Saturday, June 18, 2011

Self-Publishing for Print

I’m a research fanatic. When I get interested in something, or decide I want to do (or buy) something, I first get online and research the hell out of it. I love having as much information as possible before I make a decision, especially when that decision is going to impact my checkbook. I Google, I read message boards, stalk blogs, whatever I have to do to find the information I need. So when I made up my mind that I was going to give self-publishing a serious try, my first step was research.

Initially, I was researching ebooks. For a self-publisher nowadays, it’s become pretty easy to take your manuscript, format it, make up a cover and then submit it to Kindle DTP, Smashwords, or any other number of ebook sites. And because it’s all electronic, you can set the prices remarkably low. Hell, you can give the book away if you really want! So it’s understandable that most self-publishers only deal with ebooks when they start out. It’s easy, free to the author and cheap to the reader. Granted, there’s still a lot of time and work that goes into making a well-formatted ebook, but that’s another issue entirely.

The focus of my research today has been print. While most writers who self-pub do the majority of their sales through ebooks, print is still a factor. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t use ereaders, and don’t like to read books on their computer. I know this because, out of all my friends and family, the only people I know who use ereaders are myself and my mother. Everyone else reads paper books. So when it comes time for me to publish, I will be doing myself a great disservice if I only offer my novel in ebook format. My only guaranteed sales when I start are going to be from friends and family, and if they can’t buy my book in paper format, I lose all of those sales. Pretty stupid not to offer both versions, no?

Enter the research. I knew, from my Kindle research, that Amazon uses CreateSpace for their POD (Print on Demand) publishing, and I’d done a little bit of reading on that site to get a basic idea of costs. It seemed okay, but I was a little put off by a few things. One, their book sizes are bigger than your standard paperback. It looks like the most popular size is either 5.25” x 8” or 5.5” x 8”. Some also use the 6x9 size, but I feel that’s too big. While I’d love to be able to publish in a standard mass market paperback size, I understand that POD services can’t print that size as cost-effectively, so to use CS, I would have to choose a larger trim size. I did some messing around with their pricing calculator, just to see where I’d have to set my prices if I used their service.

For the 5.25x8 trim size, I was able to make a rough InDesign file of my manuscript and estimate page count to be approximately 250 for just the novel itself. Figuring that once I add in extra like the research notes, bibliography, copyright page, dedication page, etc. it will go up another 10-15 pages, I used 265 as my final page count.  For the 5.25x8.5 trim size, the page count came to about 190 pages, manuscript only. I used 215 for that page count.

So here’s where I ended up for CreateSpace pricing. It’s a little difficult to figure because their share changes depending on the list price you choose. This part got confusing and wordy, so I’m editing it out in favor of a handy dandy chart!

Retail $

$8.99

$9.99

$10.99

$11.99

Trim
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
5.25”x8”

-$1.43

$1.35

-$0.83

$1.95

-$0.23

$2.55

$0.37

$3.15

5.5”x8.5”

-$0.43

$1.95

$0.17

$2.55

$0.77

$3.15

$1.37

$3.75

6”x9”

$0.49

$2.50

$1.09

$3.50

$1.69

$3.70

$2.29

$4.30

Here’s what you’re looking at up there: For each possible retail price, I’ve included my profit (or, in some cases, loss) for both the standard and pro plans. The pro plan costs $39, with a $5 renewal each year, and what it gest you is just what you see up there: lower costs. Not a bad deal, really. Prices for 6x9 are generally best, but I’m not a fan of that larger size, so I think I’d be most likely to stick to the other two. Either is close to a trade paperback, and at that size, I’m comfortable charging $8.99 or more, though less is better. Personally, as a consumer, I won’t pay more than $10 for a paperback, no matter what the size. So I want to keep that in mind when I price my own book. I’d like to stay at $8.99 if possible, which would make the pro plan necessary. Not only is it a good deal in terms of pricing, but they have an expanded distribution channel with that plan that includes bookstores, libraries and other online retailers. I really don’t know if I’d be interested in that, but it’s a nice option to have. Also if I want to buy my ISBN through CS rather than use their free one, it’s only $10 extra. I still need to do ISBN research to see where the advantages are there.

In order to get a better idea of things, I needed another company for comparison. The only other POD company I could find that comes close to CreateSpace is Lulu. One advantage Lulu has is smaller trim sizes: you can get your book printed at 4.25”x6.87”, which is just about standard size for a mass market paperback. However, the cost of that is ridiculous. One book at that price costs nearly $11. Using the 5.5x8.5 size with publisher grade paper is more reasonable: only $5.75 per book. But that’s just ordering them directly from Lulu (shipping would be extra, I’m sure). To get them on Amazon, you have to purchase a distribution package, which brings down the price per book.  From what I can gather (it’s difficult to find information on their site: I had to use Google to get anywhere), the mass market size goes down to $7.40 per book and 5.5x8.5 size isn’t even available. I’d have to use either 5.83x8.26 (weird size) or 6x9 (bigger than I want). The smaller of the two comes in around $5.50 each while the larger is about $4.90 each. Definitely reasonable costs, but what do those distribution packages cost? Again, I came across some trouble finding answers. Eventually, I realized the extendedREACH package was free (thanks to a message board post I found through Google), while the globalREACH package is $75. The free package includes Amazon.com distribution, and requires an ISBN from Lulu. The global package also includes listing at B&N.com, Ingram (I think that’s in the UK?) and the ability for bookstores to order the books. The only advantage I see there is the B&N.com part, but is it worth $75? Probably not. So if extendedREACH is free, that’s not a bad deal. It looks like buying an ISBN through them is about $20, but again, I ‘m not really sure. Their website is giving me a headache today.

So here’s their chart. One column for each retail price is without distribution – customers would buy the book from Lulu’s Marketplace – and the other is with the free distribution to Amazon.com.

Retail $

$8.99

$9.99

$10.99

$11.99

Trim
Lulu
Dist.
Lulu
Dist.
Lulu
Dist.
Lulu
Dist.
5.83”x8.27”

$0.39

-$2.01

$1.19

-$1.01

$1.99

-$0.01

$2.79

$0.30

5.5”x8.5”

$2.60

N/A

$3.40

N/A

$4.20

N/A

$5.00

N/A

6”x9”

$0.79

-$1.01

$1.59

-$0.01

$2.39

$0.30

$3.19

$0.80

So basically, their best rate is also the 6x9 size, but to make $1.00 profit, I’d have to sell at $12.50. Ugh. I do not like this pricing, Lulu. Also, it looks like Lulu’s distribution to Amazon takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks!

Now, if I didn’t care about people being able to buy the book on Amazon.com,  I would do better with Lulu. They could buy on Lulu’s site, or I could buy in bulk and sell them myself.  CreateSpace doesn’t appear to have their own store, so my only other option with them would be to buy in bulk and sell myself. For that, my profit per book would be as follows (standard and pro plans are still applicable, apparently)

Retail $

$8.99

$9.99

$10.99

$11.99

Trim
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
Std
Pro
5.25”x8”

$2.17

$4.95

$3.17

$5.95

$4.17

$5.95

$5.17

$6.95

5.5”x8.5”

$3.17

$5.55

$4.17

$6.55

$5.17

$7.55

$6.17

$8.55

6”x9”

$3.97

$6.03

$4.97

$7.03

$5.97

$8.03

$6.97

$9.03

Okay… damn. That’s kind of impressive. Of course, there are also shipping costs involved, both from CS and to the customer. But still, it’s minimal. If I order 10 books from CS, the shipping is $8.00: $0.80 per book. Not too shabby. Shipping cost from me to the buyer would be about $5, but I would probably include an extra shipping cost anyway. I don’t know. There are pros and cons to both. Biggest con: people feel safer buying from established sites like Amazon. Especially since I would be limited to taking payment via PayPal. It’s something to think about, though.

Of course, all of this is assuming I haven’t missed something important somewhere, which is very possible. But I read through those sites so much today, if I missed it, it was pretty well-hidden!

Sorry I got so long-winded there, but this was as much for my own reference as anything. I’m a visual person: I like to have things laid out where I can see it and compare easily. I think what it’s coming down to is this: if I just want to sell the books myself, CreateSpace is the best option. If I don’t care about Amazon.com distribution, but want someone else to handle online sales and shipping, Lulu.com is best. But if I want people to be able to buy a paper version of my book on Amazon.com, then I think CreateSpace’s Pro plan is the best value.

Man, I’ve been typing up this post just about all afternoon (I’ve been researching as I write). I’d say what a waste of a day, but I guess it really wasn’t. I certainly know more now than I did when I started!

And now I must go read my head, because… ow.

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations for all the research and the information you provided.

    One thing you left out was the ISBN.
    You get one free with CreateSpace unless you select added distribution - the difference probably making the little extra worthwhile.

    For lulu, you pay $100 for their ISBN and it gives you nothing extra!

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  2. @LV Cabbie Thanks for reading! :)

    I did mention ISBNs a little, but I admit I haven't done all the research on them yet. I saw something on Lulu about an ISBN being $20 (and another kind being $100), but again, I haven't had the chance to really look into it yet. Good to know it isn't all that necessary to spend so much.

    Since I'll probably end up going with CreateSpace anyway, it looks like I'll either use their free one, or spend the extra $10 for the custom ISBN. :)

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