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Compare Apples to Apples

August 11, 2013 by Tim

An increasingly attractive option for authors who wish to publish independently is Print On Demand (P.O.D.). With this business model, instead of stocking a thousand hard copies somewhere, the book is only printed “on demand”—i.e. as it is ordered. This saves the upfront cost of printing, as well as the hassle and potential costs of maintaining and storing inventory.

There are a surprising number of P.O.D. services available. How do you choose among them?

I won’t suggest Option A over Option B. I will note, however, that you need to be careful to compare apples to apples in terms of how arrangements are set up. Not only is it wise to compare final product quality, but also the payment structure.

As a specific example, let’s compare Lulu and CreateSpace. Lulu was one of the first companies in the P.O.D. industry, and know their way around the business. CreateSpace, on the other hand, is an Amazon subsidiary and is backed by the deepest pockets in the modern book business. So it is not likely that either one are going anywhere.

But what about income on your book? Lulu boasts that your share of revenue on books sold by them is a whopping 80%. That is very healthy.

Meanwhile, CreateSpace takes a considerably larger percentage than that for their store, and more again for sales on Amazon. So Lulu sounds like the obvious choice.

But is it?

You will need to factor in a few more things. First, most authors want their books available on Amazon. It is by far the most important marketplace, online or not. And you won’t make Lulu’s 80% if you sell on Amazon, whether you start out with a Lulu book or not.

But we will leave that aside for the moment, and assume you’ve found a way to drive sales to Lulu’s site and don’t really need Amazon.

Nonetheless, you still need to factor in manufacturing costs, which are not included in Lulu’s 80% figure. As it turns out, Lulu’s manufacturing cost per copy is considerably higher than that of CreateSpace. For instance, a 100 page 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ paperback at present has a manufacturing cost of $2.15 at CreateSpace but of $5.25 at Lulu (according to the online calculators on their respective sites).

This means that with CreateSpace, you have a $3 head start—and more if, as is true in most cases, your book is longer than 100 pages. That implies that you don’t need to sell your book at such a high price to make a reasonable royalty. Plus, you can have copies of your book shipped to you, or dropshipped to your buyers, for the CreateSpace manufacturing cost plus shipping, and not pay a marketing fee at all.

The point is not that you should publish with CreateSpace rather than Lulu. You may decide you prefer Lulu’s finished product; or perhaps you like the Lulu store and have a product that you can mark up fairly high. Or perhaps you want hardcover, which CreateSpace does not offer (other competitors do).

In any case, you should try to be clear ahead of time what realistic retail price you can set for your book, and how much return you can expect per copy. In comparing your options between companies such as Lulu, CreateSpace, and Lightning Source, you need to be aware of all the factors. (For instance, Lightning Source has the most extensive distribution, but is harder to get into, has a less than optimal online interface, and charges a setup fee for each title.)

Doing your homework in the short run will save you unpleasant surprises in the long run.

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