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The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Mark Levine : The Secret About Book Printing Fees

The Dirty Little Secret About Book Printing Fees

By Mark Levine

When it comes time to choose a self-publishing company, one of the most important aspects of your decision should be how much you pay for copies of your own book (usually as a percentage off the retail price).

This amount is important for another reason: it's usually the price the self-publishing company tells you (or leads you to believe is the actual cost to print a copy of your book).

Most self-publishing companies use a printer owned by Ingram (the large book distributor) to handle print-on-demand orders of their authors' books. They do this because then their authors' books are automatically in the Ingram database (hence the "your book is available at 25,000 retail outlets" line on most self-publishing websites) and your book appears in stock at Amazon.com.

On average, one 200-page, 5.5 x 8.5 paperback, with a laminated, full color cover costs a self-publishing company $3.90 to print ($.015 per page plus $.90 for the cover). Realize that many companies pay even less than that due to volume discounts.

Any publisher whose website touts that your book is available at 25,000 retail outlets (meaning that someone could walk into that store and order your book) is using the printer owned by Ingram and thus paying $.015 per page and $.90 per cover for a standard paperback book (no internal color pictures, picture book, etc.)

Many self-publishing companies attempt to make money on three sides of two-sided transaction:

  1. Initial fee

  2. Mark-up of printing fees every time you order a book or one is sold by the publisher or Amazon.com,etc.; and

  3. Royalties (covered in the next article in this series).

They certainly have a right to make money however they want. I just want to make sure that any publisher you are considering is up front with you about what it costs to print a book. By marking up the printing, the cost at which you can retail the book for goes up while your profit margin goes down.

If a self-publishing company is handling the ordering of books for you with the printer, a reasonable fee should be expected. Paying 50%-100% of the printing cost of each book is a bit much.

In my book, The Fine Print of Self Publishing, I evaluate and rank the contracts and services of some of the major self-publishing companies. Below is a chart that shows you:

  • How much six self-publishing companies pay to print the above book
  • How much they tell authors it costs to print a copy of the author´s book; and
  • How much the publisher makes each time an author´s book is printed (this doesn't include what they make in royalties)
Publisher Actual Print Cost of 200 page, 8.5 x 5.5. paperback Cost at which Author can purchase book at a discount from publisher Printing profit publisher makes EACH time a book ordered (by public or author) Profit Publisher makes when 200 books printed.
iUniverse $3.90 $10.37 (35% off retail price, for orders of 6-19 books) $6.47 $1,294
Lulu.com $3.90 $8.53 $4.63 $926
Outskirts Press $3.90 $6.16 (when ordering publishers $999 publishing package) $2.26 $452
Trafford $3.90 $8.37 $4.47 $894
Xlibris $3.90 $13.19 $9.29 $1,858
Authorhouse $3.90 $9.71 $5.81 $1,162

Self-publishing companies provide some great services to authors looking to publish, but do not deal with every aspect of the publishing process on their own. To make self-publishing work for you, you can't overpay for printing. •

© 2007 Mark Levine

Mark LevineMark Levine is the author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which analyzes and ranks the contracts and services of 48 major self-publishing companies. More »

3/20/07