A Serious Moment About Self-Published Writers and Book Prices

Hi there! My name is Sam Knight and I am an author.

While I have had stories published by numerous publishers, some small, some large, I am also a self-published author.

Normally I stay out of the mix when people get serious about things, as I am first and foremost an entertainer. I write books to entertain. I want to create escapism. I want people to have a few moments they can stop worrying about other things, so I try not to complain or be controversial.

But lately something has been bothering me.

While I know what I am about to say (write) isn’t true of everyone, please remember, I don’t hear (read) what “everyone” says. I only get to hear the squeaky wheels (and the much rarer people who go out of their way to tell me they liked what I did).

In the past few years, it has begun to seem that some people don’t want to pay for books anymore. Were this merely a decline in people reading, I would understand, as our society seems to be moving away from literacy in favor of electronic entertainment. (I think any news outlet will quickly prove my point on that, let alone the growing popularity of on-demand visual entertainments.) But it is not a decline in readership that vexes me.

Some people have come to think that we (writers) should give our e-books away for free, and that the print books are way overpriced.

I often see/hear questions about “Where can I get a free copy?”  Rarely is it “Where can I buy a copy?”, and when it is, it’s usually followed by something like “Oh… That’s too much.”

Because of this, I thought I would take a moment and break down some prices, so that perhaps some of these people might get a better idea of why “indie” writers price their books the way they do.

I am going to pick on Amazon, Kindle Direct, and CreateSpace. Amazon (which owns Kindle Direct and CreateSpace) is a Big Kid and I’m sure it has on its Big Kid Pants, so I’m also sure it can handle me using it as an example.

Recently I put out an independently published book (meaning I self-published it) that I co-authored with my son.

dead-fly-cover-4-ebook

Yay, us!

The Kindle version is for sale at a whopping sum of 99¢. I’d go cheaper, if I could. Maybe 49¢. But Kindle Direct won’t allow that. The minimum is 99¢. And that limits me to a 35% share of the cover price. I would have to sell the book for more than $2.99 to get a 70% share of the cover price (I’ll get to more on that in a minute). But I’m not going to sell this little children’s book in e-format for $2.99! It’s way too short. People would be upset. I would be upset with myself.

So 99¢ it is.

Out of that 99¢, if someone purchases a copy, my son and I receive 35¢. (Which I split with him, just in case anyone was wondering.)

I am selling this on other platforms as well, but Amazon is the Elephant In The Room and that is where nearly all of the sales take place, so let’s just stick with them for the example.

Kindle Direct Publishing does distribute the e-book to 12 “other marketplaces” (all Amazon websites that distribute in other countries). The amount paid to my son and I, per sale in those “other marketplaces”, tends to be comparable to that 35¢, albeit in foreign currencies that have varying exchange rates.

The print version of the book is $6.99.  If someone buys that, we get… um… let me see.. Well it depends upon where they buy it from. See, we published this through CreateSpace which “distributes” this book to “other” booksellers (not all are other Amazon stores, but most are), and depending upon who sells it, Amazon takes a larger cut for “distribution costs” (or whatever they choose to call it). The largest “royalty” my son and I can earn on sales is through CreateSpace itself, which I have NEVER had anyone buy a book through. If they did, we’d get $2.64.

But they don’t. They buy from Amazon. Which nets us $1.44.

And those “other” booksellers?  Well… it goes as low as 24¢ back to us.

Out of $6.99, sometimes we only get 24¢.

On top of that, in order to distribute to those “other” booksellers, CreateSpace tells us the “minimum list price for this title is $5.38”.

So when people ask me “Why don’t you sell the book for only $5?”, I just smile. The lowest price point I can go to, without losing what little distribution I have, is $5.38, and at that point, we would be getting exactly $0.00 from those “other” booksellers. We would be giving our work away for free, even though readers would still be paying for it.

If I were to drop the price to $5.00, and not sell anywhere except through Amazon (US) and CreateSpace, we could get 85¢ from Amazon and $1.85 from CreateSpace.

Considering I get just as many sales from Amazon UK as I get from Amazon US, I don’t know that I want to cut my distribution in half along with my profit. Not only am I losing a chance at building a wider name recognition, I don’t know that my sales would jump up very much from dropping $2 off the price.

So, to sum up that title, is it fair to say my son and I get an average of less than $1 for each copy of I Love You More Than a Dead Fly that we sell? Pretty sure the answer is yes.

For comparison, let’s take a look at an actual “novel” instead of a children’s book.

old-lucid-nightmare-e-book-cover

Lucid Nightmares took much longer to write than I Love You More Than a Dead Fly. It cost more to have edited. The cover art cost more. All in all, it was much more expensive to make. And it is only $5.99 on Kindle.

Since this title is at a price above $2.99, I can ask Kindle Direct for 70% of the cover price rather than the 35% I get at the price of 99¢. So I do. But there is a cost there, too. Now that I am asking for 70%, Kindle Direct takes a different kind of bite out of the profit. Now Kindle Direct wants a “Delivery” fee for the e-books, ostensibly based upon the file size of the e-book.

This delivery fee is different for each book. In case you never noticed (which I am pretty sure you haven’t), my other children’s books are no longer available as an e-book. Due to file size. Because they have color pictures. And “Delivery” fees. Their file sizes brought the price up high enough I didn’t feel I could sell them at a reasonable price in e-format.

Pupu ebook cover_edited-1 The Ant Who Held Down A Mountain The Day the Snow Angels Flew Away Zombie cover thumbnail

But back to Lucid Nightmares. At 358 pages, it is considerable longer than I Love You More Than a Dead Fly.

At $5.99, I can make $4.10 per e-book sold on Amazon! Yay! Wait. That’s not 70%.  Because Kindle Direct takes 14¢ in “Delivery” fees.

But still. I made $4.10. Unless it sells through one of those 12 “other markets”. Some of those I still only get 35%. The “Delivery” fees are similar on the remaining markets though, and so is the payment, in foreign currency, which is later converted.

All in all, I don’t know that I can complain about that too much. I sell a book for $6 and I get to keep $4 of it. That’s not too bad!

But then, some people tend to complain that I am selling it for $5.99 instead of 99¢. Not to mention a lot of other books are free! Why don’t I just give it away like all of those other writers?

Those other writers are desperate for attention. They are trying hard to market their books by giving them away for free. With every free book that goes out, they pray it will lead to millions in sales of the books they are selling that are not free, or that it will become the next big thing and Hollywood will want to make a movie out of it. Or something like that. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: If I give it away for free, I earned $0.00 on it. So what was the point? If I am going to give stuff away for free, I’d have more fun spending my time on the street corner giving away dirty looks to passing traffic.

But that’s a personal issue that tends to lead to altercations, so I write instead. Mostly. Let’s move on…

“What about the print version?” you may ask.

The print version of Lucid Nightmares sells for $17.99.  CreateSpace says: “Minimum list price for this title is $12.85”.  I get $5.65 if it sells on Amazon. $2.05 if “other”. (As I said before, I’ve never sold one on CreateSpace itself, so the “good” rate is off the table here.)

Remember, sales are about the same between Amazon and “other”, so I don’t know that it is worth losing the “other” just so that I can drop the price.

This brings me to around an average of $3.50 earned per print book sold. This is even less than the e-books. Yet they cost so much more! So why do I bother? Because I like printed books and so do a lot of other people. Plus I can sell print books at Conventions. (It’s really, really hard to sell e-books from a booth.)

Remember those kids books?

Pupu ebook cover_edited-1 The Ant Who Held Down A Mountain The Day the Snow Angels Flew Away Zombie cover thumbnail

But here is my summation and what I hope you got out of all of this:

I make about, oh… not very much off of each book sold.

I have to sell a hundred copies of a book (not a children’s book, I make very little on those so I can keep them cheap) at it’s best “royalty” rate (which I NEVER get) just to pay for a good editor.

That doesn’t count paying for a cover artist (which is why I do so much of my own art!), for formatting (which I also do myself for the same reasons), for a proof reader, ISBN numbers, copyright registration, advertising, or any of so many other things that go into the making of a book (like software that now requires a monthly subscription).

When all is said and done, even at prices that some people think are way too high, it takes me two to three hundred sales through online distributors, for each title, just to reach the break-even point for the cost of that title.

I don’t know that I’ve made that many sales on a single title yet.

Here’s some more food for thought—I can’t take credit for it, but I think it’s a good example:

Many of the same people who complain about the price of books, who think an e-book should be free, spend $3 to $7 on a cup of coffee at a store nearly every day. A cup of coffee that they drink and are done with in fifteen minutes or so. A cup of coffee they could brew at home for a cost of around 30¢ a day (probably cheaper). But it’s not convenient to make it at home. It’s easier to have someone else make it for you. At a cost of 10 to 20 times more.

But a book, which can last for hours instead of minutes, which can be read over and over again throughout a lifetime, which can be shared with others, which can spark thought and conversation, isn’t worth paying for? Should be free?

If you want to read a book, but you don’t want to pay $6 for it because it costs too much (we’ll go with the e-book price, for ease of thought), why not just make one yourself at home for 10 to 20 times less? That’ll only be 30¢ to 60¢, right?

You know, plus the effort.

Think you can make a book for yourself at home? Everyone knows coffee tastes better when someone else makes it. Maybe books are the same way?

Nah! Everyone knows books are better when you make them yourself! Right?

Maybe your family will help! Maybe a homemade book will be better when you and your family read it together. Surely you will find it full of unexpected twists and turns you didn’t see coming! Maybe it will become one of your favorites. Maybe you’ll read it to your grandchildren?

Why not? After you put that much work into making yourself a book, you’ll for sure enjoy it!
Right?

And maybe you could do all of that for 10 times less than the cost of buying the book. Maybe you could do all that for only 60¢.

Which would still be more money than I got from the sale of the children’s book you told me I was charging too much for.

 

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Okay. I managed to put all the bitter angst onto the page and I’m over it now. But I am going to post this anyway, just in case it does help someone understand.

If you want a little more information on how many books have to be sold by a publisher to pay minimum wage to a single person, follow the “Continue reading” link on the article below. It came to my attention when I spotted the graphic they use. It’s slightly out of date, but I think it will give you a good idea of why authors/publishers never seem to have any money.

Thanks for letting me rant.

The Business of Publishing: The Distribution Question (with Infographic!)