Part of the Indie Authors Series
As I’ve said in prior articles, I believe it’s important for a self or indie publisher to have their titles available in print as well as digital editions. There are several reason for this.
- Some people—and a number of reviewers—still prefer print to digital.
- Anyone can publish digitally, but print adds a credibility factor to your enterprise.
- Author-signed copies add substantial perceived value to a print book, making them far more attractive for giveaways, contests, and similar promotions.
- The growth of ebooks has slowed substantially and there is evidence that print book sales are increasing again as the industry shifts from offset and toner to inkjet technologies.
- eBook readers are commonplace only in the US and Great Britain. The rest of the world is still firmly locked into print.
I’ve heard many indie authors say they’re only considering digital publication because of concerns over extra work, hidden costs, etc., in making their book available in print. While it’s true there’s extra work involved, most especially in the formatting process, the costs are moderate, quantifiable, and certainly shouldn’t scare anyone away from making their book available in print.
If you’re considering making your book available in print, there really are only two credible options: Ingram Spark and Amazon CreateSpace. I would strongly recommend going with Ingram Spark; while I have no axe to grind against Amazon, and am in fact very happy with them as retailers of my books, there are several reasons I would never use them for printing and distribution. Chief among these are:
- When you sign with CreateSpace, you’re signing a contract which allows them to change the terms and conditions of the agreement whenever and however they see fit. It is your responsibility to keep track of those changes (meaning they don’t have to tell you). If you don't like those changes, you have no choice but to quit using CS... and as a great man once said, “it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river”.
- In any business, it’s unwise to have all your eggs in one basket. I would never want to have the same company doing my printing, distribution, and sales—especially when their distribution reach isn’t what one might wish for (more below).
Set against these disadvantages (both dealbreakers for me) are two advantages that must be mentioned. First, CreateSpace is very easy to use with hardly any learning curve; secondly, they provide free ISBNs (this is, however, double-edged, since, like the free Smashwords ISBN, their providing your ISBN establishes them, not you, as the “publisher of record”—not a good idea at all.
If you decide you want your books in print and go with Ingram Spark, you’ll have rather more work to do in formatting your book (InDesign is just about mandatory); in setting up an account; and in learning their web interface. You’ll also have to buy your own ISBNs from Bowker at $125 for one or $275 for 10 (now there’s an incentive to write more books...).
The upside of working with Ingram is that you’re not entirely dependent on Amazon and the egregious CreateSpace contract. And with Ingram your print and distribution is in the hands of the single biggest content provider in the world. Ingram has printing centers in the UK, Australia, and across the globe, and will dropship any number of books anywhere simply and efficiently. On top of that, their print quality—and I’ve been using Ingram and their sister company Lightning Source for five years—is absolutely first-rate.
As to costs, the deal is straightforward. Once you’ve provided your text and cover files and an ISBN, you’ll be billed $49 setup fee (refundable if you order 50 books), plus a $12 annual catalog fee per title. And that’s it. Any books you order come at printer’s cost plus shipping (the average B&W title works out between $4 and $5 printed); and when a third party—Amazon, B&N, or any bookseller—orders the book, they pay the wholesale you set (retail less 40% or 55%), Ingram keeps its print cost, and you get the rest.
With regard to pricing, it has to be said that POD (Print on Demand) books always cost more than if you went the traditional route of having a print run of 1,500 or more books offset printed and shipped to you—you’re paying for convenience and built-in distribution. If you want to make your print books affordable for your readers—and nobody is going to pay $20 for a 300-page paperback—you’re going to have to be modest in your pricing. I aim for a $2-$3 profit per book, which allows me to offer my titles at retail (depending on length) at between $12 and $18—an acceptable price point comparable to trade paperbacks from traditional publishers.
If you’re considering the possibility of offering print editions of your work, I strongly urge you to consider all the above and think through your strategy so as to make the best choices for yourself and your future as an indie. But whichever printer/distributor you decide to go with, I firmly believe any indie that wants to be taken seriously must have their book available in print.
And besides, print books make such wonderful gifts.
Is your book available in a print edition, or are you considering the possibility? What considerations factor most importantly into your decision?
Dario Ciriello is the founder and editor of Panverse Publishing, a small press with a mission to break the rigid barriers of category and genre and put story first. His Panverse Anthology authors have been nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards, and the winner of the 2011 Sideways Award for Alternate History. On the novel front, his authors include T.L. Morganfield, Bonnie Randall, Doug Sharp, and Don D'Ammassa. His own work includes Sutherland's Rules, and the travel memoir Aegean Dream. Panverse is currently open for submissions.
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