EDITOR’S NOTE: The last version of this article was published in 2014. We have updated it to reflect the new prices being charged by POD publishers now. We’ve also added some other well-known publishers to the list.
How Many Book Sales Needed to Recoup Your Investment?
LISTED IN ORDER OF BREAK-EVEN STATUS:
- BookLocker – 121 COPIES (setup fees: $675)
- CreateSpace – 200 COPIES (setup fees: $1,151)
- Lulu – 233 COPIES (setup fees: $1,089)
- Infinity Publishing – 250 COPIES (setup fees: $1047)
- Xulon Press – 250 COPIES (setup fees $2,396)
- Dog Ear Publishing – 252 COPIES (setup fees $1,998)
- Llumina Publishing – 280 COPIES (setup fees: $1,338)
- Xlibris – 304 COPIES (setup fees: $1,673)
- iUniverse – 316 COPIES (setup fees: $1,449)
- Trafford – 342 COPIES (setup fees: $1,424)
- AuthorHouse – 361 COPIES (setup fees: $1,799)
- BookBaby – 543 COPIES (setup fees: $1,406)
- Outskirts Press – 790 COPIES (setup fees: $1,595)
Fees are based on the least expensive package offering similar services. Details below.
Sometimes, starry-eyed authors look at the loud bells and silver whistles on some POD publishing company websites, and get caught up in the hype. Spending up to $1,000 or more is never a good idea when you can get essentially the same book for much less (most POD publishers use the same printer). Saving money up front means you’ll recoup the money you’ve invested in your book much faster!
How many print books do you need to sell to recoup the money you’ve paid to self-publish your POD book, and e-book, with the most popular POD publishers?
Prices above (and below) are based on the least expensive package offered by each publisher on similar offers targeting U.S. authors. Fees include black-and-white-interior print formatting (based on a 248-page book) with up to 25 interior photos/graphics, original color cover design (some firms only offer template covers with these packages – BookLocker’s price includes original cover design) with up to 5 images (some charge extra for more than one cover image – BookLocker does NOT), print proof, basic ebook formatting and distribution to the top three ebook retailers (some, like CreateSpace, have distribution limitations, and some may charge more for ebooks with complex formatting), Espresso edition (not all listed below offer this – BookLocker DOES), an ISBN for all editions, barcode, a listing on the publisher’s website, distribution by Ingram (the largest book distributor), print listings on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, etc., and feedback on your cover if submitting your own (some above don’t offer this, or won’t give you a discount if you are submitting your own cover), all within 6 weeks.
IMPORTANT: Many of the firms no longer offer rush/expedited publishing services. BookLocker usually publishes a print book within a month – at no additional charge. BookLocker also offers a Rush 2-Week Print Publishing Program for only $999, which is still less than all the other firms above. Most large POD publishers take several weeks to several months to get a book to market.
Prices also now include the cost of production files for those publishers who offer that. Some don’t give, or even sell, production files to authors when those authors leave their service. For example, CreateSpace does not give production files to authors under any circumstances, even if the author has paid them thousands to produce those files. Other POD publishers charge authors extra for copies of files they already PAID the publisher to produce! Ridiculous and extremely greedy! In the list below, BookLocker.com and Dog Ear give production files to authors on request at no extra charge. Other publishers either charge hundreds for them, or flat refuse to give or sell them to author at all. This essentially forces the author to stay with that publisher unless they want to pay publishing/formatting/design fees all over again to someone else if they are unhappy with their publisher. We call this a forced marriage.
NOTE: Many companies offer perks that others don’t and some try to upsell authors on extraneous services during the publishing process. Study each publisher and contract carefully before making your choice.
Print book sales figures below are calculated as coming directly from the publisher’s website (royalties are usually lower for sales through retailers/wholesalers). The exception is CreateSpace, which is explained below.
LISTED IN ORDER OF BREAK-EVEN STATUS
For a 248-page, 6 x 9, full-color cover, black-and-white interior paperback book:
BookLocker – ONLY 121 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $675) – deduct $200 if submitting your own cover
Royalties: 35% or $5.58 (print royalties are always based on the list price; NEVER on net profit!)
121 copies need to be sold to break even. (Only 85 copies need to be sold to break even if you submit your own cover.)
BookLocker also offers a D.I.Y. Program and a Paying Plan Program.
CreateSpace – 200 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,151.00)
List: $15.95 (assuming the same list price as the sample book at BookLocker.com above)
Royalty: $5.75 through Amazon; $8.94 through the CreateSpace “Estore” (per their online calculator). Most people will buy the book through Amazon, not CreateSpace. Why? Because there is no way to get to the CreateSpace “estore” from the CreateSpace homepage. In fact, there is no central “estore” page, nor an “estore bookstore.” Customers who can’t find the estore (we couldn’t find it, either, and CreateSpace authors have complained about this on the CreateSpace forum) will buy the book from Amazon with a royalty of only $5.75 for authors. Since Amazon (which owns CreateSpace) gets to pay authors significantly less when a purchase is made through Amazon instead of CreateSpace, they have zero incentive to create a central, easy-to-locate CreateSpace Estore.
200 copies need to be sold to break even if the books are purchased through Amazon.
129 copies need to be sold to break even with CreateSpace if sold through the CreateSpace “estore” (if anyone can find it!).
CreateSpace has received lots of complaints about a variety of issues through their own forum. Click HERE for more info.
Lulu – 233 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,089.00)
Royalties: Approx. 20% or $4.67 (Assuming royalties comparable to other POD companies since authors choose their own. Lulu’s calculator only allows royalty dollars, not percentages, to be entered.)
233 copies need to be sold to break even at Lulu. (If you assume around 35% royalties, which are comparable to BookLocker.com’s, that would force the list price up to $33.35 and the author would need to sell approx. 163 copies to break even.) Most people won’t pay that much money for a paperback. Lulu’s own forum has complaints from their authors about Lulu’s high list prices.
Lulu has received lots of complaints about quality and customer service through their own forum. Click HERE for more info.
Infinity Publishing – 250 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1047.00)
Royalties: 20% or $4.19.
250 copies need to be sold to break even at Infinity.
Xulon Press – 250 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees $2,396.00)
Royalties: Based on publisher’s net profit, which they claim is $9.59 (but only $3.30 for sales through other retailers, like Amazon).
250 copies need to be sold to break even at Xulon Press.
This is firm claims to pay “100% royalties” but, as you can see, you’re not getting 100% of the list price, which is what some authors assume when they read that type of marketing verbiage. They are paying you what’s left over after everybody else takes their cut. That’s what everybody does! See more about “100% royalty” claims below.
There are some pretty scathing comments about Xulon Press HERE.
Dog Ear Publishing – 252 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees $1,998.00)
Royalties: 30% or $7.92
252 copies need to be sold to break even at Dog Ear Publishing.
Their website says “Dog Ear is $300 LESS EXPENSIVE than the Nearest ‘Discount Publisher’.” But, they, of course, didn’t include BookLocker (which costs $1,323 less) on their website. And, for print publishing within a month + ebook publishing, they do NOT have the lowest price. Not even close. Without the expedited option, their price is still too high at $1,498.00. Dog Ear DOES give production files to authors (so does BookLocker).
Llumina Publishing – 280 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,338.00)
280 copies need to be sold to break even at Llumina Publishing.
Xlibris – 304 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,673.00)
Royalties: $5.50 (only 25% of the list price for books sold through the publisher’s website)
304 copies need to be sold to break even with Xlibris.
NOTE: Xlibris is owned by Author Solutions, which also owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford (all featured here) WordClay, and others. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Author Solutions. Judge Denise Cote has refused to dismiss all the claims against Author Solutions, ruling the case can proceed to discovery.
iUniverse – 316 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,449.00)
List: $16.95 – $19.95 (based on samples from their site)
Royalties: $4.24 – $4.99 (or “25% of the payment the publisher actually receives” for sales through publisher’s website)
291 to 342 (average of 316) copies need to be sold to break even with iUniverse.
NOTE: iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions, which also owns Xlibris, AuthorHouse, Trafford (all featured here) WordClay, and others. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Author Solutions. Judge Denise Cote has refused to dismiss all the claims against Author Solutions, ruling the case can proceed to discovery.
Trafford – 342 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,424.00)
List: $16.67 (many of the 248-page, 6×9 paperbacks on their site have this price)
Royalties: $4.17 (only 25% of list price for books sold through the publisher’s website)
342 copies need to be sold to break even with Trafford.
NOTE: Trafford is owned by Author Solutions, which also owns Xlibris, iUniverse, AuthorHouse (all featured here) WordClay, and others. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Author Solutions. Judge Denise Cote has refused to dismiss all the claims against Author Solutions, ruling the case can proceed to discovery.
AuthorHouse – 361 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,799.00)
List: $19.95 (Average of sample 248-page, 6 x 9 paperback books for sale in their store)
Royalties: $4.99. The AuthorHouse rep did not provide their royalty/list price chart on request so we’re going to assume the average of the list prices we found on their site. For more info. on how hard it is to get numbers from this company, click HERE. We’re using $4.99 as the royalty payment, which is the average of their stated royalties per book, depending on what program the author chooses.
361 copies need to be sold to break even with AuthorHouse.
NOTE: AuthorHouse is owned by Author Solutions, which also owns Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford (all featured here) WordClay, and others. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Author Solutions. Judge Denise Cote has refused to dismiss all the claims against Author Solutions, ruling the case can proceed to discovery.
BookBaby – 543 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,406.00)
Royalties: $2.59 (or 16%) based on their own rep’s email to an author – see details below.
543 copies need to be sold break even at BookBaby.
Does not sell print books through their own website.
When the author initially contacted BookBaby, rather than the rep simply answering her very specific question about the royalty percentage (she provided him with the page count, book size/type, etc.), the rep told her she had to register with their website. Why not just give her the quote? Why waste everybody’s time? After another shove from the author (where she said she wasn’t yet ready to choose a publisher since she didn’t yet know their royalties, and repeated her original question), only then did the rep provide her with the actual royalty percentage.
Authors should NOT have to register for a website, and jump through hoops by being forced to ask the same question all over again, just to find out how much they’ll earn when they sell a book! Some complaints about BookBaby appear HERE.
Outskirts Press – 790 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,595.00)
Royalties: $2.02 based on their online calculator. (This number was so low that we confirmed it with one of their reps. It is correct.)
790 copies need to be sold break even at Outskirts Press.
This is another firm that claims to pay “100% royalties” but, as you can see, you’re not getting 100% of the list price, which is what some authors assume when they read that type of marketing verbiage. In fact, the Outskirts royalty rate is the lowest on this list.
You can read detailed Better Business Bureau complaints about Outskirts Press HERE. Author Michael Marcus even wrote a book about them called: Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How Do They Stay in Business?
When comparing royalties, you should look at royalty percentages, not flat dollar amounts, when shopping for a POD publisher because most allow you to price your book higher than the minimum list price anyway. And, you should demand to know what that royalty is based on. Some POD publishers appear to pay a high royalty, but only pay it based on their net profit, not on the list price. You only learn what you’ll really earn if you read the fine print, and whip out your calculator. And, even then it can be tricky to figure out. BookLocker’s print royalties are based on the list price of the book so authors always know exactly how much they’ll earn for each print book sale.
Despite what some POD publishers may imply, or what some authors assume, there is no such thing as “100% royalties” based on the list price of print books! Royalties are paid after everyone else takes their cut (including the printer and publisher), which is how everyone does it. Most are transparent about how royalties are calculated and paid (giving a firm or estimated percentage based on list price, not on publisher receipts, less printing, less transaction fees, etc.). Beware of firms that use confusing marketing verbiage.
To read more about the fees charged by these companies, click HERE.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela.
Have a POD Book with another publisher? See if BookLocker can give you a better deal. (BookLocker offers "disgruntled author discounts" to those who want to move from other POD services.)
See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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BOOKLOCKER ON FACEBOOK - Provides links to free excerpts!
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