Paper prices are going up, and Amazon is at fault.

Paper companies are producing more cardboard boxes for Amazon and less paper for books. As a result of the low supply, paper is getting more expensive for everyone. 

Even Amazon is having to charge more to print paper books.

A Novel Marketing Podcast listener asked the following question about paper pricing:

Question

I’m preparing a book for publication on the Amazon KDP service. When pricing it, I looked at similar traditionally published books. Books in the same genre with approximately the same page count are priced at £5.50. But when I use the KDP royalty calculator, the minimum list price is £6.19, and that’s before I make a profit.

This will make it difficult to be competitive in the middle grade fiction market.

Is this just the plight of print-on-demand authors? It feels like a catch-22. To break into the literature world, you need to be read. To be read, your books need to be affordable so you have to print in bulk, which traditional publishing can do, so you must be a big-shot already in the literature world…

I want to stay positive and get my book in the world. What advice do you have?

–Craig, Novel Marketing Podcast Listener

Great question! Let’s talk about print-on-demand and offset printing. 

What is print-on-demand printing?

Print-on-demand is popular with indie authors. It uses technology similar to an office laser printer, where a drum applies toner to paper using electricity and heat. With this technology, you can print one book at a time.

Pros of Print-on-Demand

Logistically Easy for the Author

Amazons KDP and Ingram Spark offer print-on-demand services. Almost every other printing company contracts with those two printers, so you might as well work with them directly.

Print-on-demand is easier because it doesn’t require warehousing. After the book is ordered by a reader it is printed and shipped. No one has to store books in a warehouse.

Print on Demand is Low Risk

You don’t have to print a large quantity and therefore you won’t have $10,000 in of books sitting in your garage.

Easy to Make Changes

If you’re publishing your first book, it’s especially important to be able to fix typos or make changes based on what you’ve learned. With print-on-demand services, you can revise and expand your book dozens of times to keep it up to date if you need to. Whenever someone buys your book, they’ll get the most up-to-date version.

Inexpensive Startup Cost

It could potentially cost you zero dollars to use print-on-demand, but I don’t recommend that. You’ll want to spend money on a professional editor, a professional book cover design, and your own ISBN. The total of those expenses are still far less than the cost of printing thousands of books upfront.

Fast

You’ll only wait a few days to hold your printed book in your hands. And you can print a single book at a time.

Cons of Print-on-Demand

Expensive on a Per-Unit Basis

While your upfront cost is low because you only order the number of books you want, the price per book is higher than if you were paying for offset printing (see below). If you were to print 1,000 books with print-on-demand, you’ll pay approximately four times more per copy than if you used offset printing.

Fewer Printing Options

With print-on-demand, you won’t have the options for special paper, embossed lettering, or a hole cut in the pages like The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar. You’ll have to use offset printing to access to those special features.

Only Two Companies Offer Print-on-Demand

Amazon KDP Print (formerly Create Space) and Ingram Spark are the only companies that offer these services. Almost all others publishers are reselling books printed by those two companies.

You might as well work with Amazon or Ingram Spark directly and save yourself the costs of the middleman.

If you’re writing children’s books, take time to compare Amazon’s pricing to Ingram Spark’s. For children’s books, Ingram is sometimes cheaper.

For the typical 200-page nonfiction book, Amazon KDP is usually a little cheaper and easier.

What is offset printing?

Offset printing uses metal plates to apply ink to paper. It’s very similar to what Gutenberg was doing but much more efficient. With offset printing, the letters of each page are scratched into a metal plate which is then filled with ink and pressed quickly onto paper. Offset printing uses ink rather than toner, but readers can’t tell the difference.

If you want to print 100,000 books, an offset printer can produce them quickly. While print-on-demand can only print one book at a time, offset printers can print your books in batches.

Offset printing is so expensive on the front end because the each page has a corresponding metal plate that has to be created. If you’re only printing a few books, it’s terribly expensive, but if you’re printing millions of books, it’s basically free.

Pros for Offset

Many Companies Offer Offset Printing

Chances are you have a local offset printer in your town. These companies print a wide variety of materials such as direct mail pieces, catalogues, and books that aren’t for sale, such as manuals. Much of the material they print is mailed, so these printers are often located near the main post office.

Scales Well

Once the metal sheets are created, you can reuse them for reprints, assuming there are no errors or typos engraved into your metal sheets.

Cheaper on a Per-Unit Basis

You can get paperback books printed for about $1.00 per copy. Print-on-demand is closer to $4.00 per copy. Offset printing offers more paper options. If you want a specialty paper or embossing, offset printing is the way to go. You’ll pay more for those features, but they’re possible.

Cons for Offset

Offset printing companies are a bit more difficult for indies to work with. They expect you to have a typeset page that’s ready for their printer. Typically, they work with professionals from a publisher whose only job is to typeset pages and provide the proper PDF files to the printer.  

Slow

It usually takes longer to get your first copy from an offset printer because of the time required to make the metal plates.

Proofing is Important

Publishers also spend time making sure the files are error-free because once the plates are made, the only way to correct an error is to create a new plate. If you’ve already printed 5,000 copies, all of them have the same error. Traditional publishers typically have a rigorous editing process to avoid such costly and embarrassing mistakes.

In indie publishing, you can correct an error at any time. Next time someone orders your book, they’ll have the corrected version.

Logistically Complex

When your thousands of copies come off the printer, you must decide what to do with them. Some companies offer warehousing services for a fee.

Requires a Distributor

If you decide to use offset printing, I recommend using Ingram to do your distribution. They’re the biggest book distributor in the world and all the bookstores know how to work with Ingram.

There are smaller distributers within the industry, but if you don’t know who they are, I recommend using Ingram. Ingram’s main business is distributing palates of books to bookstores. Their print-on-demand services have only recently been added.

Digital Printing

Digital Printing sometimes called “digital offset” uses technology similar to print-on-demand to print short runs. If your small publisher is printing 500 copies of your books, they are likely using digital offset printing.

Digital printing is a hybrid in terms of pros and cons. It’s not as cheap as traditional offset, and it’s not as fast as print-on-demand. It can be hard to find companies with this technology, but if you do find it, it’s usually offered by the same companies that do offset printing. 

A Common Indie Mistake

Indie authors often focus too much on the cost-per-unit price. I encourage you to focus on the total cost of printing. Your per-unit cost won’t matter if you can’t sell the book.

Indie authors are often overly optimistic about the number of books they think they’ll sell. I knew one author who bought 100,000 copies of his book because he was so dazzled by the low cost-per-unit offset printing offered. Ten years later, he was still paying for storage for the books he hadn’t sold.

Should I choose offset or print-on-demand?

Adult Fiction

For adult fiction, print-on-demand is almost always the way to go. Most indie novelists make their money in ebooks, so print copies aren’t as important.  If you know your last five books each sold 5,000 paper copies, you may consider getting bids from traditional offset companies to see how much it would cost to print. Then get a bid from Ingram to find out what distribution would cost.

Nonfiction

Your printing choice will depend on the size of your platform.

If you do a lot of public speaking, offset printing can work. Many speakers choose offset printing because they know they can sell enough books in person to justify buying 5,000 copies in bulk.

If you think you can sell 2,500 copies in the first year,

Assuming 25% of your audience will buy, you’ll need to speak to 10,000 people in the first year. Some people speak to 10,000 people every month or two, so offset printing makes a lot of sense.

If you’re speaking at workshops of a few hundred people each year, then print-on-demand is your best option.

Children’s Books

Offset is much more common for children’s books because children expect the features that offset printing provides. If you want a hole in one of the pages for the toddler to poke a finger through, you need to choose offset printing.

How do you get $10,000 to offset print your book?

Build a Following

Build your readership and your email list.

Some children’s authors travel to schools and libraries to teach workshops or present at school assemblies. One author I know schedules visits to 50 elementary school every two years. Every time he arrives to do his reading and performance, he meets a new group of students, and their parents buy tons of books.

Another author is part of the children’s ministry team at a mega church, which is in a network of mega churches. Every week they have an audience with hundreds of children. If the author decides to indie publish, they could sell a lot of copies.

Children’s books require a lot of hustling, but the good news is that libraries and schools are always looking for authors who can attend their live events.

Middle grade authors will have some of the same opportunities although you’ll have more success working with schools rather than libraries.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a way to raise money from readers to fund the printing before you print the book. It allows you to gauge demand for a book before it comes out. It also provides the capital you need to pay for offset printing, thereby reducing your financial risk. 

You can put your book on a website like Kickstarter, and readers will pay money to support (or back) your proposed project.

Kickstarter campaigns work especially well for children’s books because there are so many visual elements you can share with your Kickstarter backers. You can also create a video of yourself reading the book to share on your Kickstarter page.

Sponsor

Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Author Media

Learn how to use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money for your book before your book comes out. This course has helped many authors successfully crowdfund their books and achieve the publishing dreams they didn’t think they could afford.

Featured Patron

Mary Demuth, author of We Too 

Advocate Mary DeMuth unpacks the church’s response to sexual violence and provides a healthy framework for the church to become a haven of healing instead of an institution of judgment.                                               

Encouragement

One of the things I have enjoyed about being parent is Mercy sense of childlike wonder. She finds wonder in commonplace things. She currently loves Tupperware, and she carries it all over the house. She also LOVED the anti-shoplifting cameras at Walmart. She loved seeing herself on the screen. 

Wonder is a powerful element to weave into your writing. As we get older, we become more jaded and cynical, but we never lose our desire to experience wonder. How can you elicit wonder in the scene you are writing? How can you do it with the ideas you present?

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