I had heard that MagCloud was a reasonably priced alternative for a full-color print run, but not knowing much about their process, I thought I'd run a sample publication through and get an idea of the quality of the product. So I uploaded and ran the Thundarr The Barbarian Sourcebook for a proof copy. And here's the result:
First of all, the project was shipped in a clear plastic bag with an address label affixed, much like a magazine. So everyone down the shipping line and postal service can see what you've ordered. (Not a big deal, but the lack of privacy was a bit of a turn-off.) Also, with no stiff backing, it arrived nice and mangled when folded and crammed into my mailbox. The product is in a glossy magazine format, so the pages are nice and slick. But the paper feels a bit thin, as if it'd tear with any degree of rough use. (Or typical use in my household.) Another minus is the cover. Looks good, but it's printed on the same stock as the pages. This will just not hold up as well as a thicker cardstock cover found on books. (Although MagCloud does present itself as a kind of portfolio/magazine POD service, so I suppose it's adequate for a "disposable monthly" pub.) Color "pops" nicely though:
And how much did this cost? Publications cost a flat 20 cents per page with free saddle stitch binding. (Perfect bound is another buck.) With shipping it came to just around $15. Cheaper, yes. But not cheap enough to be a viable alternative in my eyes (especially when the flaws in the durability of the end project are considered). If you're producing a 40 to 50-page fanzine with color interiors, this could be a great way to get it printed and distributed on the cheap. But for a book or supplement? No, I don't feel this is gonna work for anything you'd want to keep on a bookshelf. (Unless you board-and-bag it like a comic book upon arrival.)
So what am I gonna do? Well, I'm now looking over my layout and art, and beginning the slow conversion to black and white interiors. I can make it work with the design and "feel" for the book I had in mind, and by doing so, I should be able to get this produced and shipped to your door for under $10. So stay tuned for more developments on Project X. And check out MagCloud anyway. Not appropriate for my immediate needs, but I think it has a lot of promise for other ideas. If you ever wanted to churn out a monthly RPG magazine, it's a great place to start.
(Oh, and --NO-- the Thundarr supplement is not Project X, nor will the Thundarr supplement ever be available in a POD format. This was a personal one-off. I might give it away later in a contest or something though...)