Sunday, April 8, 2007

Publish or be Published: Part V

So, how do you go about putting out a book? Let's assume you have a manuscript. You need to get it typeset in a form that can be sent to printer and printed. You also need to think about where you are going to put the books once they are printed. At the same time you need to be thinking about the channels you are going to use to sell your book. It might seem backward but we will discuss the last of these items first: Where to sell?

How about "the world's biggest book store" which is amazon.com? There is a fairly simple way for independent publishers--which includes you as an author who has published your own book—to sell through Amazon. It is called the Advantage program and you can read all about it here, but the following is the bit you want to know right now:
There is an annual fee of $29.95 to be a member of Advantage. Your fee includes unlimited title enrollment, access to our Vendor Services team, and access to the Vendor web site to manage your account. The standard terms for Advantage vendors is 55% - you keep 45% of the List Price. That means that Amazon.com is entitled to 55% of the List Price for each unit that sells. You, the vendor, receive 45% of the List Price. You set the List Price, also known as Suggested Retail Price, of your products, and all payments made to you are calculated based on the List Price. If Amazon.com decides to further reduce the sales price to the customer below the List Price, the customer discount comes out of Amazon.com's percentage. For example, if the List Price is $39.95, you will make $17.98 from each copy sold, even if the Customer Price or Our Price on Amazon.com is discounted from the List Price.
Now, I don't know what kind of book you are going to publish, but if you are going to give it a list price of $39.95 it had better be very special. Don't think you can game the Amazon system by listing a high cover price and expecting Amazon to discount it. You don't control their discounting. (I will give you an example in the next posting.)

Let's say you are looking at a 240 page trade paperback in the 6x9 inch size range. You can probably get these printed for $2.00 each. A realistic cover price for this might be $22.95 which gives you $10 and change for your 45% cut, less $2.00 printing costs. But PLEASE don't make the classic mistake of thinking "Great, if I can sell just 2,000 copies through Amazon I will make $16,000, which is twice what I was going to get as an advance from McGraw-Hill."

First of all, the books for which Amazon pays you $10 have got to get to Amazon and won't earn you a dime until they sell. Herein lies perhaps the biggest secret of publishing: books are HEAVY. That means shipping is going to be a big factor in the profitability of your publishing venture. Consider these numbers:

It will cost $4.05 to ship your 240 page 6x9 book via Priority rate for 2 day delivery within the US. Parcel Post runs $3.95 for 5 days but is probably not worth it since Bound Printed Matter rate is $2.15 for about the same speed. Slightly slower but a relative bargain is Media Mail (Book Rate) for $1.59. Compare that to the cost of printing the book. If you do a large print run you can probably get the cost of your book down to around the cost of sending it somewhere via Media Mail.

But surely your customers will pay shipping?

Yes, they will pay to get the book from Amazon, but you have to get the book to Amazon (or another other distribution point—for example, to your garage from the printer, or from your garage to a friend who has a book store that you can't get to by car). For an idea of bulk shipping costs, check this chart of UPS prices.

BTW, I have found UPS is the way to go with books. They are more reliable and do less damage than other carriers I have tried. So, these are current UPS rates for a book of 40. As you can see, 2-day is more than $2 per book. Regular 5-day is about 62 cents per book.

In my experience Amazon is unlikely to give you a chance to ship in bulk. They will order two or three copies at a time. A lightweight mailer for one or two books will cost about 50 cents. So your cost before the book gets to Amazon could be $4.71 (printing cost + shipping to you + shipping to them + mailer to ship in = $2.00, 0.62 + 1.59 + 0.50 = $4.71). That means one sale at Amazon may only net you $5.30 versus the gross figure of $10.00. And that means you have to move more like 2,000 copies to get a return greater than the $10,000 advance you might have received from a mainstream publisher. And you are fronting the costs and taking the risk. Nevertheless, it may be worth it.

Next posting we will talk about some alternatives to Amazon and how to move 2,000 books in a hurry.
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2 comments:

David Brussin said...

I've heard some good things about lulu.com...

They charge more for printing than you can get elsewhere, but they print and ship to your customer, so the net is probably better than self-publishing and shipping to Amazon.

Stephen Cobb said...

Thanks for the comment David--I will cover lulu.com in either Part Six or Part Seven. This is turning into quite an opus (hopefully not an Opus).