How to Price a Paperback Book

A little while ago, I posted a blog entry titled How to Price an eBook. That was followed by two related articles titled Sell the Benefits of Your Book–Not the Features and How to Sell Based on Value, Not Price. I highly recommend re-reading these three articles along with this one because, although this particular entry talks about the logistics behind figuring out your cost per copy (which is one factor in determining your final retail price), there is a lot more to consider when pricing out a paperback book. Understanding your audience and properly marketing your product to them is the key. It can make or break a sale no matter what it is that you’re selling.

All that said, here are two major cost factors to consider when pricing out your paperback book…

Who’s printing it?

Any books that are printed using print-on-demand (POD) technology, which allows you to purchase between one and 99 copies of your book at any given time, will cost a bit more (per copy) to produce than the books printed with traditional printers in larger quantities. As a result, you’ll have a smaller profit margin on these books.

That said, it’s important (critical) to take advantage of POD in this day and age as it allows your customers to buy your books one at a time on sites like Amazon.com. It also allows you, as a self-publisher, to buy small quantities of your book at reasonable prices if you need just a few at any given time.

This is one of POD printing’s greatest strengths. Let’s say it costs $10 to print one copy of your book on a special POD press. It would probably cost you in excess of $85 to print that same one copy on a regular digital press (just because it’s different technology that isn’t set up for such small quantities); and an offset press wouldn’t be able to print it, period.

On the other hand, traditional (digital/offset) printers are set up to print larger quantities of books at a lower cost per copy. This is great for authors who wish to print large quantities of books and sell them at a lower retail price. The strength here is that the same book that costs $10/copy to produce on a POD press may only cost around $5/copy to produce, say, 300 copies on a digital press and around $2/copy to produce 2,000 copies on an offset press. The downside to printing this many copies of a book at one time is that it requires a large upfront investment and the added cost/hassle of warehousing all those books.

There’s a time and a place to use each type of printer, which is why PPG returns all working files and finished files to our authors once they’ve approved the final version of their books. This allows them to choose where they’re going to print based on how many books they think they’re going to be able to sell:  

  • Traditional offset printing: best price for 1000+ copies
  • Modern digital printing: best price for 100 to 999 copies
  • Print-on-demand (POD): best price for one to 99 copies

It’s always wise for self-publishers to contact several printers to obtain quotes for 50, 250, 500, 1000, and 2000 copies. The unit price quoted per each quantity requested will be a good indicator of what type of press is being used and where the printer can be competitive.

Who’s buying it?

Self publishers who wish to sell copies of their books through local retailers, such as book stores, will also have to factor that retailer’s profit share into their final retail price. Retailers/wholesalers buy publishers’ books at steep discounts in order to turn their own profit on the resale. Here are the industry standards self-publishers should budget for:

  • Book Wholesalers (i.e. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, libraries): 50-55% discount
  • Book Retailers (i.e. Chapters, McNally Robinson): 40-45% discount

Once your book has been designed and the final trim size, page count, picture count, and interior (black and white/colour) has been determined, printers will be able to provide you with the cost per copy to print your book. It is best to factor in the highest possible cost per copy (POD) along with the highest possible discount (wholesaler) when determining your book’s retail price. For example, if your POD cost per copy is $5, then your retail price should be set at around $20/copy in order for you to turn a profit on it:

Again, these hard costs are only a small part of the equation when determining the price of a paperback book. They should be used to calculate the lowest possible retail price only. From there, authors should do a thorough examination of who their audience is and what that audience values most (quality or price) before deciding upon the final retail price as part of the book’s overall marketing campaign.

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