Posted on May 23, 2012 - by MG
OF COURSE. It’s only the advent of digital that makes it possible to gain a wide-enough readership to recoup the cost and effort of self-publishing.
Successful self-publishing is all about the ebook.
However – to print or not to print, that is the question.The successfully self-published author Catherine Ryan Howard (of Catherine, Caffeinated fame) sold her ebooks at a 11:1 ratio to her print book.Afterwards she wondered whether it’s worth doing a print version at all. In the end, it may not be worth the effort and cash, but for some other considerations.To Catherine’s most business-critical consideration, I will add TWO more.
- Catherine raised this one – print versions are best for getting reviews. Reviewers enjoy hard copies; it’s s small gift that appreciates the time and effort of their review. Even if they can’t store everything they receive, the books can be found a good home. Think of it as a marketing cost.
- Print versions are inclusive. Most people don’t have ereaders. The Joshua Files have sold in seventeen language territories and are read mainly by teenagers. Even though THE DESCENDANT is an older readers’ book, it’s perfectly accessible to anyone with GCSE-level science and has less violence and sex than some YA books (more science though). I don’t wish to exclude those readers. So that’s a plus for a print version.
- When people browse the Kindle/Nook stores, a novel that doesn’t also have a print edition is a dead-giveaway as a self-published book. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld. If you want to do the job as professionally as possible then, a print version is worth the investment.
It’s hard to make more than $1 US on a POD book in the cheaply-priced book markets of the UK and USA. In Australia and much of the EU, books are more expensive and rarely discounted, so you can do better, quite easily up to $2 US. Bricks-and-mortar book stores are unlikely to order a POD book unless you allow returns – a potentially costly strategy. However, with the growth in online retail of print books, your print edition, making you a neat dollar on most sales, might bring in a healthy trickle of sales. It’ll cost you upwards of $500 USD extra to make available a print edition, plus all the extra work with Nielsen/Bowker.
For my established readership, it’s essential. If you’re new to publishing, it may be best to start with ebook only and see what happens.
The reality is that without a sales force to get your book into all the high street stores, a promotion (such as 3-for-2 or other discount at a major retailer – all The Joshua Files books have benefited from these) print media coverage, advertising and a fancy/textured/foil cover to attract attention etc: in other words, without all those things that Anthony Horowitz’s publisher described as “peripherals“, then your print books won’t shift enough to make real money.
The print version is a loss leader for a self-publisher; a marketing tool. Using loss leaders makes your marketing strategy more aggressive. It reduces one more potential buyer-objection: ‘if this book is so good, why isn’t there a print version?’.
The more interesting question is how to print.
Here’s a very quick summary of the state of play at the time I made my decision. (see important update at the end of this post!)
The two main print-on-demand suppliers of the moment are Createspace (part of Amazon) and Lightning Source (part of Ingrams). Createspace are good, easy to use, will deal with individuals not just companies BUT they are in the USA. UK customers will face steeper shipping charges if they order via Amazon.com. Lightning Source are more old-skool printers set up to deal with corporates, and you need to have your own company to use them. However, if you want your books to be available as POD via other retailers including in the UK, Lightning Source is the current best bet.
In the end I decided to go with BOTH. Two editions of the book – one for sale only via Amazon.com printed by Createspace (the US edition). And one for sale via any retailer that chooses to order from the Ingrams catalogue (the UK edition).
However, pricing a paperback at a realistic level (for the market) is often incompatible with making a profit. It might be worth a whole blog post on pricing.
Remember – POD is your loss leader.
For me, it is key to have the book available in print, and priced to the bone, because I am doing this for my readers. I want existing readers to be able to enjoy another story, and I’d love to introduce new, older readers to the twisty, often complex plots of The Joshua Files.
IMPORTANT UPDATE RE CREATESPACE!
On May 17th, Createspace took an action which might just make this decision (Createspace vs Lightning Source) much simpler. They allowed European distribution of books via Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr and Amazon.es. You can set the price of a book and see your royalty, as with the Amazon.com channel. It’s perfectly possible to charge a market price and earn about a US dollar per sale.
This leaves the following reasons for still going with Lightning Source:
- The option of matte laminate covers. (CS are all glossy)
- Potential distribution in Australia (but even with postage, most Amazon.com books cheaper than books in Aussie bookstores)
- UK delivery of the author copies – faster and cheaper (but if you’re patient, the basic shipping option from Createspace works out about the same)
- The potential for bricks-and-mortar stores to buy your book (not likely for non-returnable POD though)
- The establishment of a relationship which can diversify to allow short print runs, hardback versions etc
Next: #5 Pricing of indie-published POD and ebooks – Pricing. It’s a self-publisher’s most significant marketing ‘P’ word. What to do?