large print runs)
  • Conducting quality control checks to ensure the printed copies meet the desired standards
  • Packaging and shipping the finished books to the designated locations (i.e., readers, booksellers, or libraries)

Publishing houses and printers often work together. After the publishing house finalizes the manuscript, design, and layout, they provide the printer with the necessary files and specifications. The printer then produces the physical copies based on these specifications.


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