As the mechanics of POD publishing become better known a growing number of POD published authors are taking the plunge into self-publishing, bypassing publishers altogether. There are a number of factors that make this a very appealing prospect both because of the fact that this approach gives the author's total control over the project and also because of the money an author stands to make, the latter may be, however, a rather misleading proposition. Because of this, and a couple of other aspects, this decision is not one that should be taken lightly.
Even though it is true that sharing the profits from your book with a publisher does have a significant impact on your earnings it is important to keep in mind what that impact amounts to and whether what you would have to give up in order to retain that percentage is really worth the trouble. To explain this I will use an example that may be described as optimistic as far as the royalties involved are concerned: A book that on external sales through a POD publisher pays royalties of $3.00 per copy and that would pay you twice as much if you were to self publish. In addition to the optimism reflected in those figures let's say that you don't have to worry about trifles such as mortgage, rent, your kids' college funds and your own retirement, not to mention any potential promotional expenses, furthermore, let's say that you are single and lead a fairly spartan lifestyle so you estimate your monthly expenses in $1,000.00. Using the figures that were mentioned above as far as how much you can expect to make from the sale of your book if you were to hire someone to publish your book you would have to sell approximately 333.3 copies per month (that is more than 10 copies per day). It is true that if you were to self-publish you would be able to cut that number of copies in half, but you would also probably incur in some additional expenses. In addition to this you would have to take over the administrative tasks, something that is likely to force you to cut back in the number of hours you can actually dedicate to writing your next book. If you want to turn this into a more realistic example as far as your royalties on external sales are concerned then you may want to estimate your royalties on $2.00 per copy if you were to hire a publisher or $4.00 if you were to publish on your own, and the number of copies you would have to sell to make $1,000.00 a month would be 500-250 and that is a lot of books.
On the administrative side one of the things authors who intend to self-publish have to do is obtain a block of ISBNs, but this is not a complicated process nor is it prohibitively expensive. As far as the creation of a bar code goes, that can be done by a number of programs that are out there, and it is also a service that is often provided by the printing company as part of its services, so this is not a major obstacle. A more serious problem has to do with the fact that an author who chooses to self-publish must be able to provide the printing company with a properly formatted file and a cover design. It is true that both the interior layout and the covers provided by some POD publishers leave something to be desired, given that they are often based on standardized templates, but taking over these aspects can be a difficult task and more often than not it requires some special software, which does represent an additional investment. This situation may also have a significant impact in the number of copies an author has to sell in order to break even.
I am not saying that self-publishing is necessarily a bad idea in all cases, I'm just saying that it is not something that should be taken lightly. What I'm saying is that by estimating what you could earn doing something else or how much you value the time you have available to dedicate to your writing you have to choose your priorities and either earn less money per copy or give up other things, mostly your time. There is not right and wrong path here and the choice may depend to a large extent on your personal circumstances. If you have a job that pays the bills then self-publishing may not be the best thing for you, however if you don't have any other formal obligations --that is, if you are retired, wealthy enough that you don't have to worry about a job or if you work from home-- then self-publishing may be a more viable proposition. You may also have to consider your future plans as a self-published author. If you intend to self-publish a single book then self-publishing is less likely to be a profitable endeavor that if you have a number of books already written (or at least in mind).
Another critical element to determine whether or not self-publishing is indeed for you has to do with your prior experience. If you have never turned to POD to release a book and have no other prior experience in the publishing world then I would probably say that self-publishing is not a good idea. There are just too many things you would have to learn and too many mistakes you could easily make due to lack of experience, and all of these could end up sinking your book. If you have published one or two books using POD already then you may have a better idea of just what it is that you are getting into, and you are also more likely to be in a position to make an accurate assessment of what you stand to gain or to lose if you choose to go at it solo.
From a mathematical perspective it can be said that if the difference between your royalties on an average month and the money you need to earn in order to make ends meet is less than the difference between your royalties on an average month and the money your publisher makes as a net profit on the sale of your book in the same period then self-publishing may indeed be a realistic and viable proposition. If you royalties on an average month add up to a couple of hundred bucks once you have taken into account related expenses, such as book promotion, then self-publishing is obviously a bad idea. Simply put, making more money per copy doesn't help when the problem has to do with the fact that you need to sell a lot more copies.
In some cases self-publishing is the way to go but it is not a universal solution and even though there is a lot you can gain from this approach you have to remember that it is a gamble and that there is just as much you could possibly lose in the process.