Years ago I tradpubbed an espionage thriller, The Libyan Kill. In print, traditional offset printing, 10,000 copies. If they had all sold it would have paid off my advance, nearly. But after 6 weeks or so Norton pulled back several thousand unsold copies and remaindered them.
Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t bother with a print edition at all. The market for thrillers is mostly e-books.
And the money is mostly in e-books, what money there is. The cover price for The Libyan Kill was $10.95—equivalent to $28.50 today. And most sales were at cover price. Nobody gets that kind of money for thrillers today, but plenty of indie authors get as much or more per copy as the roughly $2.50 (today’s money) that I got then, thanks to the magic of the economics of digital publishing.
In fact, I’m selling a somewhat updated version of the book in Kindle form for $2.99, from which I net nearly $2.00 a copy.
I thought about putting out a CreateSpace version too, but dropped the idea as not worth the time and effort. It would have cost me scarcely anything and probably would have taken no more than another week or two’s effort, but the market isn’t there.
Aside from the fact that people who read thrillers (and even more so the readers of romance and sci-fi) mostly really like e-reading, there’s cost. According to CreateSpace’s nifty royalties calculator, in order to get a $2.50 per copy royalty on Amazon sales of a POD version I’d need to charge $10.85, and if I wanted to shoot for the moon and get $2.50 from bookstore sales the price would have to be $16.25.
Maybe I could churn out a really super-hot new thriller. Maybe a wild tale about a wacked-out real-estate heir who runs for president. Oh, wait…. Anyway, something that could support a $16.25 cover price (remembering that nowadays scarcely any buyer would actually wind up paying that much). My royalty on Amazon sales would be a sweet $5.74 a copy.
What about the e-book version? Taking the Kindle as a convenient example, and allowing a $0.15 network charge, I could get a $5.74 royalty if I charged $8.35, less than half of the POD cover price. Even if Amazon knocked down the POD book price by 40% early on there would still be a lot of daylight between the prices of the p-book and e-book.
But if we think in terms of more realistic pricing levels for books in this category, say $3.99 for the e-book with equal-royalty POD pricing, the story starts to look different. Now my Kindle royalty is a still-respectable $2.65 or so. If the POD version comes out at 364 pages in 6”×9” trim size then I’d need to set the cover price over $11 to get that much in royalty per Amazon sale. And the gap between p-book and e-book pricing starts to look YUUGE, which is going to kill much chance of substantial p-book sales.
And if I tried to price the p-book to match the price of the e-book, CreateSpace would tell me TILT! $6.70 is as low as it can go—resulting in one penny royalty per copy sold on Amazon.
In fact, however, my latest book is World War I military history, The Plan That Broke the World. It’s a really different market. (Of course, if you don’t know who buys your books, you’re already in trouble.) Lots of older guys who don’t do e-books. Lots of gift books for Grandad, or Uncle Clem. (You have to know someone really well to gift an e-book, and it’s never the same as a p-book.) So a p-book is needed.
The good news is that people will pay more for serious history than for genre fiction. Not saying it’s right or wrong, just the way it is. So the POD edition is a paying proposition, and I even get some bookstore orders. But even though the Kindle is priced much lower, it pays me more – both per-unit, and since unit sales are divided roughly equally between POD and Kindle, my net revenues are about two-thirds to three-quarters from the Kindle side.
I’ve really gone out of my way to make this a good e-book; photo reproduction in particular is better than most tradpubs manage. (You can download the free sample and see for yourself.) Nevertheless, I’ve sold nearly as many p-books as e-books. So for this book a POD book was definitely worthwhile.
I’d love to hear from other indie authors about their thoughts and experiences regarding POD.
image by NYC Wanderer