April 18, 2016

The Real Cost of Book Printing

Get ready: this post has lots of numbers. The numbers are pretty simple, but they're there. Don't let them scare you.

After seeing a friend of a friend's Kickstarter to fund a print run of her book, I had to say something. Somehow, the true cost of book production has been obscured, and people are generously giving money to be irresponsibly spent. I have almost no doubt this author will be able to raise the money she asked for, but that's not the point. The point is how much she claims this costs.

You know what you don't need in order to offer your book in print to readers? $4000. At least, not if the book itself is already edited & proofread (as this person claims). In fact, if the text is finished, the cost of providing your book in print—including distribution to bookstores, if they want to order it*—is less than $500. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn & do your own typesetting, and there are plenty of free resources online to help, that cost is about $200.
    *And you don't have to enable distribution to booksellers if you don't want to! That's completely up to you, so you can simply use POD to print the books you want, when you want them.
So, yeah, $200. $49 for the setup fee on IngramSpark (which isn't necessary through CreateSpace, I believe, but if you are going for distribution outside of Amazon, IngramSpark offers better royalties). Maybe $100 for a print version of your cover. 
  • Possibly more, if you haven't yet designed your ebook cover, but there are some wonderful designers (including Paper & Sage) that offer pre-mades with print & digital for about $100-$120.
And then about $25 for two test prints of your book, to ensure that nothing is messed up by the printer. Oh, and about $30 for an ISBN if you buy a pack of 10. So let's do the math:
        $49 setup fees
        $100 print cover design
        $25 test prints
        $30 ISBN

        Total: $204.00

Because I do my own typesetting, I only have one quote for the interior of a text print book (as in, black & white, no interior images). Up at the top, I gave leeway of up to $300, and I'm sure that, like with cover design, there is a range.  But so you know, that quote I have was $100, which means if I went to that typesetter, the cost of having a book available in print would total $300.

And yes, if you haven't yet bought your ISBN pack, that total rises in the sense that, in order to pay $29.50 for an ISBN, you must put up $295. Technically, though, most of that is going to other costs, not the direct printing cost of your one book. Still, it leaves you within $600—a stretch for many of us, but far easier to raise than $4000!

Even if you're ordering copies of your book for your backers, your total cost should still be down around $1000. If many of your backers live overseas, and you're offering them autographed copies*, shipping costs do drive that up. So I can see stretching this to $1500, plus a bit more for the cost of using Kickstarter, and let's say a dollar or two earnings per book sent to backers (which is standard in publishing). That still leaves us really far from $4000.
    *If you're offering unsigned copies of your book to backers, and you do enable distribution, you can order those books through the Book Depository and not pay shipping costs.
It isn't that I don't support independent authors using Kickstarter to raise funds. Editing a novel can absolutely end up costing thousands of dollars (and good editors deserve every penny!). But if you tell me that the text of your book is completely finished and then ask for $4000 just for printing costs? Sorry, but that's a huge waste of money

Plus, I doubt the person doing the Kickstarter is trying to bilk people out of over two grand. It's that she (and her backers, and I suppose many people) doesn't seem to know the actual cost of providing a print book. Let's not forget that the vast majority of the costs above that brought us to a total of $2000 was fulfilling the Kickstarter campaign's promises!

Yes, we authors absolutely deserve to get paid for our work, but my understanding is that Kickstarter is for startup costs. It's to be able to provide a product that should then earn money. For instance, if it cost me $3 a piece to make a cute bracelet, and I wanted to have the materials for 200 bracelets, my Kickstarter should be for $600 + Kickstarter fees + backer gifts—not for the amount I want to earn from the 200 bracelets, which might be $2000 or more. Earning that money should come from selling the bracelets I make with the $600's worth of materials, not from the Kickstarter itself. 

Same with providing print books. The earnings should come from books sold once they're available in print—i.e. out on the market. And as you saw above, with an otherwise finished book, that can be achieved for about $300.

So there's my (hopefully helpful) mini rant. If you truly want to support an independent author, consider simply buying their book. Better yet, buy copies for everyone you know ;)