Self-Pub Spotlight: Bookbaby

If you’re in digital publishing or even just follow the news, you’ve probably heard of Bookbaby. It launched back in January 2011, and it is a new service which was started by CDbaby, a respected name in the indie music scene. Bookbaby offers a number of services ranging from a basic conversion, cover design, author’s websites, and commission free distribution to major ebookstores (Kindle, Nook, iBooks).

But this post isn’t intended to pitch the service; I want to show you the warts.

Ever since Bookbaby launched it has been pitched as a flat fee conversion and distribution service. Bookbaby likes to bandy around the $99 figure, and the developers just love telling everyone that they can afford to do a basic conversion for a cheap fee and then distribute the ebook to the major ebookstores at no cost.

BTW, one important detail that you might miss: Bookbaby doesn’t distribute to Kobo. That’s not a huge loss but it’s still one that you should pursue. Kobo is the 4th largest ebookstore in the US and covers interna’l. markets that others don’t (besides Amazon).

Update: Bookbaby is expecting to add Kobo and other ebookstores in the next couple months (by the end of Jan 2012). They’re also going to launch BookBaby Print later this week.

Now, I’ve known about Bookbaby since it launched, but I never really got a good look. TBH I’d never gotten beyond the soundbite, and it turns out that Bookbaby charges a whole lot more in fees than it first appears.

First, the basic conversion doesn’t cover working from PDF, InDesign, or a couple other formats – just word, rtf, html, &c. The other formats cost extra, but that’s okay; they probably require more work.

The problem is that while there’s a $99 fee for a basic conversion, there’s also a $19 fee for an ISBN (so your ebook can be sold in iBooks). What this means is that the real price of the conversion is actually $118, not $99.

Oh, and do you know how they like to pitch the service as not charging a commission on ebook sales?  While this is technically correct, it’s not the whole truth. But you’d have to take a closer look before you would know that.

While Bookbaby doesn’t charge a commission, they do charge a $19 yearly fee for each title. That’s not a commission, no, so they aren’t lying. But they are splitting hairs.

Costs aside, I’m told they do decent work for the $118. I’ve heard from a couple authors who were satisfied with the appearance of the ebook, but at least one wasn’t happy with the financial aspects. She had only been with them for a short time and has just received her first payment. Unlike most services, she didn’t get a statement email; the funds were simply deposited in her bank account.

This author also wasn’t pleased with the amount she’s earning on each sale. As you probably know, Amazon and B&N offer a couple different commission plans.  Price your ebooks the way they want and you will get a larger cut. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Bookbaby supports choosing the better plan. I’m told that Bookbaby defaults to the lower 35% commission at Amazon, not the 70% rate.

Update: I now have correct info on the pay rate. According to this author, Bookbaby pays the standard Amazon rates of 35% and 70% (depending on ebook price).

Getting back to the fees, I have to say that I was taken aback when I learned the truth. Once you factor in the added costs, suddenly Bookbaby isn’t as good of a deal as it first appears.

The extra fees change the cost structure significantly. Before I would have bet that the $99 could be covered easily in the long run. But now that we know about the yearly fee and the quirk in the payment plan, you have to sit down and do some real math before picking this service.

You can get a basic conversion outside of Bookbaby for $150, and you can then upload the ebooks to B&N and Amazon yourself. Trust me, it’s not hard.  If you also upload to Smashwords, you can use it to cover Kobo and other ebookstores besides B&N and Amazon.

The question an author needs to ask is this. Will you earn more by going direct  than if you go through Bookbaby and pay the $19 fee?

When you phrase it that way, it’s pretty simple. Going direct is the better deal.

Of course, that is only true so long as Bookbaby doesn’t let authors choose the higher rate offered by B&N and Amazon. When that changes I’ll need to reevaluate the math.

Amazon pay rates

B&N payrates

Bookbaby

 

13 thoughts on “Self-Pub Spotlight: Bookbaby

  1. Nate –

    Thanks so much for writing your comparison piece, and for reaching out to our customer service team to fact check. Here are some comments which can help people make a decision on whom to use to distribute their book:

    Payout:

    As you write in your update, you were given incorrect information that BookBaby defaults to the lower 35% rate for Amazon – the opposite is true. Amazon pays us (the entirety of which we pay out to our clients): 70% for books whose list price is between $2.99-9.99; 35% for all titles priced less than $2.99 or greater than $9.99, and for books sold to customers outside of US, UK, CA. This is standard for Amazon – they want to incentivize authors to deliver them titles priced in that window, as that’s where everyone makes the most money. (Authors aren’t just competing for readers’ attention (and wallets) with print books, but also with iPhone apps like Angry Birds and services such as Netflix and Facebook!)

    Our payments are timely and transparent – we pay immediately upon receipt from our partners, and unlike other services who model after Paypal, you don’t have to remember to go into an account and withdraw your funds – we pay you automatically, and there’s a full accounting dashboard (rather than an abbreviated email) where you can see your sales by partner.

    Pricing:

    As far as us charging for an ISBN, that’s true, but it’s only if you don’t have one already. The $19 is a fraction of the cost of buying your own.

    We do currently pay 100% of net sales and charge a $19 annual fee – but that fee is waived for the first year.

    For conversion, we do charge more for converting PDFs, but our $59 rate is significantly lower than other companies which offer it, and our simplified pricing is more straightforward than many places, which make you “call for a quote.”

    Distribution network:

    We not only do B&N and Amazon (and Smashwords doesn’t do Amazon as of this writing!) – but we also distribute to Sony Reader and Apple’s iBookstore for the iPad.

    We expect Kobo to be integrated within the next two months, and I just inked a deal with four other partners, including distribution overseas and to libraries – and all of these companies will be included for free to all BookBaby clients!

    And some other things which make BookBaby special:
    – We help authors look great: we convert from all formats (including PDF) instead of just Microsoft Word documents, and we use real people to do it (instead of an automatic “meat grinder”) so it looks great on all devices. We also offer affordable cover design, and the work we do looks wonderful.

    – We use the same rock-solid accounting systems and back end as our sister company CD Baby (the largest distributor of independent music on the web, which has paid almost $200 million in royalties to over 250,000 artists.)

    – We’re launching BookBaby Print later this week – now you can order print books and eBooks!

    – We have real live people answering the phones (a rarity in this Internet age).

    I hope this clears up some of the things which differentiate us from the rest – and which make it worth using us for conversion and distribution as opposed to trying to DIY to just a couple of the retail stores.

    Yours –

    Brian Felsen
    President, BookBaby | CD Baby | HostBaby

  2. I’ve been with Bookbaby for around 5 months. I chose them after careful consideration of the various distributors including Smashwords.
    I think it is important to understand that the distributor is a ‘distributor’ – they get the book into the market places – but nowhere do they claim to be the marketer – to tell people that your book is available.
    In their current models marketing – which will ultimately determine how many copies are sold is still the responsibility of the author.
    I chose Bookbaby because I felt that as I was going to make a good effort with marketing I wanted a model that would give me the best return. What is the point of self publishing if at the last step you let someone else have their hand in the till.
    While it is probably true that the distributors task of uploading a book into the various reseller channels is a manual task that the author can do themselves it can be a lot easier to let them do it. I am not resident in the US and so to list on iTunes I needed an IRS number which alone is quite a process. And Amazon only pay into US or UK domiciled bank accounts. To list a new book on Amazon you need to be a pro merchant which is around $30 per month, and another $3o to list the book on Amazon UK. While it is possible for the author to jump over all these hurdles. It is often easier quicker and cheaper to let a distributor do it.
    I recovered, my $99 set up fee in the second month (I already had the ISBN number).
    Not sure why it takes Amazon so long to report sales. I also sell physical books on Amazon and get told of sales immediately so I can ship the book. Payment is 2-4 weeks later. With Ebooks Amazon are taking around 2 and a half months to report sales. And as my book is priced at $18.99 I fall outside Amazon’s sweet price spot and only get 35% of RRP.
    Apple on the other hand pay 70% and after one month. I make almost twice the money per sale from Apple than Amazon and yet the customer pays the same at both stores.

    If my circumstances were different and I had a lower price book which I was uncertain of sales I might go for Smashwords. They do seem to have a bigger advertising spend and have their own store I think which Bookbaby don’t – yet.

    Both distributors will help authors make money if the author understands that listing a book on Amazon is not marketing. Authors need to set up their own promotion to drive customers to their book.

    Looking forward to BookBaby adding Kobo and other channels.

  3. A tale about bookbaby.
    I tentatively published a novel as eBook with bookbaby last August. All seemed well at first but my account never showed any sales even though I knew there had been sales.
    I questioned this and got no good answers. Now six months later I still show no sales even though I bought a few copies myself as gifts for reviewers. That is not however the real issue I have with them.
    I decided to go Indi and publish all my titles through KDP and Createspace. That meant withdrawing all titles all ready published.
    I had six out with a small Irish press and got those pulled in two days with no problem.
    All attempts to get bookbaby to withdraw the one they did has been fruitless.
    I can not get them to even answer emails
    No response to six days of emails.
    Is my 19 dollars a year so vital to them?
    I am exasperated and offer this as a warning to others. Be very sure you never want to withdraw before publishing with them.
    Before publication they were great but suddenly there is silence . One wonders why?
    David Rory O’Neill

    1. David – I’m so sorry about what you’ve experienced! I’m told that we called and emailed you answers yesterday. Regarding sales, Amazon reports up to 60 days from the end of the fiscal month, not 60 days from the date of each sale, so we haven’t received November sales yet from them. If you purchased your books in December, depending on which store you bought them from, the sales will show up in your account 45-60 days from the end of December. Regarding cancelling your account, we’ve emailed you to confirm, since it’s a permanent takedown and we wanted to make sure you didn’t want to wait until your Nov.-Dec. sales reported. Once again, my apologies – feel free to email me at [email protected] and let me know if you’re still having issues.

      Brian

      1. Dear Brian,

        I too have an issue with non communication from your client services.

        I bought in on your Premium package and we uploaded my manuscript on the 14th of November. I received an email stating that the cover plus the formatting would be completed within ten days, and that I would receive communications as soon as my manuscript was ready to be uploaded to your ebook sellers.

        The cover was completed and I communicated my satisfaction to your people. However I have not yet received word as to the progress of the manuscript, and neither has anyone asked me to sign off on the manuscript so that it can be uploaded.

        Since the acceptance of the artwork on the book cover I’ve written numerous emails to your people. I’ve skyped several times. I’ve even called you from my cellphone in South Africa. The response was in every case the same: No response at all.

        The timing is critical on this book, a fact that I communicated to you in my very first email when I requested you to kindly fast track the upload.

        Today is the 30th November – six days after your self-imposed deadline – and I’ve still not had a single response from anyone. I think this is highly unprofessional. I reallly regret having chosen BookBaby, who I took to be on the level and a professional outfit.

        I would have thought that you would attend diligently not only to all your customers, but especially to your Premium customers. Tragically for me, since I have to live with the results of your company’s shoddy workmanship, your responses have not lived up to your sales pitch.

        I’d appreciate it if you could you get someone to inform me immediately as to the progress of my manuscript, and get in touch with me right away.

        I can be contacted on [email protected], or on Skype (elsmit5), or on my cellphone (+971-5612-77884).

        Thank you.

      2. I recently published my first novel with bookbaby and have yet to receive a royaly check despite the fact that friends, family, and others have purchased the ebook on Amazon (there are reviews of the book posted). It is over 75 days past the end of the month the book was released on Amazon (April 2014). I have sent several emails and I have even called them and received the same answer…”Amazon has not released any sales info”.

  4. Glad I found this BookBaby information on this site. I’ve also been emailing them for weeks and haven’t received any replies back. When I signed up, and when my e-book was in the process of being distributed all of my emails were answered quickly. Not sure why they’re not answering them now. They put my e-book up in the middle of November and so far they’re only showing iBookstore sales in my account. It was helpful to read Brian’s answer above about Amazon’s lateness in reporting (and paying out for) sales. But it’s discouraging that I had to learn that information HERE because BookBaby didn’t answer any of my emails. I have another e-book I want to distribute, but if Bookbaby doesn’t answer their emails, I’ll look around for another company.

    Darlene Craviotto

  5. I’m in a similar situation as Darlene. I recognized the value in BookBaby’s services immediately and it seemed like a no-brainer to work with them.

    While I’m not yet concerned with sales showing in my BookBaby dash (though I know Amazon sales have been decent and steady), I am VERY concerned with the lack of response from BookBaby’s customer service team. Even if they do not have the answer to my queries, a courtesy reply of “We’re looking into that for you” would go a long way toward strengthening the goodwill I initially had for them.

    This is all very troubling and if things do not improve, I, too, will be looking for another company to work with in the future.

  6. Just wanted to clarify something about Amazon sales reporting. Sales reports are issued on the 15th of month following sales. So for example January sales reports are available by February 15. The actual royalty however is paid out on a 2 month lag. So any sales made in January would not be deposited into the publisher’s account until the end of March. If sales reports are truly being held 45 days, I really wonder why that would be except to confuse the author.

    If you’re interested in a truly straightforward, no fuss, personal customer service experience, check out Primedia eLaunch for ebook conversion and epublishing services. There are no ebook conversion add-ons, hidden fees, or any of that. Give us a holler – [email protected] or 469-232-7943.

    Josh Pritchard
    President, Primedia eLaunch

    1. The comments above are the SAME comments I read about Smashwords which is why I looked into BookBaby in the first place. I was about to send my formatted files to BookBaby but this has stopped me from doing so. And what’s up with these distributors that don’t report the sales made (and I mean the ones who never report the sales) Very troubling indeed. WHY doesn’t BookBaby answer author’s emails AFTER they’ve got your $99? Bad business. What say you, Mr. Felsen? As the founder of BB….perhaps you should have your employees make the author a continuing first priority….even AFTER you’ve received our money.

  7. Every time I call, it’s not going to be available until (insert following month here). BB seemed like a good pick, however having published in April, studied my web traffic from my site, heard my readers. YES READERS, comments when they come to my events, I still show NO sales in any month from BB!
    Kinda fishy. So I ask, how can I track my books distribution? The response was laughable. On the account page with no sales reporting! Ok, and!?!
    I was very excited to see this service. Now I am simply going to be finding a new home for my current book, and all future publishes as well!

  8. I’m glad I came across these postings. A few gripes I have with Book Baby are they have some of the rudest, laziest, and meanest women around working for them. They constantly funnel you to calling them (you can imagine the wait) but some of the women in CS are just downright nasty to customers to the point of being pure AH’s. It’s apparent there’s little supervision.

    On the surface Book Baby markets their services well but when you get down to the nitty-gritty they’re vague on many things. Their purposes would best be served by allowing customers to handle many of the routine tasks within the User Interface and not forcing them to go back and forth with these awful women in CS. Yes, this is how they make money by nickel and diming you to death dealing with these women. One woman tells you one thing the next tells you another thing.

    In summary it’s probably best to submit manually to the biggies such as Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc. Life’s too short to be dealing continually with rude people. Plus as mentioned I’ve got reported sales everywhere but not at Book Baby.

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