The Cost of Self Publication, Ebook vs. Print: One Person’s Story

Last week, which is about two years ago in blog-time, I asked what y’all thought the appropriate cost for an ebook would be, based on my noobish calculations of whether there were actual savings in e-format vs. paper, what with the cost of paper, glue, transport and shelfspace.

One person contacted me personally and asked if I’d be interested in her story of self-publishing her book in both print and e-formats, and the cost vs. savings of each in her experience. She asked that she remain anonymous, so I’m not posting this so people will try to guess who it is. I found her experience eye-opening to say the least, and the frank discussion of cost and result refreshing. Warning: her account is long, but the science is tight. Thanks, Anonymous.

Anonymous writes:

Obviously, these numbers aren’t representative for a big publisher who can put out an offset print run.  But I also don’t have endless shipping charges ($3 per book media mail) back and forth,  warehousing charges, the eaten costs on stripped books, author advances, etc.

1. I didn’t use an author service/POD service/vanity service.  I set up my own shop, which wasn’t hard or (very) expensive, since I’m already self-employed.
2. I did the interior and exterior design myself, which was hundreds and hundreds of hours, most of it learning time.
3. I did all the CSS and (X)HTML markup on all the e-book formats I decided to offer (9, including Kindle: EPUB, HTML, IMP, LIT, LRF, MOBI/PRC, PDB [eReader]—then PDF, which only needed a couple of changes from what I sent to Lightning Source). This another several hundred hours.

SPECS: Epic novel, 3 full-length romances all woven together over a larger story arc.

6×9 trade paperback
700+ print pages total
283,000 words (not including front matter/back matter)

PRINT

$3,500 for editing
$100 for a final proof
$70 for a newer version of Photoshop (eBay)
$25 for the ISBN
$55 for the card cataloging information (copyright page)
$15 for back cover image
$2.50 for front cover image (stock photo, what can I say)
$210 for Lightning Source setup/listing/revision fees
$1200 for 100 books @ $12 per book
$360 books I’ve given away for Library of Congress listing, reviews, Amazon listing, and promotion

$5537.50

Cost per print book (not including in-kind labor costs for design) for 100 books: $55.38

This does not include $29.99 per year for Amazon listing fee (Amazon Advantage program) charged to those small presses who don’t use BookSurge.
It doesn’t include shipping I pay as part of my incentive to get the reader to buy direct from me ($3 per) because we hand-sell a lot of books locally.
It doesn’t include web hosting fees.
It doesn’t include whatever (non-quantifiable) sales I might lose because I made it non-returnable by bookstores.

EBOOK

$3,500 for editing
$100 for a final proof
$70 for a newer version of Photoshop (eBay)
$25 for the ISBN
$2.50 for front cover image (stock photo, what can I say)
$24.95 for eBook Studio (the eReader format)
$99 to turn it into an iBook application for the iApp store*

$3,821.45

Cost per ebook FORMAT (not including in-kind labor costs for markup): $382.15.

NO DRM.

I calculated the ebook as if I had not done the print book, as the content would have been the same. The only real up-front difference in cost between print and e-book is a matter of $1,815.  The print book will still cost me $12.00 each plus $3 if I have to ship it somewhere else.  I will not allow Amazon to order it from Lightning Source, either, which is why I bought the books myself (they were having an extra 10% off special for volume).

Note About Apple: I almost didn’t include that $99 because Apple rejected my application for inclusion into the iApp store because I had used the F-word.  The iApp programmer (not ScrollMotion) said, “Well, we can clean this up or we can wait until Apple has a rating system in place, which might be a while.”  Since then, I’ve gotten the book onto SmashWords, which has a direct feed into the Stanza native catalog, so that’s not an issue, but Apple having an issue about the F-word (ah, but not “cunt” or the explicit sex, go figure) just grates.  I’m not the only one, but the more high-profile guy, David Carnoy (Knife Music) self-censored and got his application approved.  Since he did that, he no longer cares about the bigger issue there.

This is where the math gets tricky.

BUYING FROM AMAZON:

PRINT:  To put the book on Amazon or get it into a bookstore, I had to price it sky high just to make a couple of bucks per unit. It’s ~$40.00 retail. A 55% discount gives me $17.10, minus $12.00, which is $5.10, which is pretty good, except if Amazon orders it direct from Lightning Source, LSI charges $5.30 to ship it. Per book. I lose 20c each book. They mark it down to $28.87 and throw in shipping, but that doesn’t affect my 45%. Then you have to consider the $29.99 Amazon charges me per year to participate in their program…

KINDLE: Amazon takes 65% of the Kindle retail price I set, which is $12.99, but they mark it down to $9.99, which gives me $4.46 per. I set it that high on purpose, to discourage Kindle sales, but I was told that I would get 65% of the price *I* set, which is not what I see in my Kindle report. I see Amazon as a marketing vehicle and nothing more.  Too, their digital conversion platform is hideously primitive.  It’s supposed to be Mobipocket, but I plugged in the same CSS/HTML file that I used to create my own MOBI/PRC file into Amazon’s Kindle maker and it simply did not work.  The format was all wrong; it didn’t honor any but the most primitive tags.  I’m very unhappy with it and it was an horrendously long process for what it was.

BUYING FROM ME:

I charge $27.99, including shipping ($3 media mail, if it’s mailed at all), which beats Amazon’s price and I clear $12.99.

I charge $8.99 for a zip file bundle with all 8 e-book formats included.  No shipping.  Unlimited supply.

I charge $5.99 for a single e-book format.  No shipping.  Unlimited supply.

You cannot calculate the unit cost of the e-book because the unit price will always be as X approaches zero. You can only calculate the cost PER FORMAT (which may or may not include DRM). You have the opportunity for an unlimited number of e-book sales without further cost (not including web and shopping cart, etc.).  For every print book I sell, I have to spend another $15.00. For every e-book I sell, I have to spend ZERO.

Thus, I want to encourage e-book purchases as much as possible. I know people like print. Hell, it’s a gorgeous book; I’d want it in print, too, but it’s expensive (as it must be). I did that because I don’t know ANYONE in real life who has an e-book reader or has even seen one or thought to use their Palms to read e-books.  I have never seen another e-book reader in the wild.  I don’t know too many people who even know what a Kindle is.  If I wanted my book to be read by real readers (and get it into the libraries), I had to have it in print, otherwise, I would’ve bypassed that entirely.

Still, you’ll notice that whether I had put it in print or not, editing was the biggest expense and that would have been spent regardless.

Now, it is true that for me to break even, I’d have to sell 933 of a single-format e-copy (calculate any permutation of print/zip bundle/single format you care to). However, I also don’t have a deadline.  I have time to build a reader base. I don’t have any pressure to get my sales up/keep them up.  I don’t have to depend on Wal-Mart’s approbation and I don’t have to worry about returns (because I made the book non-returnable).  It’s on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s, and Books-a-Million, which is all the legitimacy I need.  And I have good reviews.  I can autograph books if people want them (it’s a free option in my shopping cart) and I’ll even gift wrap the fucker for a little extra (amazingly popular at Christmas, lemme tell ya).  I can offer long excerpts, I can put up snippets anywhere I want, I can put up extra content if I want, I can give away as many print or e-copies as I want, and I don’t have to worry about anybody getting down my neck for giving away too much.

I don’t know for certain what big publishers are doing to make their prices so high, or what they think they’ll get out of it.  I only know that I made a deliberate pricing decision to discourage Amazon and Kindle sales because I needed Amazon’s visibility but I didn’t want to lose my shirt, bra, AND panties. I made a deliberate decision to make my books NONreturnable because that would have bankrupted me in no time.

It may be that they’re padding their prices to get out from under their sunk costs (see above + warehousing and shipping and stripping/waste and don’t forget author advance).  It may be that they think people will pay those prices.  It may be they don’t know the income ranges of their target audience and they’re experimenting. It may be that, like it is for me, the “discount” is simply too onerous to bear and being in the bookstores/on Amazon is a visibility issue, not a true sales outlet. They may simply be clueless and don’t care to get a clue.

It may be that they actively want to discourage e-book sales (the same way I want to discourage Amazon sales). Because what I CAN tell you is that their ROI on DRM costs has to be amazingly low.  So, spend a lot of money on a super duper DRM instead of whatever your existing software can already do, and you get what? It takes a hacker 2 extra hours or days to crack your super duper expensive encryption. I mean, “unbreakable” encryption is like catnip to some hackers.  If they truly think that throwing money at the problem will make it go away, well, okay.  In that case, I can believe the claims that “DRM COSTS MONEY!!”

SB Sarah: This part specifically references the discussion in the original thread that ebooks should be 10% less than paperback costs. [O]thers chimed in and said that the e-books should then cost 10% less than the p-books.  I both agree and disagree with that, and this is why:

What I didn’t and couldn’t figure in (which you probably already deduced for yourself) is that if you add in the real-world cost of the hours I spent Photoshopping and formatting the e-book, the e-book would have actually cost quite a bit more per format.  This is a CONVENIENCE to the customer and is, IMO, value-added. On the other hand, the perception that e-books should cost less will not go away with the Baby Boomers and Baby Busters (aka Gen X), if ever, and therefore, the publisher/author needs to eat that “cost” (consider it marketing or goodwill) and hope to earn it back in the long run with the advantage of unlimited supply for little to no added cost.

As for the 10% difference, you’ll notice that at my prices, the e-book at $5.99 is 460% LESS than the print book at ~$28.  In the end, I’m not really “eating” anything for the sake of providing convenience to the customer.  Unlimited supply in perpetuity is as X approaches zero.  Not only that, but if the reader likes the world I’ve created, s/he can stay in it for free on the book’s site where I’ve posted the extra content.  After a while, I’ll upgrade my e-book offering to include all that.


You got all that? No? Go back and read again. Just kidding.

While obviously not everyone can undertake the cost and effort to self-publish their own work, the actual cost figures reveal a lot of the effort and expense that goes into publication. I still couldn’t say where eBooks ought to be priced, but this does give me a lot to think about. Thanks, Anonymous.

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Darek@Orchid says:

    This was an amazing read! Thanks so much for all the details.

    And as for portals like Apple’s… don’t ever get me started ;) In our new game, Heartwild Solitaire, we have several spicy scenes and stronger vocabulary. Nothing offensive, but still publishers were affraid of it and we had to make a politically correct, bland version of the story for them.

    Even worse, we had several Tarot cards in there which featured naked figures. You know how Tarot is.. all symbolic and artish. And what was their suggestion? “Let’s throw some pieces of cloth on these ladies’ breasts” ;) Jeez. That’s publishers for ya. And I’ve heard Apple is one of the worst.

  2. 2

    Wow.  This was so awesome.  Anonymous, thanks so much for telling us what you went through, and in such detail!  Definitely a great source for the pros and cons of self-publishing.  Big thanks.

  3. 3
    Jusy says:

    Thanks, Anonymous.  This is very informative.  I’m just wondering about calculating the costs.  If the book is offered in both print and ebook format, should like costs, e.g. editing, be counted twice.  I know ISBN could be different for print vs ebook.  How about the software that is going to get reused over and over again?

  4. 4

    Thank you, Anon! I wish I had been able to read about your explorations and discoveries half a year ago. I think it might have saved me some groping! it looks as if I’ve come to many of the same conclusions as you and gone with similar solutions on JCP Books.I’d love to play with the business model of selling the print book and making the ebook available for free. Or maybe with making the ebook free with the sale of the print book. (I could set up a coupon code that I print in the book, but come on, that would be plastered all over the web in no time flat.) But maybe that would be an interesting gimmick anyway. I just hate seeing my most loyal readers pay for both ebook and print.I think what’s hard to explain about self-publishing is the learning curve. It’s gigantic. Even though Anon talks about the hundreds of hours, it’s one thing to say that, and another to be working and working with seemingly no end in sight, because the minute you think you understand how to do something, another issue crops up. I was lucky in that I had Photoshop/Indesign experience from my day job, but even so, there was a big learning curve between CreateSpace and me—otherwise known as, “WTF happened to my font??” It never occurred to me to put a Kindle out there for marketing purposes, but price it high to discourage purchase. Cool idea! (I’m guessing I wouldn’t get away with adding, “Buy the DRM-free mobi at my site for half!” to my product description :D

  5. 5
    Jessica G. says:

    Now I really want to read your books after this! Thanks for posting this :)

  6. 6
    lucinda betts says:

    Very interesting story! Thanks for sharing it!

    I have a question for you, anon. If a big publisher like St. Martins or Berkeley wanted to buy your book now, would you consider it? Or are you completely happy with being a self pub? And are you working on your next book, or has the process of self publishing taken over your life?

  7. 7
    JoanneL says:

    I’m still not quite sure why an author would go through all of this rather then submit the work to a EC or Sam Heinz or other established publisher…. or is that apples & oranges?

    I was also wondering why a new author I just found (and love) has her book on Amazon for over twice the price of the ebook version. Now I’m also wondering why the Kindle price for her book is even lower then the ebook version I bought.

    Too much to wonder about, I’m glad I’m a reader not a writer. Thanks for all of this information, it’s very, very interesting.

  8. 8
    Karen in Ohio says:

    As a self-published author in both formats myself, I see only one tiny flaw in Anonymous’s reckonings. Hardly anyone has a mere 100 books printed because it costs too much to do it that way. My first self-published book (non-fiction, sorry) had a print run of 1,100, for a per book cost of ~$5. The second print run of 5,500 had a per book cost of ~$2.85. But then I had to warehouse nearly 6,000 books, which is one heckuva lot of boxes, let me tell you.

    That was also in 1994, so costs have skyrocketed for printing since them. But the comparison still stands. Clearly, Anonymous intends to sell more than 100 books of each title, and having more printed per run will reduce the cost somewhat. She would still have to warehouse them, which could add additional expense.

    Thanks for posting this analysis. It’s eye-opening to me, mostly from the standpoint of what additional hoops must be jumped through before printed page and customer can unite today. I’m not sure I could manage all that today.

  9. 9
    Jessica D says:

    Thanks, Anonymous! This confirms what I suspected from my years in academic journal publishing. My job was the copy edit, layout, and final file production for both print and electronic distribution, and my feeling was always that most of the work (and therefore cost) happened well before conversion to e-format. Add that to the drastically reduced overhead (i.e., the cost of server maintenance vs. the cost of supply, storage, shipping, printer set-up fees for additional print runs, pulping overstock, etc.), and it’s clear the ebook prices are out of whack.

  10. 10
    The Anonymous One says:

    @Jusy

    I’m just wondering about calculating the costs.  If the book is offered in both print and ebook format, should like costs, e.g. editing, be counted twice.

    I struggled with doing that, but as I explained, if I had only put it out in e-book format, I still would have spent that money, so I went ahead and did that.

    If I were to take the duplicated costs off one of them, it would have been off the print version because print was for the convenience of the customer who doesn’t do e-books.

    On the other hand, there have been FAR more people willing to spend ~$30 on a print book than $6 or $9 on an e-book, but I don’t know what that really says.  Thus, I calculated it for both.

    I know ISBN could be different for print vs ebook.  How about the software that is going to get reused over and over again?

    I didn’t want to bother with depreciation on that because I bought the software specifically for this project.  Otherwise, yes, you could amortize those costs over the life of the software.

    @Jordan Castillo Price

    It never occurred to me to put a Kindle out there for marketing purposes, but price it high to discourage purchase. Cool idea!

    If you think of it in terms of marketing/expense, it doesn’t hurt so much.  ;)

    @Jessica G.

    Thank you!  Contact Sarah.  She’ll know how to direct you. 

    @JoanneL

    I’m still not quite sure why an author would go through all of this rather then submit the work to a EC or Sam Heinz or other established publisher…. or is that apples & oranges?

    A. “Going through” a publisher like EC or Sam Heinz assumes that your submission will get accepted, which, if I were EC or Samhain, I’d find somewhat insulting because it says that THEY will take anything, which is not true, especially now.

    B. I did go the traditional query route first.

    C. This novel is over 250k words.  Nobody was going to buy it, no matter how good it was.

    @Karen in Ohio

    Hardly anyone has a mere 100 books printed because it costs too much to do it that way…That was also in 1994, so costs have skyrocketed for printing since them. But the comparison still stands.

    No, it does not.  Printing has come a long way since 1994, when your only option was to have that many books printed.  I use the same print-on-demand technology everyone else does for short print runs. Thus, whatever I spend in POD costs up front, I spend nothing in warehousing and I don’t have a wall of boxes in my garage.

    @Jessica D

    my feeling was always that most of the work (and therefore cost) happened well before conversion to e-format.

    Actually, no, because there is no automated process for converting to e-book that I know of (nor anyone else).  The CSS/(X)HTML still has to be marked up by hand AND it has to be re-marked for each different format.

    For 8 format files, I have 8 different style sheets because I had to cater to the limitations of each device/format.  If one standard is adopted (with or without DRM), it would save everyone a whole lot of time and money.  I pray for the day.

    The e-book prices are both out of whack and right in line.  It depends on what your goal as a publisher is.  If your goal is to milk the first- and second-adopters and/or to discourage e-book sales for whatever reason (mostly fears of piracy), then yes, the high e-book prices are right in line.

    If your goal is to attract readers and you believe in the technology and you believe that more and more readers will start to adopt it, then you put the product out there for a reasonable price (which I’m not sure ANYBODY knows what “reasonable” is) and wait.  It has no shelf life and after a while, your maintenance and server costs get amortized anyway.  You’re doing several things: 

    1. You’re giving the customer what they want how they want it at an attractive price.

    2. You’re giving the customer what they want how they want it at an attractive price.

    3. You’re giving the customer what they want how they want it at an attractive price.

  11. 11
    Rox says:

    The cost of producing an item is only part of the formula for establishing its price.  More important is how much someone is willing to pay for it.  I don’t care what the unit cost for an e-book is compared to a paperback.  I’m paying for a story.  I go to movie matinees because they’re $5, rather than $10.  It’s the same story, the same theatre, the same day.  Seeing it at night rather than during the afternoon does not add more value to me. 

    Books come in different formats—mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, e-book, and audio (abridged or unabridged).  The exact same story could run you anywhere from $7 to $70, depending on the format.  It’s what each format gives you that you can’t get from another format that makes it worth more or less.  You can buy a trendy blouse at full price at the start of the season, or you can buy it 50% off at the end of the season, and hope that it doesn’t look out of fashion next year.  At no point in this transaction do you know what it cost to make the blouse.  Clearly, some people believe they are “saving money” when they buy something that’s 50% off, but if you’re spending money, you’re never saving it. You’re spending it.  What is true is that you are willing to pay a certain amount of money for that blouse.  You might be willing to pay more at the beginning of the season, because you can wear it that year, when it’s the hot fashion trend, or you might decide that you’re willing to be on the tail end of a fashion trend in exchange for paying a lot less money.  In both cases, what you pay for the blouse depends on what it’s worth to you, not what it cost the manufacturer to make.

    A print book in trade or hardcover costs the consumer more than a mass market paperback because the cost to produce it is higher, but that’s only part of it.  The paper is better, which is important to some people (it’s not so much to me), but more importantly, when a book is released in trade or hardcover, it isn’t available in paperback.  I’m willing to pay 3 or 4 times the price of a paperback for the new hardcover of an author I love, because I can read it NOW.  I don’t want to wait a year.

    Lots of people love audio books for a variety of reasons, like if they have a long commute or something.  I have excellent public radio where I live, so that never sold me on them.  I do love to knit, though, which interferes with my reading time, but I find that listening to a book takes something like three times longer than reading it myself, which shifts the pace of the story for me to the point where I can’t stand it.  There’s also the issue of the books I would want to listen to not typically being available, and also the potential issue of a narrator I abhor. 

    E-books are dependent on good hardware (and by that I mean hardware that has the qualities I want, rather than the qualities someone else might want, which might be available in a different model), and I could totally get behind e-books because I don’t have particular attachment to books as objects.  That is, I regularly purge my bookshelves to make room for more books.  I have some “keepers” that I know I will read again, or which are signed copies, but for the most part, I have no trouble getting rid of books.  A good e-book reader will allow me to store a lot of books, to book mark them, make notes, do searches, and all sorts of things I can’t do with a print copy.  The format gives me something different that the other formats can’t, and that’s worth something to me.

    I primarily care about the content.  Actually, paying for the content is important to me, too.  I don’t borrow books, and I rarely buy them from used book stores.  I buy books so the author will get paid.  Next, I care about when that content is available, the pace at which I can consume the content, whether or not I will want to consume the content again, and whether or not I will have to deal with storing the content.  Then I decide how much I will pay for it.

  12. 12
    ev says:

    I’m with Jessica G on that- I would love to read the books- and I have come to really enjoy my ereader. To the point where my tbr pile hasn’t been touched since I got it. But my wish list has gotten very long for my ereader. i would have no problem paying for the digital version.

    thank you for sharing your process. I bet it will go a long way to helping someone else who is having the same problems trying to firgure out what to do.

  13. 13
    Anna says:

    On the other hand, there have been FAR more people willing to spend ~$30 on a print book than $6 or $9 on an e-book, but I don’t know what that really says.  Thus, I calculated it for both.

    This could be where the whole “if I spend more money on it, it’s worth more” dynamic comes in.  I had a classmate in college who did nails on the side.  If she charged $30, she got a lot more customers than if she charged $20.  It didn’t change her outlay, her quality, etc; but it did change her customers perception of the quality.

  14. 14
    M says:

    I found this appraisal interesting, but clearly from someone who has never worked in a publishing house. Except for an editor, she didn’t appear to factor in salaries of any other person involved on the project. Just to name a few:

    The contracts manager—-who makes sure the house has the right to publish your book
    The art director—-who spends her time creating a lovely cover
    The royalties manager—who makes sure you are actually getting paid when you should
    The sales manager—who makes sure your book is available on all these sites
    The production editor—who makes sure the book is copyedited, proofread, and produced on time (NOT the same as an editor)
    The subrights manager—who attempts to sell your book in other formats/languages if the company has the rights

    It takes more than one person to produce a book, e-format or otherwise. This is generally why self-published books do not do as well as ones published by a house…because there is simply too much that goes into making a successful book for one person to do alone. Much less do well.

  15. 15
    Suze says:

    I just hate seeing my most loyal readers pay for both ebook and print.

    Speaking as a loyal reader, I have no problem paying for multiple copies if I choose to acquire multiple copies.  I just bought Patricia Briggs’ Bone Crossed in hardcover because I couldn’t wait to read it (it was SO WORTH IT), and I’ll buy it again in paperback when it comes out, because that’s my preferred format for ease of carrying and reading.  If I ever decide upon and buy an e-reader, I’ll buy it again in e-format.

    Now, if I was FORCED to buy in multiple copies, then I’d have an issue.

  16. 16
    The Anonymous One says:

    @M

    clearly from someone who has never worked in a publishing house.

    This is true.

    Except for an editor, she didn’t appear to factor in salaries of any other person involved on the project.

    As was stated, it was self-published and as such, just one person’s outlay.  I cannot factor in the costs of what I did not spend, which I thought I addressed, but apparently not sufficiently.  What I purposely didn’t include was the money lost from my regular (self-employment) income to do this.

    I see a lot of outrage here and elsewhere on the readers’ parts that e-book prices are too high and should be lower because of the lack of paper, ink, glue, warehousing, stripping, etc., and the story is generally not seen to be the product.  I also see a lot of umbrage on the part of publishers who attach DRM to their e-books about how much it costs and why don’t readers understand this?

    Much is said about the cost of e-books v print books, but no one wants to pony up any numbers (at least, not that I’ve seen).  So I offered up some numbers and a rough estimate of time spent so that people could draw their own conclusions.

    It is my opinion that the content is the product and method of packaging should not alter the price; however, that is not the public’s perception and I’m willing to cater to that perception to gain readers.

    This is generally why self-published books do not do as well as ones published by a house…

    No, it’s because publishing houses have the distribution channels into the bookstores.

    It takes more than one person to produce a book, e-format or otherwise.

    Yes, in my case, it took three: me, my editor, and my proofreader. and I still have errors in the first run (corrected now), and I take full responsibility for those.

    @Jordan Castillo Price

    I’d love to play with the business model of selling the print book and making the ebook available for free. Or maybe with making the ebook free with the sale of the print book.

    Forgive me.  I glossed over this the first time.

    I’ve thought about burning all the e-formats onto DVD and putting it the print book, include the extras on the book’s site and the book trailer.  I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  17. 17
    amy lane says:

    That was amazing—I use a vanity press and I have wondered what went into the pricing of my books—now I know, and I’m amazed I sell any at all!  Thanks, anonymous—that was awesome.

  18. 18
    joanne says:

    I see a lot of outrage here and elsewhere on the readers’ parts that e-book prices are too high and should be lower because of the lack of paper, ink, glue, warehousing, stripping, etc., and the story is generally not seen to be the product.

    The content is the content no matter the format, is it not?  The exact same words have been written, edited, and proofread regardless of format, haven’t they? 

    Of course the way the product – any product – is packaged affects the price.  When one buys a printed book, it is something that can be held in the buyer’s hand, passed along to someone else if that is the buyer’s wish, or used as kindling.  It is actually made of paper, ink, glue, diesel fuel for trucks, and salaries of production, transportation, and sales employees – all of which come after the product – the words – have been written, edited, and proofread.  The reader of a printed book also does not have the extra expense of purchasing a device with which to read it.  It really amazes me when I’m repeatedly told that those costs are less or negligible as compared to sending a file through the web. 

    I must’ve missed something when I read the rest of the posts, because I just read people asking questions and commenting politely.  What outrage?

  19. 19
    The Anonymous One says:

    What outrage?

    I apologize.  I didn’t mean here, in this thread.  I meant, here in other spots and on other reader blogs.  There is outrage when the e-book prices are as high as the hardback prices.  And I understand that, please do not get me wrong.

    I also said that I see the publisher umbrage (outrage, if you will) at the readers’ not comprehending why they must must must price their e-books at the same price.  I understand this, to a point, and that point is when DRM starts being the excuse as to why this is so.

    As you can see in my pricing, I have absolutely no issue with offering the e-book for far less than the printed book, regardless of the fact that I think the e-book is of equal value as the printed book.  Why?  Because of the perception that e-books are less valuable and because I have an unlimited supply and lots of time AND I very much want to give my reader/customer a big bang for his/her buck.

  20. 20
    Suze says:

    Anonymous One, I really appreciate all the effort you went to to break down the costs as well as you did.  You answered some of the questions I had, and also described a lot of things I hadn’t thought of, not being involved in publishing (yet).

    I don’t think that e-books are less valuable than print books.  The content is valuable whether it’s electronic, printed, written by hand, or carved into stone.  My perception as a consumer has been that e-books are less expensive to produce and distribute than material books.

    I have to say, I can’t seem to get my head around any argument that they’re aren’t.  Maybe it makes a difference if you’re only producing a short run, but when you get into runs of thousands, it cannot possibly stand that creating 10,000 print books costs the same as downloading 10,000 e-books.  Especially books of 250K words.

    No outrage (at the moment), just puzzlement.

  21. 21
    The Anonymous One says:

    My perception as a consumer has been that e-books are less expensive to produce and distribute than material books.

    I did show that to be so, in my case.  At least, I thought I did.

    I think I’m not articulating this well enough.  The problem is that big house publishers are pricing their e-books at hard-back prices and not even at, say mass-market paperback prices.

    On a cost basis, there is NO justification for this, as far as I can see and my limited experience tells me.

    The insult is that they then cite DRM costs as the reason they cost so much.  Well, okay, so I, the consumer, am not only paying the hard-back price, but I’m ALSO paying to have it restricted in some fashion.  That’s a double-whammy at the consumer and I want NOTHING to do with that.

    My only point in breaking it down is that it’s not AS MUCH cheaper to produce an e-book as e-book readers seem to think.

    That is my only point.

    Different formats give the consumer different things.  It’s obvious to me from my travels around e-book blogland that consumers believe they are getting less and thus, should pay less.

    @joanne

    It really amazes me when I’m repeatedly told that those costs are less or negligible as compared to sending a file through the web.

    I have seen that stated elsewhere.  I don’t believe that and I don’t believe I said it and I don’t believe my numbers support that.  However, I apologize if I came off as having said that.

    Let me reiterate: It’s not AS MUCH cheaper to produce an e-book as e-book readers seem to think.

  22. 22
    Brennan says:

    @Anonymous One

    Do you mind sharing who you used to convert your book to an iPhone app? I’ve been trying to compare service providers in this area and haven’t found much beyond freelance developers, or doing what you eventually did, which is taking advantage of a feed into one of the already popular reader apps.

  23. 23
    The Anonymous One says:

    @Brennan

    Happy to!  eBook App Maker

    They were having a $99 special at the time I was looking to do this, so I snapped it up.

    And again, a warning:  Apple is very, very strict about their “obscenity” terms of service.

  24. 24
    J Davis says:

    Great info AO. Thanks a lot for writing all of this out. I’m always impressed at the intellect of The Bitchery.

  25. 25
    Jim Stinson says:

    I put out 4 novels via Lulu for an average cost of $125 each and secured Amazon distribution because Lulu’s fee guarantees inclusion in the Ingram catalog and Amazon is contractually obligated to offer anything in said catalog. The contents were pdfs straight from my word processor and didn’t take a rocket scientist. Admittedly, my covers were work, but I could have used one of Lulu’s many customizable templates instead. You can see what the covers and contents look like on my website http://www.jimstinson.com/ (which does NOT offer anything for sale). My connection with Lulu.com has been uniformly positive.

  26. 26
    Spencer says:

    This article is outstanding and the most in depth math I’ve seen yet for Ebooks versus print. I appreciate you taking the time to share and wish you the best of luck with your books. I am passing this along.

  27. 27
    The Anonymous One says:

    @Lucinda Betts

    I meant to answer your question earlier and I forgot to come back to it.  It’s an important question.

    I have a question for you, anon. If a big publisher like St. Martins or Berkeley wanted to buy your book now, would you consider it?

    Not sure. Thing is, I don’t even allow myself to think in such terms or play “what-if” because the likelihood of that happening, especially now, are less than zero.

    And are you working on your next book, or has the process of self publishing taken over your life?

    Working on the next one(s). 

    Marketing is what’s taken over my (authorly) life.  I don’t much care for it, but I have a few author-type friends and from what they tell me, their marketing efforts are comparable to mine in terms of hours spent and methods used.

  28. 28
    sadieloree says:

    Speaking as a loyal reader, I have no problem paying for multiple copies if I choose to acquire multiple copies.  I just bought Patricia Briggs’ Bone Crossed in hardcover because I couldn’t wait to read it (it was SO WORTH IT), and I’ll buy it again in paperback when it comes out, because that’s my preferred format for ease of carrying and reading.  If I ever decide upon and buy an e-reader, I’ll buy it again in e-format.

    Ditto! Ditto! Double Ditto! I do the exact same thing!!

  29. 29
    Jessica D says:

    @The Anonymous One

    I’m sorry I wasn’t entirely clear. I was the person at my former job who did the file conversion from QuarkXpress into multiple other formats, some used for print publication, others for electronic publication. I’m aware that it’s not no work, after 4 or so years of experience creating these kinds of files, I can comfortably assert it was by far the fastest, smallest portion of my job. And the files I was creating had graphics and tabular data, so they were somewhat more complicated than a standard work of adult fiction. This is extrapolation, of course, but I have a hard time imagining it’s that different.

  30. 30

    It is my opinion that the content is the product and method of packaging should not alter the price; however, that is not the public’s perception and I’m willing to cater to that perception to gain readers.

    I don’t know about that, really. A hardback will arguably last longer than a mmp, and costs more to produce, so it should be more expensive. Even outside of publishing, companies have to balance what products cost to produce against what people are willing to pay. It isn’t as if production costs aren’t a concern.

    I’ve long believed that ebooks could cost less because they cost less to produce—and the amount of “less” they cost increases the more units are produced. By the time you get to the 30 000th copy, that ebook download is virtually cost-free for the publisher.

    But I believe ebooks SHOULD cost less because by opting for digital rather than tangible property, the consumer is giving up the right to share/give away/resell the content. When you consider that a mass market paperback has the potential to be read by a half-dozen or more people before it is rendered unreadable, one could conceivably argue that an ebook should cost 1/6th the cost of an mmp. And what about the hardcover that could be read 20 times or more?

    This doesn’t mean I think a novel that costs $25 in hardback and $7 in mmp should cost $1.25 in digital. But I do think that the limitations of the content when it’s delivered in kilobytes rather than pages should be considered when setting the price. When you put restrictions on how the content can be lawfully used, it arguably becomes “different” content.

    I won’t pay trade or hardback prices for an ebook. I will bristle at paying mmp-equivalent prices for one. And the fact that the books can be offered at a price I can live with (even in cases where the author gets a higher cut, thank you) with profit left over for the publisher, and they’re not, pisses me off. And I’m right behind AO when publishers start making excuses and sniveling about how expensive DRM is. Take a wild guess where I think they can shove their DRM. Right up their Adobe Digital Editions. And rotate.

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