Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Print-on-demand versus traditional press run

Print-on-demand technology, POD, allows for single copies of books to be printed, one at a time, when a copy of the book is ordered. Traditional off-set press runs require a minimum number of copies to be printed at a single time.  POD printed books can be printed in any combination of number of pages while off-set printed books must be printed in multiples of 16 pages for 8-up printing.

Both methods of printing have their advantages and disadvantages.  POD costs more per copy once the number of copies, on average, reaches around 750-800 copies than an off-set press run, but the cost per copy using POD printing is less per copy than that of an off-set print run up to that point. For press runs of over 800 copies, the cost per copy is less using traditional off-set printing.

The advantage of POD printing for the self-publisher is that no inventory is kept on hand, no capital is tied-up in inventory and very little money is required up front to establish printing for the book. The disadvantage is once the book sells enough copies, the cost per copy becomes a factor with the off-set press cost being lower, allowing a greater copy per copy.

While POD technology is constantly improving, there is some drop-off in the quality of printing compared to that of off-set press printing.  Another problem common to POD printing is that pages will at times be upside down or printed out-of-order.  I personally have had this happen to several copies of books that were printed by CreateSpace, owned by  CreateSpace will replace the misprinted copies if notified within 30 days of delivery of the books.

If the self-publishing author knows in advance that the book is going to sell several thousand copies, perhaps because of an advance agreement to sell the book to a company as a premium item, a large book club order, etc, the economics of off-set printing make sense to print the estimated number of needed books.  A technical book that might require exacting printing of graphs, charts, diagrams or other similar items might also need to be printed using an off-set press. Books that are going to be sold in small quantities over a period of time make more sense economically when printed using POD printing.

There are other cost factors that the self-publishing author should consider when choosing a printing method. If the book is only going to be sold via the internet using sales points like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, other factors enter the equation. POD printed books are printed only when ordered. Most POD books are printed by Lightning Source Inc. which is owned by the book distributor Ingram, which fills orders for both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  By using Lightning Source, self-publishing authors do not need to warehouse books. Ingram handles all distribution for the author, fulfilling book orders as only as the book is ordered.

Traditionally printed books not only have to be warehoused, but require heavy discounting, often in the range of 50-60% if not higher.  POD printed books allow the self-publishing author to by-pass the middlemen and keep more of the profit.  Since POD books sold via Amazon and Barnes and Noble are printed and then shipped, the self-publishing author can set a discount as low as 20% per copy.  Experts in the field of self-publishing suggest a discount of 20% will not be listed/ranked high during searches by customers due to the software used by Amazon.  Discounts of 40% seem to be the most effective discount.

The costs of distribution, and the discounts involved, as well as the costs of warehousing and shipping must be factored in to the cost comparison when deciding on using POD or off-set press printing.  Like anything else in the self-publishing industry, there are trade-offs with both methods of printing.  Do your homework and compare costs.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do Your Homework First

Like anything else where money is involved, the buyer needs to beware.  This is certainly true in the case of the author considering self-publishing.  I decided on three different self-publishing companies before I took the leap and decided to use Dog Ear Publishing for my first self-published book. I am glad I made the choice I did and have been very pleased, for the most part, with my choice.

Without naming the names of the other two companies I nearly selected, mainly because I just don't want the hassle, I would have had almost no chance of recouping the funds I had to invest in order to get my book published.  The two reasons for not choosing the two self-publishing companies were hidden costs and the high cost per copy for the print-on-demand publishing.

The hidden costs weren't really hidden, they just creep up on the unsuspecting customer.  Once you are committed to using that company, you will likely want to add services you had not originally planned to spend money on.

There is no real excuse for the high cost per copy that authors are charged for purchasing their own books to resell or the high cost per copy that is deducted from the list price when determining the author's royalties. Why? Almost every self-publishing company in the United States uses Lightning Source as their print-on-demand printer.  The self-publishing company then marks up the price to make a good profit per copy at the expense of the author.

I am not opposed to these companies making a profit. They are after all in business to make money for the owners.  I do think it is short sighted on the part of these companies to try to make so much money per copy that they discourage the author from attempting to publish another book.  Which is a better model? Make a lot of money on one sale, or less money per sale, but have lots of sales over an extended period of time?

Other things that must be considered are the quality of the services offered. If the author chooses to pay for editing, how good are the editors? If you do enough checking you will read some real horror stories. How good are the cover designs or is the only option available stock templates? What is the turn around time from the day the manuscript is submitted till the day the book is available for distribution and sale?

Take the time to research a wide range of self-publishing companies. Read the books available that review the various self-publishing companies. Check with the Better Business Bureau about any self-publishing company being considered. Read blogs like this one to learn as much as possible about the self-publishing industry and hear about the experiences of other authors.

Before spending a single dime have a business plan. Develop a budget for the production of the book and include the cost per copy as part of the equation when determining the list price. Be aware that the average total sales for a self-published book is about 200 copies and most, if not all will be sold via the internet. In the worse case scenario, breaking even should be the goal.

You have worked long and hard on your manuscript. If it is a work of fiction it surely is your hope to provide hours of entertainment and pleasure for your readers.  Likewise if your book is non-fiction, it is your hope that the information contained is useful to your readers. Do not allow the wrong self-publishing company ruin your publishing experience, your book and any chance you might have of making a profit on your book. Do your homework.

Three books were extremely helpful to me in my research of the self-publishing industry.  The first was Mark Levine's The Fine Print of Self-Publishing which reviews 45 self-publishing companies and rates them. This book stopped me from going with the second self-publishing company I had chosen. The second book was Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon which discusses a business model focusing solely on book sales on and not through traditional avenues of book sales. The final book was Morris Rosenthal's Print On Demand Book Publishing: A New Approach To Printing And Marketing Books For Publishers and Self-Publishing Authors. Rosenthal focuses on the business of publishing, how the business of print on demand publishing works and the self-publishing author can develop a successful business model using this approach to publishing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Printing costs are the biggest hurdle to profitablility for self-publishing authors

When I first considered self-publishing and began researching what was involved in self-publishing a book, I was amazed by the number of "self-publishing" companies in business. The various claims and pricing plans were confusing to say the least. Some companies touted their low cost to get a book into print. Others promoted the quality of their production service and much support the author would receive.

Since one my motives for self-publishing a book was to earn some extra money to help pay college tuition bills, not only did the money invested in the project need to be kept to an absolute minimum, what sales the book did generate needed to be as profitable as possible.

Years of making a living as a coach have taught me to always examine every situation from the perspective of a worse-case scenario. Time after time I read the fact that the average total sales of a self-published book is 200 copies, and this is an average!

If my book only sold 200 copies, how could I recoup the cost of using a self-publishing company AND make a profit from the sales of my book? This made me take a very different view of the costs involved. I felt that part of what would make my book sell was the content. But if the book was poorly produced and filled with mistakes, negative word-0f-mouth and bad reviews would kill sales quickly. This meant that an editor would be needed as well as professional book production. That costs money.

Then it occurred to me, the key is the cost per book for the author to purchase for direct sales. Also key is the price charged against the author's royalty for book sales on Amazon. The lower the price to print each copy of my book meant more profit for me, be it a direct sale off my website, speaking at a coaching clinic or sales on Amazon. After further research, I discovered that nearly every self-publishing company in the United States uses the same print-on-demand printer, Lightning Source. This meant that the self-publishing companies were essentially paying the same price per copy to have a book printed and then marking up the price to the author on a per copy basis.

To find out the percentage of the mark-up per copy each of these companies charges read Mark Levine's book The Fine Print of Self-publishing. This was an eye opener for me and it will be for you as well.

For the first book I published, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball: Bench Coaching for Success, I chose Dog Ear Publishing. Dog Ear did an excellent job of producing the book, editing it and had one of the lowest mark-ups on per copy pricing in the industry.

Then I discovered Amazon's CreateSpace. At the time CreateSpace did not offer any author services BUT CreateSpace had, and still does, the best price I have been able to find for print-on-demand printing on a per copy basis for the author. For my next books I choose to self-publish with CreateSpace. My profit margin has been higher for each book sold.

I strongly suggest that when you are shopping for a self-publishing company that the first item on your list to check is the author's price per copy. That and not the cost of getting the book into print will be what determines the profitability of your self-published book.

Amazon's CreateSpace adds author services!

When I entered the field of self-publishing, I used the services of a self-publishing company to publish my book Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball. I self-published an additional thirteen books doing all the work of creating the book myself and then publishing them with CreateSpace.

Most of the books I published using this method were not really meant to be sold directly to customers, either via my website or, but rather were meant to be items that I gave away as part of the price of admission at coaching clinics I speak at. Given the purposed for which they were published, POD and CreateSpace were perfect.

I also self-published a book about using CreateSpace and to my surprise, Self-publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-publishing, has sold a reasonable number of copies.

Since the publication of Self-publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace, Amazon has added author services to the services provided by CreateSpace. The services offered range from a variety of levels of editing, book layout and design and marketing services. The prices were in line with the first self-publishing company I used and in some instances were slightly lower.

Within the author services CreateSpace offers there are different levels of service provided with corresponding levels of pricing. CreateSpace also offers a variety of packages of services bundled together with discounts in pricing if the author purchases the services as a package rather than separately.

While I have not used any of these services yet, my next book is nearly finished. This book is intended to be sold on and I want it to look as professional as my first book, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball. I have been so pleased with my experience with CreateSpace in the past that I intend to use some of the author services now offered to publish my next book. Once it is in print, I will discuss my experiences using these new author services.

If you are interested in learning about using CreateSpace or my experiences as a self-published author who used CreateSpace to publish, you may want to take a look at my book Self-publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace: A Resource Guide for the Author Considering Self-publishing.