Thursday, August 28

The Value of Indie Print: Necessity, Choices and Costs

By Dario Ciriello

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?

Further Reading:

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.

Website | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound 


  1. I can't talk about print books from a writer's perspective because I haven't finished my WiP. However, as a reader I can tell you I buy print and only print. I think authors are completely missing a huge number of potential readers when they insist on digital publishing only. Isn't your book good enough for everyone to read? Then make it available to everyone!

    1. Thanks for that perspective, Elissa--I entirely agree with this. The myth that "print is dead"--so pervasive just two or three years ago--is just that... a myth. Despite having two Kindles, I find myself appreciating the pleasure of holding a print book more than ever. Additionally, many readers who fall in love with a book they read in digital edition go on to buy that book in print.l Given how inexpensive it is issue a print edition, I see no reason at all for not doing it.


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. An aside, I said what I did above in the vein of what I write what my target market is like.

      The majority of ebook author success (at the time I post this, anyway) is in the Adult/New Adult/YA arena.

      Writers of middle grade fiction and below like me still need print books, and that's a big part of why I went with a small press for my debut, because MG readers primarily have better access to print than ebooks (outside what their local library might offer), and I'm getting the editor and publishing platform I simply couldn't facilitate on my own at this point and time.

      I'm also getting a lot of creative control I likely wouldn't get at a larger publisher being a new author.

      For me, that's a fair trade off to not having an advance and working out the funds myself to hire a great illustrator for my cover and interior illustrations. I'm so grateful to my author friend, Kelly Hashway, for recommending me to who is now my editor.

      I will do something indie at some point. It just won't be for awhile because of the upfront cost barrier.

    4. TYPOS...

      Well, if you can't afford the upfront costs that you outlined above to have a print version when you're handling it all yourself, than that's why you may not do a print version immediately.

      Please understand I say this as a reader who prefers print, and understands the developing world is still analog in many ways, even if they have decent internet access, but I've done the math, and just the ebooks ALONE are pushing it for me, factoring in the costs of having a print version of the one e-publication I've got is too much for me now, if my debut novel does well enough, I can invest more upfront for my next book to do both at once.

      Plus, I've got a publisher for my first book, but since it's a small independent, I'm doing a lot on my own, but this was the right move for this book, and after being unsuccessful getting an agent for this book, and because my drafting/revision/rewrite process goes so slow, this was , and while I know still do a lot themselves, I do think we forget that the "BIG 5" horror stories aside, there's some truth to not feeling entirely alone.

      I went with the publisher for my debut middle grade novel because my editor really gets the book, and in my niche that's HALF the battle before you even start submitting, and I don't mind that at all because it allow me more creative input on things like illustrators and cover design, just the editing alone would be a barrier to entry to go indie with this book, but I'd like my next book to be sold to a larger publisher that will offer an advance because it will make it easier to setup some pre-release stuff faster and I can take it to a more pro level than I can solely on my own dime alone, and I hope i don't sound jerky when I say that.

      That's where I'm at right now and I'm far from alone!

      Jami Gold and I I had a bit of a row with on her blog regarding Julie Musli's guest post about the barriers to entry for self-published/indie authors when ...

      While I may have misread the post, I still felt there's a mixed message between "Just do it!" and "Do it right" that no one wants to acknowledge, and it's hard to know what makes sense for me, even if it wouldn't work for others.

      I wish more people in general would just understand that not having the upfront costs to have this "Triple A" pro team of editors, a cover designer, and an illustrator if our book needs illustrations, but I do feel as much as I don't want to come off a hack, I wish more people in would understand "Can't" is not always a synonym for "Won't." That's all.

      I just feel that hacks aside, that pressure of is why many like me don't do much outside of blogging which is different than writing with the intent to publish for profit in book format.

      If I sound angry, it's not at you, Dario, it's just raw envy on my part, because I know this process is never easy either way, but I do feel some parts of going indie are easier to navigate for some than others, and some of us have more wiggle room financially to do these best practices you touch on, which I agree are important, I hope you and others able to take these steps understand where authors like me are coming from, and I wish you and others well who are tackling this challenge. Whether or not any given project succeeds, you are brave to do it, and anyone who says otherwise is WAY out of touch with what it takes to make things happen in this business.

    5. Taurean, thanks for your thoughtful replies--I hear and agree..

      Essentially, Jami (I followed your link) has said it all, probably replying better and at greater length than I could to most of your points. So, ditto Jami! ;-)

      I will offer something here, though. We live in a world of incredibly talented people, and have vast access to their portfolios and skills through the net. When I started up Panverse and put together my first print anthology (Panverse One) I was literally penniless. But I really wanted to make the anthology happen, and the only way I could do it was on a very short shoestring.

      For cover art, I combed the galleries at Deviant Art until I found ready artwork that I really liked; I wrote the artist a nice email, explaining who I was and what I was doing, and asked if I could just licence his art for the book cover: I told him I was utterly broke, offered a couple of free print copies, full credits everywhere, and $75. I had my artwork.

      For cover layout and print formatting I was fortunate to have a graphic designer friend who believed in what I was doing, and charged me nothing--but when, a year later, I put out Panverse Two, still broke and not wanting to take advantage of my friend, I put an ad on Craigslist and found a student who had InDesign on his computer and wanted to start getting some portfolio credits as a graphic designer; we cut the same deal--I gave him full credit, $75, print copies, and glowing written references (he did an awesome job).

      My point being that there's TONS of talent out there, and plenty of people--hell, I've been one myself in the past--who will lend their skills to an enterprise in return for full credit, exposure to an audience, (the Panverse anthology covers were universally praised) and something to bulk up their portfolio/resume.

      That leaves you with editing. In that regard I was fortunate as I have the skill set, and had a fabulous group of Beta readers. But again, a reasonable editing job can be done by anyone with good English skill, and they're out there--in colleges, unemployed, retired.

      Yes, in an ideal world we'd all hire pros and pay them top dollar. But one can still do a pretty fair job working with friends or talented amateurs, bartering and giving whatever one can in terms of cash, publication credits, product. It's very feasible, if one puts in the time, to publish a print edition of one's book for just three hundred dollars or so, all in--and that's including a few hard copies.

      So take heart--this can be done. And thanks for making that great distinction between "can't" and "won't". :)


    6. Actually, I just checked back on my records--it was $60, not $75! All I could afford then.

    7. Thanks for replying, Dario, I did misread Julie Musli's post a little bit, and Jami's initial replies to my comments, I was kind of having a mini panic attack because I do feel torn between what's and what I can realistically do with respect to my limited budget.

      I have done some browsing on Devianart, mostly for fun, and in awe there so many great visual artists out there. I might go for that.

      I actually like playing with typography, since I'm not an illustrator (though one day I will work toward being one), that's an area where I love being creative, finding fonts that work for a particular project that's still easily readable.

  2. Very helpful article! I do feel the need to point out, however, that ereaders are very popular in Canada as well, not just the US and the UK. Kobo is Canadian, put out by our large book chain, Indigo/Chapters. Many Canadians also own Kindles and purchase via Amazon. Our libraries here lend ebooks too. Just wanted to set that straight because the Canadian market shouldn't be underestimated. That being said, I think your point about print books is spot on. :)

    1. Erin, thanks, and my apologies for my omission of Canada. One of Panverse's main authors--Bonnie Randall--is Canadian, and her mystery/thriller is set in Edmonton; as a result, I monthly see the Kobo ebook sales in Canadian $. Thanks for setting us straight on that, and for your kind comments. :)


  3. Dario, I agree with you that print is a vital (and fun!) thing to do for indies. Just holding the darn book in your hands is worth all that effort. Plus, I'm doing a library event in October and I'll have print books there to sell.

    Your take on CreateSpace is interesting...I actually really like them. But it's so nice to have other options as well.

    Thanks for the great info!

  4. Julie, thanks :) And, yes, signing and selling print at events--wonderful.

    I know lots of people who, like yourself, use CS and are very happy with it. Some have had occasional quality issues, but not too many. I certainly don't think anyone already using CS really has much to worry about, but for the reasons stated they would never be my own choice if I were considering print for the first time. The change-at-will-without-informing-client clause in the contract IMO shouldn't even be legal--in many nations, it wouldn't be. But Amazon needs its authors and already does quite well, so I don't think there's imminent danger :) My comfort zone is just different. Also, I publish several other authors, so there are additional considerations a self-published solo author wouldn't need.

    Thanks lots for commenting, and for your kind words.


  5. Hi Dario,

    Thanks for this (and your other) informative posting. I'm a writer and editor, and agree with you from both perspectives on your view of print books.

    Your post is so timely for a situation that has recently arisen for me. I need to conduct research on the two elements you've discussed here for an Indie publisher in Oz. This is a long-term editing partner of mine that is considering approaching the self-published author market in the States.

    I appreciate your clear-voiced POV and guidance to authors - gives me a great jumping off point.

    So glad Janice has brought this series to everyone - such terrific learning opportunities!

    1. Thank YOU, Maria, and I'm glad the info was timely. Janice is seriously awesome--quite apart from her own astonishing generosity with advice and articles, she gives indie authors a wonderful platform to share information and ideas. I truly appreciate your "clear-voiced" complement--you are kind :)


    2. *compliment, dammit, not "complEment"! LOL. But all blog comments are first draft, right? ;-)