Maybe I’m a bit naïve about the whole book publishing industry, but I can’t really figure out why most tech author use major publishing houses to release their books. I have only work on one book (as a tech reviewer for Kurt Cagle’s SVG Programming book) and have been approached a bunch of times to work on others, but I can’t really figure out why to use a major publisher. As a tech reviewer, the work was really cool, and the pay was alright (but not great), so from that point of view, I’m fine with the majors, but as an author who might only sell a couple 1000 books at the most, I can’t always see the value. Yes, there are lots of time where a major publisher is the way to go, especially if you want to get your books into brick and mortars. But, if they can’t get the book into the stores, where’s the value? And, I’m seeing more and more tech books that are not available in my local stores (and this in New Jersey where tech is a big part of the economy). I have a lot of respect for publishers like Gary Cornell and APress, but I can not get their books in my local Borders or Barnes & Noble, so why bother with middle men, and just go right to the source Amazon, and use one of the publish on demand vendors out there?
Here’s some of the data that I’ve collected on the topic from various sources on the web. Is there something I’m missing?
- Costs about $250 to get 10 ISBN numbers.
- Costs about $11/book (of about 600 pages) to print using on demand digital printing (using estimates from places like InstantPublisher)
- Add another $2 per book for shipping to places like Amazon.
- Amazon pays 45% of suggested retail price per book.
So if it costs you somewhere around $13 a book to make it, if you price a 600 page book at $49.99, and you can sell it thru Amazon (which they buy at a price of $22.50) you will make $9.50 per book sold. That is assuming you do all the work yourself (of course).
Now, compare that to APress’ commission of 10% net profit (I’m not picking on APress, but they publish their rates because they pay well). Even if APress can produce a book for less than the $13 that it would cost you (say cut it half to $6.50), APress’ net profit can not be more than about $16 a book which means you will get $1.60 a book (that's an 85% discount off what you could make). Now, I know that they give you an advance (which may be needed on one’s financial situation), but that is really just based on the number of books they think will sell, times your commission, and you don’t get any commission until after you pay off the advance. They also hire people (like tech writers and tech reviewers) which eats at the profit but if the book can only be found online, why use a publishing company, when you can make a lot more doing it all yourself? Am I being naïve here? Or is it due to not having the capital to produce the books (to print 100 copies of the book it would cost $1300 out of pocket). And I’m not even talking about trying to sell books on your own website, which would mean even more profit for the author.
As more and more books are not sold in your local store, and we become more and more accustom to buy books online, is the value of a tech publisher disappearing? I’d like to hear from the tech authors out there, and see how they feel about this.