Why print on demand isn’t right for us right now

Tue 1 May 2012 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | 6 Comments | Posted by: Gavin

Small Beer Sixpack: Goose IslandI keep reading about the death of legacy publishers (hey, that’s us!) due to their refusal to get into the ebook game (done that) or not being swift enough to change from old fashioned book printers to using print on demand. This is going to be a short post because here’s the simple problem with print on demand is it’s too expensive. (Unless we want to price our paperbacks at $20 . . . ! Which I don’t.) Another problem is that we would have to create a gallery that would allow each product to be ordered when wanted. So the printing would be more expensive and then we would essentially have to rework our online presence too.

Let’s use a 320-page book as an example. We’ve been pricing our trade paperbacks at $16 since we started publishing in 2001. From that $16, about 65% goes to the bookstore and the distro. So we receive about 35% = $5.60 to pay the author and for the art, copyediting, Indexer marketing, publicity, mailing, freight, returns, and whatever other costs there are, including, with luck, ourselves.

So why don’t we minimize our investment in printed books and only print one or two hundred at a time? Because we can’t afford to.

We always use recycled paper, which bumps up the printing price of all our books but we’ve always thought that if a publisher can’t afford that, they shouldn’t be printing books.

The book printer below quoted just under $2 a copy, not bad for only 2K books. The more books we can print, the lower the unit cost. That leaves us almost $4 for all those costs above.

If we go the print on demand route, we’d receive $0.83 per book, not enough to pay the author royalties, never mind anything else.

So until the print on demand unit price drops, we’ll stick to printing a couple of thousand copies, letting books sell through, and reprinting when the orders start building up.

Print on Demand (quotes provided May 1, 2012 from 2 printers):

100 copies
$517.00 · ($5.17 each)
$667.80 · ($6.67 each)

250 copies
$1,292.50 · ($5.17 each)
$1,458.89 · ($5.83 each)

Book Printer (quote provided Feb 16, 2012):

2000 copies (including freight to warehouse/office)
$3842.00 · ($1.92 each)


6 Responses to “Why print on demand isn’t right for us right now”

  1. SF Tidbits for 5/2/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog on May 2nd, 2012 12:06 am

    […] Small Beer Press on Why print on demand isn’t right for us right now. […]

  2. Sam X on May 2nd, 2012 10:41 am

    I’d be interested in which PoD services you queried, unless they requested to remain anonymous. Are their regional/local to yourselves, or national?

  3. Sean Wallace on May 3rd, 2012 7:12 am

    Even for just 500 copies it’s still cheaper to go with offset, as the unit costs are around $3.00. (Reprinting it is about $2.25.) With the kind of books that you do, and print runs, it would never make sense to do print-on-demand. On the other hand in my case I’ve had to use it selectively. For example, say, a book has effectively sold out, but subsequent orders are insufficient to pull the trigger to reprint. In that case it might be worth short-running 50 or 100 copies just to make sure that the book isn’t listed as out of stock in the sales channels. But beyond that, yes, offset makes the best kind of sense. And even if you overprint, you can always remainder!

  4. Gavin on May 4th, 2012 12:34 pm

    I queried a company we’ve used for galleys and the other one is one of the two or three largest around. (The are both national.) YMMV: you may get better pricing depending on your sales rep and your relationship with them. I am not using names as I did not say I would be publishing the information.

    Our local (http://www.paradisecopies.com) copy shop’s prices are as good as many digital printers so we usually go to them for galleys. It’s great to go local, to go in and check a proof, and to be able to get recommendations on paper and so on. Also very nice to save the shipping cost.

  5. Gavin on May 4th, 2012 12:37 pm

    Hey Sean, sorry, busy couple of days. I wanted to point out to any talking heads who think that publishers should drop offset printing and only print to demand (which is what we do, of course) that this system isn’t quite there yet.

    Ah, remaindering. Yep. It kills me, but since we get charged storage costs of 3c per book per month after two years, it has to be done. (And soon, methinks. Oh well!)

  6. Sam X on May 9th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Thanks for the replies guys. I’m investigating various print options obviously for my incredibly small magazine/press and I’m in the process of deciding how cheap I want to be, what DIY aesthetic the project will borrow (if any), and exactly what the monetary margins on it all will be.

    500 units at $3 is a very solid price for offset, I need to get in touch with my local printers and see what they can offer me.

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