Why are Your Paperbacks So Expensive?

Why are paperback book prices so high, even for self-published novels? It's a legitimate question, and I wanted to find the answer, so I went to Amazon and CreatSpace and started reading.

If you want to self-publish your novel into a standard (5-inch by 8-inch trim size), black-ink paperback, Amazon charges $0.012 per page. For example, Amazon's cost calculation for printing a 300-page, black-ink paperback sold on Amazon US is:

     $0.85 (Fixed Cost) + (300 (Page Count) * $0.012 (Per Page Cost)) = $4.45 (Printing Cost).

Your paperback's minimum list price is based on your printing cost (so your royalties cover the cost to print your book). To calculate your minimum list price, Amazon divides your printing cost by the royalty rate (60%):

     Printing Cost / 60% (Royalty Rate) = Minimum List Price

For example, a 300-page black-ink paperback sold in the US is $4.45 (Printing Cost) / 60% (Royalty Rate) = $7.42 (Minimum List Price). To complicate matters, Amazon also has a lower royalty rate for print books as compared to e-books.

Therefore, assuming you'd like to make a little profit on the paperbacks you sell, you're realistically looking at a $7.99 list price to make 34 cents ($0.57 / 60%) per sale, which is a lot less than you'd make on a digital e-book. CreateSpace is similar, though not exactly the same (the previous link will show you the CreateSpace royalty calculator).

As another example, I'm selling the Crimson & Cream (281 pages) paperback for $8.99 on Amazon, which gives me $1.17 in royalties for each sale. By comparison, the Crimson & Cream e-book sells for $3.99 and I earn a $2.72 royalty per sale (which is more than double the paperback royalty).

I shopped online to get an idea of what actual paperback printing costs were, to estimate how much built-in markup Amazon and CreateSpace charge. What I've found is that with some comparison shopping, you can potentially print your own paperbacks a little cheaper than Amazon, however, the savings come at a trade off. You typically have to buy in bulk to get the best prices, and then have to store and/or distribute/ship your books as needed. In addition, the quality control likely varies widely by service.

But assuming you want to try printing your own paperbacks, how much would it realistically cost? One good website I found (Mill City Press) lets you calculate your costs online. To beat the Amazon cost for a 300-page black-ink paperback, you would have to order at least 500 books, which would cost you $3.86 per book (59 cents less than Amazon's $4.45 cost).

Under the best-case, high-volume discount deals (1,500 books, or more), you may be able to get a book printed for around $0.01 per page (i.e., $3.00 for 300 pages). So, realistically, Amazon's markup could be as high as around $1.50 (on our example 300-page book). This does not factor in royalties, which is another issue altogether.

Could Amazon take a smaller cut and still make a profit? Sure, but there is a value added in their service (as much as I hate to admit it). To do it yourself requires a lot of extra work and uncertainty to lower the cost of your paperback by little over a dollar.

Personally, my sales consist primarily of e-books, even though I price my paperbacks as low as I can while still making some profit. Although, nothing beats holding a paper copy of your own novel, even if it's not the most cost-effective format.

Oh, and I'm having another e-book sale! From July 22 through July 29, Warlock & Wyrm will be on sale for $0.99 (that's a $4 savings)! So please, buy one today and spread the word!