Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Children’s Books with POD Self-Publishing

Several posts ago I mentioned that POD is least effective for children's book publishing. I'll explain why I believe that. There are a couple of reasons, but they are all related to production cost. Of course, when I say "children's book" I mean a book with full color images or illustrations inside. Here's a shocker: it is more expensive to print a book that has full color pages than to print a book that only has black and white pages. Here's another shocker: most children's book are shorter than normal books.

Most POD production costs are based upon the page count of the book. From what I can tell, those PODs who offer full-color printing do so at prices that range from 12 cents to 40 cents per color page. Blurb and CafePress and Lulu are at the upper end (no surprise there, they don't have up-front fees and make up for it by up-charging on a per-page basis). Xlibris, Outskirts Press, Trafford, and AuthorHouse are fee-based POD services that also offer full-color printing. Their per-page printing seems to be toward the lower end of that scale. Let's say 20 cents per page for a mathematical example.

Let's assume the children's book is a typical 32 page book. That's $6.4 just for the interior of the book. All these publishers (even the free ones) add on a "binding fee" to the production cost of the book (which is either a base production fee on top of which the page count fee is added, or an "up charge" that is basically ensures their profit). Since most of these places use Lightning Source for their printing, and LSI charges 90 cents for a paperback binding, let's go with that number. Hell, let's give each of these places 10 cents per book (because they are businesses and have to make some money, somewhere -- it's only fair, right?). So, that's $6.4 for the interior printing and $1 for the paperback cover. That's $7.4 for the production cost of the book, minimum.

There are various schools of thought on what a retail price should be for a book. Some "experts" say you should multiply your production cost by 2.5 (giving you a retail price of $18.50 for our example). Others say you should multiply it by 8 (giving you a retail price of $59.2). Of course, those who say you should multiply it by 8 are printing 10,000 copies in China for $1 a book. That's about as far from the POD business model as you can get.

So, we'll stick with the 2.5 x philosophy to make it easy. That provides a retail price of $18.50 for a 32 page children's book. Does that sound high to you? In relation to the other children's books you have seen on the shelf? Of course it is.

It gets worse. Most commercial children's books are in hardcover. The minute you add hardcover binding to the POD production process, that $1 "binding fee" from above turns into $5. Now you're looking at a 32 page book over $20.

Lightning Source, Inc. currently doesn't offer hardback books for their full color printing. Therefore, some publishers engage in a bait and switch. Xlibris, for example, offers hardback full color books in their marketing materials, but if you carefully read the fine print, you discover that a paperback edition will be the one that is distributed through Ingram (due to the LSI shortcomings above). Xlibris isn't the only one who does this. Lulu uses Color Centric out of New York to print the books their authors buy direct, but they use Lightning Source to print the distributed versions. Same as Xlibris, they also clarify in small print that a paperback edition of the full-color book is what is distributed. I wonder how many of their "1 million registered users" are blissfully unaware of this. Well, since Lulu books sell an average of 1.8 copies each, and 1 copy is required to be purchased by the author herself, that leaves .8 copies that are purchased from either the Lulu website, or through distribution online. So, in other words, no one is buying the LSI versions of Lulu's books. Their secret is safe. I wonder if the same holds true for Xlibris...


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