With the sale of e-books on the rise, many publishers do great business without ever sending their books to print. Others rely on a mix of e-books and print books. In both cases, we’re told that the cost of sending a book to print is far greater and sometimes prohibitive.
But some of the key costs of the books—namely the editing, cover art, formatting, and marketing—remain the same no matter what format the book takes. So the difference must be in the printing costs, the storage, and the shipping to distribute the physical books. Anyone who has bought printer or toner lately or tried to ship something through UPS or the Post Office knows those costs can really add up. Then there are the remainders and returns to worry about with print books—something you don’t see with their electronic counterparts.
There are options. Print-on-demand, for instance, creates shorter print runs, faster turnaround, and prevents an overproduction of titles that might not sell well down the line. The lattermost is especially important. POD books dodge the bullet of those dozens of hardcover books you see sold for pennies on the dollar in the bargain bins of physical bookstores.
Some e-book publishers contract to meet their print needs. Ellora’s Cave, for instance, is represented by The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. Yes, a publishing company can have a literary agent. Ethan Ellenberg negotiates deals with Pocket, a print publisher, to put Ellora’s Cave’s books into print. Not sure what the cost vs. profit is on these deals, but I’d have to assume Ellora’s Cave does better having Pocket print its books than if it produced its own print books.
So a lot of factors go into the cost of a print book, including whether the publisher does its own in-house printing or contracts that work out, and whether it does POD or a traditional print run. Then there’s overhead, employee and management salaries, author royalties, and the fore-mentioned cost of editing, artwork, formatting, and marketing.
But I thought authors in print—even in print at a smaller publishing house—made better money? Well, print books are usually priced higher, though authors often make a much smaller percentage of royalties off the print books. Print also reaches a different (though overlapping) audience of readers, and print sales are still going strong even as e-book sales go up. There is a confounding variable, though. Publishers who specialize in e-books don’t usually put a book into print unless that author is already selling very well. So those authors may not make more because they’re in print, but simply because they’re popular enough to be put in print in the first place.
This is a complicated business, and various reports don’t agree on the stats. What are your thoughts?