After my experiences with Digital Webbing Presents (17, 18, 26) and Warmageddon Illustrated #1, my desire was never to print more comics than I absolutely needed. I still have close to 700 copies of Warmageddon Illustrated #1 that I continue to store to this day (several years later). With a growing family, my storage space gets smaller and smaller, so Print on Demand is the right solution for me. Only you can decide if it's right for you.
Here's what I look for in a POD service.
I try to respond to every one as soon as possible, so I like to get a response as soon as possible. Whether it be via phone or email, I expect any business that I'm working with to respond to my needs within a reasonable amount of time. Usually that means I expect a response within one business day. If a company can not provide that, then they will have to make up the difference via pricing in order for me to stay with them.
I like the process from receipt of my files until receipt of the final product to take 10-14 days. Once the turnaround time has been established it should not vary by more than 2-3 days. My goal is to keep as little inventory as necessary, so that means I need to be able to depend on my printing partner to deliver within a reasonable amount of time. If they can not, this means that I have to carry more inventory and thus have more storage space.
The entire point behind POD is the ability to print as little or as many as you need without incurring significant differences in cost (other than shipping). I like to keep my print runs o 25-100 depending on the book and it's expected turnaround. First issues tend to sell faster so I keep more of them in stock, but otherwise, I like to keep about 2 months worth on hand. A POD printer that forces me to stock more than 2 months worth is tying up my cash and storage resources.
I set the prices on my products based upon my costs. For comics I try to keep that cost down to about 3 -4 cent a page. That means a 32-page comic should in around $1-$1.25. This is why I very rarely venture into the realm of color POD. Most POD provide some type of discount for increased quantities, so be sure to ask about where the first price break occurs.
If the best price comes only as a result of inserting ads for the POD, then I try to use that POD only as a last resort. I consider ads as endorsements of the product. If you see an ad for something in any one of my products, generally that means I support that product. That's not always true for PODs, so I avoid placing ads when possible. The first books, I printed using ComixPress and Ka-Blam both had their ads on the back cover. If I had it to do over again, I would not have done so. With the savings, I received from that, I would have been better off contacting my local comic book shop and asking them to buy the ad space.
All printers use a different combination of shippers. My choices should be the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS and/or FedEx. There should be the ability to decide which service I want (Priority, Express, Ground, etc) and I should not have to pay a premium above the shipping costs for the faster shipping method.
I don't expect my comics to be collectible. I have no desire for my comics to be treated as collectibles, but I do expect them to arrive from the printer in salable condition. Any printer worth using as printing partner should be able to deliver product to your door with less than 5% of the product damaged in shipping. This means that package would be:
1) protected against shifting during transit
2) minimally protected against water damage
3) protected against damage caused by dropping
Even if the package is insured, the shipper should provide this minimal amount of protection for you because it can take weeks to be reimbursed.
PRINT AND TRIM QUALITY
What the minimum quality you are willing to accept is ultimately up to you. I look for:
1) trim quality - I expect the cuts to be clean with no extra debris left behind. I expect the product to be square. I expect the book to have uniform page length when in a closed position.
2) print quality - I expect the cover colors to be evenly distributed. I expect the blacks to be uniform. The final product should not be pixelated (unless that's the desired effect).
3) uniformity of product - I expect each individual unit to be an exact duplicate (within reason). This means the size should not drastically change and there should not be drastic shifts in color.
And that's what I look for.