Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cost and Value: Print Books

Aspects of independent publishing Part Five: Pricing, continued.

Dead-Tree Overhead!

So far we’ve discussed the power of 99, and the fluid pricing for ebooks. For those of you, like me, who want to see their novel in actual print, on actual dead-tree paper in perfect-bound glory, this next segment is for us.

Let’s face the facts folks: It can literally cost nothing to produce an ebook except the time required to sit before a computer screen and type. That's why there are so many of us jumping into the DIY ocean. For a physical book, there’s more to consider than public reaction to the price point. The publisher (that’s you) now has overhead.

And the publisher has to know their market.

Print on Demand printers like CreateSpace and Lightning Source are cost effective because you don’t have to worry about storing thousands of copies of your book in your basement while trying to establish a sales channel through your favorite Independent Bookseller. But some decisions can negate this effectiveness.

Like what font you’re using.

Oh, we know that Shel.
That’s why we went to FontSquirrel and searched through
the free of cost and use fonts for the perfect font.
We’ve got that covered,
so let’s get on with it.

Not so fast. Yes, it is extremely important to have a font that is easy to read and almost as important to have one that doesn’t look like the standard font from your word processor. However, the choice of font could mean the difference between profit and loss. The size of your font, not just the interior layout, affects how many pages are in your book. The number of pages in your book affects the bottom line of printing your book.

If you can cut out a hundred pages simply by adopting a new, mass-paperback-friendly font, you’ll be in a different pricing block, and will have more room to turn a profit.

If you’re going the DIY route, or if you're struggling with layout, there are lots of helpful sites that will give you free advice and examples, and even quality, low priced templates to use for your project. Will it look as professional? Maybe not, but it will look pretty damn close. Take a minute, do some research, decide what you’re comfortable doing and what you want to hire a professional for.

Research the professionals you hire, too. I can't stress enough the need to take your time with this. Your research will help you locate a trustworthy person who will deliver you a quality product. Establishing a budget early and sticking with it will keep you from getting taken by someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Shameless plug: I have navigated the layout waters, and I am in a position to help you for dirt cheap, depending on your project. While my advice or lunatic ravings are free, my labor no longer can be. My fees, however, are extremely flexible and negotiable.

Okay, we get it Shel. Can we discuss pricing now?


Okay, so let’s pretend we’re all set to go. We’ve got the layout, exterior and interior, all ready for print. If you don’t know anything about paper stock, again, I urge you to do some research. There are some confusing terms regarding paper, like point and weight. Like with all things, the higher the quality, the more it costs. This is where you learn the true meaning of compromise. CreateSpace has a pretty decent calculator to help you establish the “per each” cost of your print book.

We’ll use my books Hagatha Kittridge Must Die and The Trouble with Henry as examples. The assumption is that we’re printing with 10pt color stock and laminated cover, and 60# cream interior. Our final trim size is 5.5 by 8.5 inches or 13.97 x 21.86 cm.

Hagatha is 164 pages, including front and back matter. CreateSpace says the cost for 1 is $2.81 + $3.59 for standard shipping and handling.

So to get a “proof” copy, it will cost me $6.40.

Trouble is 346 pages, including front and back matter. CreateSpace says the cost for 1 is $5.00 + $3.59 for standard shipping and handling.

So to get a “proof” copy, it will cost me $8.59.

See what I mean about font affecting your page count? If you can cut even 50 pages extra out, it's worth it in the long run.

So that’s it Shel? That and sales tax for the bookstore?

No. You want to earn a royalty and the bookstore you’re courting wants to turn a profit. You want a EAN/UPC on your cover. Bookstores won’t carry your book without it. The UPC barcode will need to have the suggested retail price.

And just so you're aware, once you set the Retail Price, it costs time and money to change it.

You really want to give some thought about your suggested retail price. Not only do you want the price to compare to other books in the same genre, but you want to make sure that bulk prices and retail/distribution don’t cut into your royalties.

And here is where we begin to understand how a traditionally-pubbed author may only see $0.80 royalty on his book priced at $15.99. Not that I’m defending the archaic business practices of a Big-6 5 publisher, but they do have a lot of people working under their roof that have families to support. They are interested in profit, as they have every right to be in a capitalist society.

Okay Shel, we’re on the same page.
How do we determine our Sales Price?

We'll use Hagatha Kittridge Must Die as an example. 

Assuming we're printing on demand one book at a time, $6.40 in the above scenario is our break even point. If I'm selling the print book through my own site, I could, say, price the book at $8.00 and be done. I sell a book, I make $1.60 profit. It's slim maybe, but it's still a profit.

But, if I want to sell through a bookstore, I need to allow for things like Standard Trade Discount, and I want to be competitive here, not stingy. Keep in mind, self-publishing, indie-publishing, author-publishing, no matter what name you give it is still experiencing some prejudice and bookstores are not going to be willing to risk shelf space for something that won't give them a profit.

So a professional, not-stingy Standard Trade Discount according to some non-stingy industry professionals would be set at one of the following:
  • 15-20% to Libraries and College Bookstores
  • 40% to Independent Bookstores
  • 50-55% for Large Chain and Distributors
  • and a bulk discount for anyone from your website who may want to buy more than one of your books at a time, a courtesy that your readers will appreciate, especially around Christmas.
Now, I don't know how the rest of you feel about your local library, but I personally think libraries may be getting the short end of the stick. And I don't see why Independent Bookstores should be shafted because they're not a big name store. And with that in mind, I'm more inclined to give a 55% trade discount across the board here. Why not? It's my book, right?

And since my readers are buying direct from my website, I can give all kinds of discounts or bundles or extra bits that help me stay connected with them. 

But if I was to sell Hagatha to distributors with $8.00 retail in mind at the 55% discount, they would be purchasing Hagatha at $4.40. That's a Net Loss of $2.00.

So my break even point is off. By at least two dollars. I want to sell Hagatha for as inexpensive as I can and still make a profit, and still have the price point be competitive in the market with all the other books on the shelves, I have to look at bumping up the retail price to make this work.

Changing your EAN barcode price gets expensive because you have to change the information on the cover of your book. You can always sell for less than your suggested retail price, but you can't sell for more. The chances of you getting tarred and feathered if you do rise substantially. Just saying.

So let's look at a different formula.

How about two and a half times that break even amount?

$6.40 x 2.5 = $16.00 new retail price
$16 x 45% = $7.20 the unit price for the Standard Trade Discount
$7.20 - $6.40 = $0.80 net profit.

Not much, right? $16.00 (or because we know the power of 99, $15.99) will net me $0.80 in royalty. Looks a lot like what I'd get from a traditional publisher if I was going that route. 

Now, before you go delving too deeply into my math formulas, I should probably let you know that I barely passed maths in school. And this is the price per each, based on one book ordered at a time. Theoretically, the more you purchase at a time, the less expensive the cost per each becomes, and you can adjust the numbers with that in mind, if you desire.

My advice to you?
  • RESEARCH THE DEVIL out of your cardstock choices, your printer choices, etc. Decide what you can afford to do, and what is necessary to do, with your final product.
  • RESEARCH THE DEVIL out of fee-per-sale website plugins to set up your own store. Sites like Gumroad and Wordpress have these things down to a science. Look at the fine print and make sure your comfortable with the arrangements.
  • Did I mention RESEARCH? Just checking.
  • Run the numbers. Look at your genre, your competition. Run the numbers again before you set your suggested retail price. If you don't, you could be shelling out more money than you have or want, and can and probably will be extremely disappointed with the outcome of your dead-tree exploration.
  • and last but not least: DO NOT LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU.

I said it before and I'll say it again here: No one will believe in your book if you don't, and no one will believe in it more than you. If you want your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, or at Waterstones, these are the sorts of things you need to be prepared for.

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

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