Overcharging Authors for Their Own Books!

money jar 7027604401_406e35ba1fSelf-publishing authors give away a lot of books. First, to family and friends, especially those you can nudge into writing a review. Then, to potential bloggers, reviewers, bookstores, and other contacts.

And writers sell their own books at readings, book fairs, and through their websites.

To make a reasonable profit, you need to pay as little as you can for a decently printed book.

When deciding which POD provider or self-publishing service company to use, be sure to calculate how much you will have to pay for author copies. You will be surprised how much the prices vary for the exact same book.

Some self-publishing companies make hefty profits by overcharging authors for the authors’ own books. I first learned about this in Mark Levine’s book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, an invaluable resource for any self-publisher.

Let’s check the prices for a 6 x 9 paperback, 250 pages, black and white interior with a color cover, matt finish, perfect binding. Nothing special. A typical, independently published book. According to Levine, the cost for POD printing of this hypothetical book is $0.015 per page plus $0.90 for a color cover, so $4.65 per copy. Levine owns Mill City Press, a self-publishing service company. On his website, he has posted some of his own calculations.

How much would it cost an author to buy 25 copies as of April 26, 2015? I am assuming no special sales, coupons, or offers. I am not including shipping and handling charges. Not all the websites had that information available.

CreateSpace                      $96

IngramSpark                      $105

Mill City Press                    $116

Outskirts Press                  $186

Dog Ear Press                     $207 (includes $2 per book handling fee)

BookBaby                           $268

IUniverse                            $259**

Gulp!  A $200 spread between the lowest and the highest. For 25 copies! What if you were ordering 100 copies or 1000 copies?

**IUniverse, a Author Solutions company, has a particularly unfavorable way of calculating author prices. Their policy is to set the retail price fairly high ($15.95 and up for a 240-page book), then they charge the author a discount from the retail price. For 25 books, the discount is 35%.

This makes no sense to me. The cost of printing is the same. I don’t see why authors should pay more for their books because IUniverse sets an unrealistically  high retail price. Could it be that IUniverse expects to make more money from selling books to authors than by selling books to the public?

As always, do your homework before you sign on with any POD or self-publishing company. You and your book deserve it.

What’s been your experience in buying author’s copies?

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10 responses to “Overcharging Authors for Their Own Books!”

  1. I just wanted to add a quick note. Last time I looked into it, CreateSpace was the most affordable option for my needs, but I think that IngramSpark has a system where the price per copy goes down considerably if you order a lot of print copies, so IngramSpark might be the better option if you planned to sell a lot of books in person or through your local booksellers.

  2. Well done! Important info that many newbies don’t consider.

    One book page can cost about a penny — or two bucks!


  3. I’ve been very happy with the quality, prices and service at CreateSpace. Even with shipping, it’s a good deal. And I can always get someone on the phone if I need to. I haven’t tried the others, but Ingram Spark and Mill City Press look good.

    It’s surprising how many companies have deals with Author Solutions. Lulu, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, etc. use it to manage their self-pub.

  4. When I order copies of “Career Success Without a Real Job” (240 pages and 6.9 x 9.9 inches) through Ingram’s Lightning Source POD, I have to pay $4.05 plus shipping. When I order print runs of the same sized “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”, I have it done at a regular offset printer. The last print run of 15,290 copies cost me $1.51 a copy – and that included shipping. Of course, a price of $1.51 per copy means that I can afford to give a lot more copies away. To date, I have given away 5,954 copies of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Ernie, My post focuses on POD printing costs, but I agree that any writer looking to print 300 copies or more should consider offset printing instead of POD printing. At that scale, offset printing is much more affordable.
      Congratulations on your impressive success.

  5. There is another way to get copies, and that is offset printing. I haven’t looked into it (yet), but, depending on how many copies you want to have available to give away (25 sounds way too low), there must be a point at which you can acquire a couple of hundred copies for a reasonable price (local printer?).

    Did you look into that particular cost? With a local, you’d just drive down and pick the books up.

    If you find one that will use the exact same pdfs you make for Createspace, it might be worth it.

    Being new at this, I could be way off, and the breakeven point more at thousands – and nobody wants thousands of books in the basement.

    Just in the comparison you did, and excluding iUniverse and all the AS clones, that’s over a 2.5 to 1 ratio. And Createspace (my first choice) is the winner by a bit. Good to know.

    I am very disappointed in the BookBaby prices. Maybe they are better at books with photos, which I believe they cater to, but they are almost at 3 to 1 over Createspace, and that is ridiculous.

    Thanks for tracking down the data.


    • Yes, offset is they way to go if you are ordering hundreds of copies.
      I too was surprised at BookBaby’s print prices. I used their online calculator and ran the numbers several times because I could not believe it. Perhaps they give a lot of coupons and discounts once you sign on with them. Some companies do that; there’s a “standard” rate, but no one ever really pays full price.

  6. What? No Lulu?

    Nevermind, I checked it myself.

    * Premium (i.e. suitable for distribution): $6.25 x 25 = $156.25
    * Standard (NOT suitable for distribution; sell on Lulu.com only): $4.55 x 25 = $113.75

    They don’t do matt covers (glossy only), but I’m not sure if that would really affect the price.

    So it’s not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either. I still like them, though. I find their site (especially the cover designer) to be EXTREMELY user-friendly. Also, I know you specifically said this doesn’t include coupon codes, but Lulu has new coupon codes DAILY, sometimes even for free international shipping.

    And let’s not forget, they have hardcovers as a standard option. 🙂

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