One of the projects I’m working on right now is to produce hardcover editions of my books. This would give an even sturdier alternative to the quality paperbacks that CreateSpace now produce for me. My reason for starting with paperbacks is that hardcovers are expensive to manufacture. They cost around 3-4 times more than paperbacks and the retail price needs to reflect that. Because of this I don’t expect to sell a lot of them. My main reason for setting up distribution of hardcovers is that I believe the presence of a hardcover edition will act as a quality indicator. Even if potential customers don’t buy the pricy hardcover edition, its availability will hint to customers that they are looking at a high quality book, which may increase sales for other editions of the book. Also, it will look great in my bookshelf.
As usual I will go with a POD (print on demand) manufacturer to keep costs low. Their per unit cost are also extremely competitive with traditional printers. I have gone through and compared the three largest POD players: CreateSpace, Lightning Source and Lulu.
CreateSpace (CS) is the most user friendly self-publishing company. In addition, they have high royalties and good distribution, which is why I went with them for the distribution of my paperback books. CS won’t get you into Ingram, but they offer their own Expanded Distribution Network (EDC) for $25 which you should definitely get if you use CS.
Though not visible in the backend, CS do offer hardcovers if you ask for it. The cost of creating a hardcover edition of one of your paperbacks is $99. The wholesale rate is a flat fee of $6.50 and $0.015 per black and white interior page and $0.15 per color interior page. You can select from the following binding options: laminate case bound or library cloth with dust jacket. The dust jacket binding adds $2 to the total price.
The bad news is that CreateSpace refuses to do any distribution for you, to Amazon or otherwise. As the author, you can purchase any number of copies from them and distribute them on your own. You can also use CS as a drop-ship company, and forward hardcover orders to the customer’s address. But that’s not very useful when you want automated global distribution. I have pushed this issue a bit with CS, but it seems they do not want to get into the hardcover business, as the margins there tend to be much lower than for paperbacks.
Lightning Source (LTS) is the most cost effective POD manufacturer, but they also have the highest setup fees. They are not as user-friendly as CS, but they have slightly better distribution (through Ingram, for which LTS is a subsidiary) and slightly lower printing costs. It’s also slower and more difficult to get an account with LTS.
Publishing a book costs $75 in setup fees (paperback or hardcover) and once distributed there’s a $12 annual catalogue fee per ISBN. Furthermore, a proof copy costs $35 for hardcovers ($30 for paperbacks) and you have to acquire and pay for the ISBN on your own. There’s also a $40 fee per PDF (cover or text) when you make a revision.
Once these fees have been paid however, their printing costs are the lowest. A case bound laminate costs $6.00 and a dust jacket $7.55. The cost per page is $0.013 for distribution ($0.015 on the LSI website).
Lulu is nearly as user friendly as CS and offer both paperback and hardback titles for global distribution. Additionally, there are no setup fees for publishing books to Amazon and their own Lulu shop. The only cost is an optional $75 one-time fee to get your ISBN in the major bibliographic databases. The major drawback to Lulu is their high printing costs, which is 2-3 times that of Lightning Source. They have a book cost calculator.
To make a comparison, let’s pick a 6″x9″, black and white, case bound hardcover book with a full color cover and 100 pages. With LSI it will cost $6 + $0.013 * 100 = $7.30. On CS the same book will cost $6.50 + $0.015*100 = $8.00. And on Lulu the price is $12 + $0.024 * 100 = $14.40. As you can see LSI is the least expensive and Lulu the most expensive (and they won’t publish hardcovers with less than 108 pages).
Another interesting comparison is the retail discount, the discount at which retailers can buy your book. With CS this discount is locked at 40% for Amazon and 60% for other retail outlets, available through their Expanded Distribution channels. With Lulu these retail discounts vary, but most wholesalers seem to get a 50% discount. Finally, with LSI you as the author are empowered to set the retail discount. You may set it as low as 20%, but a higher discount give the retailers a better margin and more incentive for listing your title somewhere visible. LSI recommends a 55% to get maximum exposure. With this information we can see that the minimum (no royalty) list price on Amazon for the hardcover book is $24.80 on Lulu, $13.34 on CS and $9.13 on LSI (with a 20% discount).
Lulu is the only POD publisher that will pay through PayPal. This is a major advantage as you can get paid seamlessly regardless of your country of origin. CS has recently started to do direct bank payments to some countries outside of the US, namely U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands. So if you have a bank account in one of those countries you’re in luck. LSI pays royalties with direct payments in US, UK, Europe and Australia. If you’re not in one of these eligible countries you will get paid by check instead. Checks are very cumbersome and expensive to cash in most of EU, so to get around this I’m using a bank account in Germany.
If you’re new to publishing I recommend going with CreateSpace to learn. On the other hand, if you’re experienced Lightning Source do offer a slightly better deal. Lulu is way too expensive to be considered a viable option.
Right now I’m working on getting an account with Lightning Source to produce and distribute my hardcovers.