The identity that pops up to most people’s minds when they hear the words “indie (or self-published) author” undeservedly includes a few negative stereotypes. One of those is that indies can only distribute through eReader platforms (Kindle, Nook, Apple Book, Kobo, etc.). The problem is, many indie writers themselves believe this one, severely restricting their potential readership.
The idea that eReaders would drive paper books into the forgotten annals of ancient history was proven false long ago. But in recent years, a very interesting trend has cropped up… eBook sales not only are below both paperback and hardback, but the digital revenue for eBooks is also actually falling! Meanwhile, Hardback and Paperback are on the rise, with hardback actually accounting for nigh 50% of all hardcopy sales. Look at this interesting chart comparing 2017 and 2018 numbers:
Notice that overall, book sales increased 9% in the time frame – with both hardback and paperback contributing well to that growth. But eBook sales were one of only two formats losing ground.
Who Is Using Print and Why?
Amazon has helped indie authors somewhat with this problem by letting them convert their Kindle books to paperback at no cost. Every indie should at minimum take advantage of this. There are many people who refuse to read digital books, and no its not just the elderly that refuse to embrace any tech. Teenagers, young professionals, and many others who read regularly for enjoyment prefer paper books for three main reasons:
1) Tangible – the first is what everyone says; they like the feel of a book in their hands, even the smell.
2) Status – “real readers read books, not screens.” This may not be completely accurate, but it’s not surprising that some people feel the need to prove their loyalty to a craft.
3) Identity – by carrying books around, fellow readers can identify each other and bond over their love of books. Many a book club started when people regularly interacting realized the others around them also enjoyed reading simply because they saw each other’s books.
But why should any author, when Amazon will give you a paperback conversion for free, fork out extra cash to have their book converted by some other means or into hardback? Is there really much of a difference? Yes, there is.
Better Alternatives to Amazon’s Print Solutions
There are many, many drawbacks to only relying on Amazon’s conversion platform.
1) Distribution – While Amazon says it will (and they won’t stop it) let physical bookstores order it from them, you have no control over what discounts or other perks they will give book stores that would incentivize them to carry it; for example, you don’t set the trade discount, something that is mandatory to sell.
2) Finances – Amazon is pretty much “our way or the highway” when it comes to book sales – digital or physical. It was only after Apple began to take their market share away from them with a 70% royalty rate for the author that Amazon finally caved and did the same (though only for books at a certain price range, not across the board like Apple). The same is true in physical book sales. You don’t like their terms? That’s your problem.
3) Quality – Don’t get me wrong, Amazon’s quality for printed books is not horrible by any stretch. But it certainly isn’t top of the line.
So, what options do indies have? Thanks to the technology of POD (print on demand), several.
1) IngramSpark – I put this one first on the list because it is the one I use and recommend to any willing to put in the legwork (or pay others to help them) because the finished product and financial benefits are the best I have found. They only charge you $50 to set up your title in their system (and that will come with free eBook set up in their system, something they charge $35 for alone). My 300 page novel, even at the 55% trade discount that is standard for brick and mortar stores, still earns me a profit at the very competitive prices of $12.99 for paperback and $26.99 for hardback.
Your book also automatically gets put into the Ingram Catalog, the overwhelmingly leading catalog that virtually every bookstore uses to stock their shelves, whether a small, local store or a national chain. They also have printing partners across the globe. My book is for sale, making money, in the UK/Ireland (I have a picture of one Irish fan with my book), mainland Europe, India, and Australia at the same price that it is selling in America.
The truth is, the only downside to IngramSpark is how much of the weight falls on you. You must supply the ISBN. You must supply the fully formatted PDF (with the actual pages the same size as the paper page, such as 6”x9” – not the easiest thing to do in Word). You have to supply the cover art and make sure it meets their standards for both color and quality. But, if you are willing to do the work or invest in some help, the end result is the best quality I have ever seen and the POD supplier that helps you stay competitively priced with the traditionally published books while still making money yourself.
2) BookBaby – I have previously talked about that I would never recommend their editing services to anyone, and I still hold true to that after my personal horror story. (They actually ADDED mistakes!) But the quality of the printed product is good but fairly expensive. If you’re publishing your standard 9×6, unless your book is very short, you probably won’t be able to go as low as most buyers want. However, if you plan on selling directly or if you are making a children’s book or another non-standard format, then, by all means, check them out. They also have a fairly favorable deal for digital distribution (not as good as doing it yourself, but the best I have seen for a company of their reputation and stature).
3) Lulu – These guys are very much in the same vein as BookBaby, though in my experience their customer service is better. Recommend them over BookBaby for that alone.
So how much does all this stuff cost the author? Well, formatting the book once you have all the files should only run you about $50-$100 (and is a service offered by Swift and True Media, starting at $50 for basic formatting for IngramSpark, but prices vary based on the platform and specific needs of the writer).
Covers vary wildly depending on the quality if you want a custom-crafted one or are willing to use a premade. A bottom-of-the-line premade will run you $50, while a decent premade will vary anywhere in the hundreds. Custom, hand-drawn covers are in the thousands, with $2000 on the low end. This can be greatly alleviated if you have a friend in the art world (my friend drew me a cover based on a scene in my book for only $500 – beautiful cover, he received his BA in digital animation at SCAD). The big things here are to make sure you get the file in the correct size at 300 dpi (professional printing standard), in CMYK (printing standard), and to make sure the total CMYK values does not exceed 240% (industry standard).
So, you’re looking at anywhere from $150 on the low end (and more likely $300 unless you absolutely scrape the bottom of the barrel, which I don’t recommend) to thousands. Still, it is far less than having your book professionally edited (which you should ALWAYS DO FIRST – even if only digital).
But when you think about digital sales dropping and with hardbacks still dominating the market, the real question is… can you afford not to?