Not to step on Mojeaux’s toes or anything vis-a-vis her recent articles on writing and publishing/getting published, but I thought I would add my two cents as a self-published author who has gone the route of what is popularly known as Print On Demand. I figure that our subjects don’t quite overlap, and some people might find it interesting to have a look at some of the numbers involved in this sort of thing.

First of all, let’s be clear on what Print On Demand actually means. Basically you, the author, are sending your books to be printed by someone else using what are basically high-quality laser jet printing machines, and professionally bound so that they have nice straight edges and smooth, straight spines, just like any softcover books you might see in a bookstore. (I admit that I’ve only ever done books that are ‘perfect bound’ softcovers of this type, although other options are apparently available.)

Mind you, the printer people do not have an editorial section, although one’s books are initially inspected to see that they don’t contain ‘hate speech’ or other ostensibly offensive material that the printers are afraid would get them sued or at least shunned at cocktail parties. This means that YOU the author have to completely construct your book’s interiors, including all design elements, proper spelling and punctuation, the legal matter at the front, etc. You also have to design and create your own cover. Mind you, it is possible to pay others to perform some of these services, but pride and poverty motivate many of us to attempt it ourselves, for better or worse.

Your book can be completely black-and-white in its interiors, or you can go with color, which is a bit more expensive. Since your book will be delivered to the printer as a .pdf and printed directly from such, it doesn’t matter whether your pages are all text, half images, or full images – the price will be the same to reproduce them. The only difference, again, will be whether they are black-and-white or color. If you try to create a mix with ‘some’ color, it will count as all color, and will be priced appropriately. Again, these are being reproduced with high-quality laser printers, not offset-print by an old-fashioned machine.

The ‘On Demand’ part is the beauty of the thing. Once you pay the fee to have your interior file (the book itself) and exterior file (the wraparound cover image) scanned, you can then order as many copies as you want. Literally as many – you can order ONE copy if you wish, or one thousand. Naturally, you will get a discount on larger orders, but the discount won’t be as great as you might think, because each copy will still have to be run off of the same machine.

Still, this presents to the lone, impoverished author an opportunity afforded very few persons throughout history. That is, she can order a small handful of copies of her book – a few to give out to friends, one for herself, and a few set aside for possible sales through Amazon, Ebay, or other outlets. Gone is the need to pay up front for a huge print run, then warehousing the (usually) thousands of copies offset-printed, packaging them up for retail orders, etc. She sells not to stores per se, but to individual readers.

What if a bookstore wants to carry her work? Well, that’s not really a problem… assuming she has prefigured such interest, and priced her books in such a way that she can offer wholesale accounts a decent percentage off cover price.

Therein lies the primary problem of Print On Demand: the pricing of individual copies. Since – as stated earlier – an author can order as few as one copy of her book at a time, individual prices are unfortunately somewhat high. Mind you, this isn’t a retail price, nor a wholesale price; this is what the author herself must pay if she wants even a single copy of her book.

Let’s look at some real-world numbers.

My least expensive book (going by what it costs ME), let’s call Book 1. It’s a softcover, black-and-white interior, 236 pages, 6×9” in length and width. If I want to order individual copies of this book, they cost me $4.67 each. Book 3 is 7×10”, 266 pages, black-and-white interior; copies cost me $6.80 each. Book 4 is 230 pages, 8×10”, but with color interior. Copies of this cost me $10.31 each.

My cover price on each of these is $24.95 – that is, full retail. If I want to offer these to a bookstore at a discount of cover price (usually 40-50% standard), for Books 1, 2 (not mentioned, similar to 1), and 3 are fine – I can still make a decent amount. But Book 4 presents a different situation in that, if I offer a retailer 40% off, I’m selling them to him for $15 each; or, at 50%, he gets them for $12.50 each. At $10.31 a pop, my price, that cuts things a bit close, especially considering other expenses (which I’ll mention in a moment).

I have 4 other books, let’s call them Books 5 thru 8, which are around 200 pages, color interior, 8.5×11”. They’re lovely, and I price these at $29.95 each. Unfortunately, these, too, present a pricing problem, as they cost ME between $11.81 and $12.14 each. I can’t very well offer anyone 50% off cover price and still make anything. (As with lawyers and casinos, it’s the printers who make the best money in this game.)

It’s the color interiors that bring up the printing costs; but, given that many of my books are graphics-oriented, that’s the only way to go with them. So, what options for profit are there?

Of course, one can always attempt to sell the book oneself. Our entrepreneurial authoress is undeterred; she puts her books on Amazon and on Ebay, and even creates her own website to sell copies directly. (Electronic books being another matter entirely.)

Even these approaches have costs, which I will now list.

1. Both Ebay and Amazon take a cut. Ebay’s only 10%; but they also get the small Paypal fee which accompanies such transactions – let’s round that fee to $1.00 for ease of math. Amazon takes what I figure around 27%, although that might have changed (i.e., gone up) since I last checked. The upside with Amazon is that they transfer one’s income directly into a bank account, bypassing Paypal, so no fee there.

2. I learned long ago that it’s great to have a nice little package to ship books in, so I order some folding mailers from Uline. They come out to about $.50 each, which is a little pricey, but to me worth it in that I don’t have to scrounge around for cardboard; buyers receive their books in a nice, tight package, clean and new.

3. Media mail shipping is (at this time) $3.27 to ship a regular-sized book within the continental U.S. I always offer free shipping, so that comes out of my take – with the exception of Amazon, who charges purchasers for shipping and reimburses the seller.

There are a few other incidental costs, such as buying ISBN numbers, which are something like $125 each, or 10 for $295 – ridiculous, but necessary unless you want your books to look unprofessional and never, ever be sold by any respectable outlet. There’s spoilage, i.e. the printer sends you your books and two or three of them are damaged in shipment. In addition to the per-book cost of printing, you also have to pay to get the books shipped to you, plus any other nominal fees the printer might tack on. Oh, and taxes on your book income, which I’m sure you’ll reporBAAHAHAHA. Sorry.

OK, I’m exhausted after writing this. I hope the reader has learned something. I should be around the day it’s published, so I can chime in with my usual snarky but brilliant witticisms or to answer any questions you might have. If you’ve stuck around this long – God help you!