August 29, 2007
POD SECRETS REVEALED: "Free" POD Services Can Be Very Expensive! By Angela Hoy | printable version
Previous articles in the series can be seen here:
Tempted to sign up with one of those POD publishers that are claiming to be FREE? Think again! If you're a graphic designer and you can layout your book on your own, and if you can create a professional and original book cover on your own, too, and if you want to severely limit your book's availability (and salability), that's one thing. But, if you want to get your book published for "free", in some cases you can forget about having an ISBN (which online and brick and mortar bookstores and libraries require), forget being distributed by Ingram, the largest book distributor, and forget about a lot of other things as well.
What these "free" services are offering is really not much more than what Kinkos or a similar store will offer. You provide them with ready-to-print, pre-designed interior and cover files and they print it for you. They might sell your book through their website (some of these FREE outfits don't), but that's about it. What's so bad about that, you ask? Well, I guess nothing if you never plan to sell the book to more than your family and close friends. If, however, you want to have a real book that is offered in Books in Print, distributed by Ingram, and listed on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and other online bookstores, and in the databases of the brick and mortar bookstores and libraries, you need far more than these "free" services offer.
It is my opinion that these "free" services are pulling a bait and switch. They drag you in with promises of "free" but later might say things like, "Oh, you need an ISBN? You'll need to pay for that. Oh, you want to be listed on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com? That'll be extra, too. Need a barcode? Open your wallet again, please."
What unwary, professional authors are learning is that, by the time they're finished with these "free" services, they either end up with a book for sale on one obscure website that almost nobody has heard about (and that readers may be afraid to trust with their credit card number), or that they have a book that's widely available, but they've spent more money (for sometimes an inferior product), and experienced more headaches and frustration, than if they'd just signed up with a fee-based POD publisher in the first place - one that is up front about what it really takes to get a book on the market.
Let's look at a "free" POD publisher, Lulu.com.
A representative at Lulu.com recently contacted me, complaining that I was telling people it costs more money to publish through Lulu.com than it does to publish through BookLocker (BookLocker is owned by the author of this article). He adamantly insisted it was a "free" service. The debate went on for a few emails (and I never received a response to my last email to them). Here's why. Lulu.com doesn't charge authors directly for most services (but they do for some). What they do is refer authors to a list of third-party service providers. And, who do you think makes a commission when you hire one of those service providers to help with formatting, or cover design, or a barcode, or even just uploading your files to Lulu (which we've heard isn't such an easy task)? Lulu.com does! Does that sound free to you? We could do the same thing and call Booklocker.com "free", but we don't do business that way.
What does Lulu charge authors directly for? An ISBN and distribution (meaning if you want Lulu to offer your book through Ingram, you have to pay them for this service). When comparing apples to apples, it costs $595 to publish through Lulu.com and $492 to publish through Booklocker.com. (Prices are based on the least expensive package offered by each publisher on similar offers targeting U.S. authors. Fees include setup, original cover design, print proof, ebook creation, up to 25 interior photos/graphics, an ISBN, barcode, a listing on the publisher's website and distribution by Ingram, all within 6 weeks.)
Here's another new "free" POD program being offered by none other than Amazon.com!
AMAZON.COM / CREATESPACE PUBLISHING
Amazon's program, createspace.com, is also "free." But, next to the marketing blurbage it says, in bold, "Need Help with your Book?" You're then diverted to Booksurge, which is owned by Amazon, for formatting, cover design, and "other paid services." And, who do you think profits from those transactions? Amazon does! Again, that doesn't sound too "free" to me! And, I must warn you. We've received complaints about Booksurge over the years, and they even printed our books for a few months! We fired them for shoddy service and quality.
Now, let's say you want to skip Booksurge and do it yourself. I have to give Amazon/CreateSpace some credit here. It says, right near the top of the Submission Requirements page: "This program is intended for the author or publisher with extensive knowledge in graphic design and book layout."
Need I say more? Okay, I will. Maybe you're one of those people, like me, who is willing to learn and do anything so you don't have to hire somebody else to do it. Yes, while I do think this is a personality strength in some situations, it can also be a flaw. Just ask Richard how much time I can waste taking an entire day (or longer) to do something that I could have hired an expert to do in an hour. So, you scan the page and see phrases like "inside trim lines", and "centered on a pdf page" and ".125 variance" and "all fonts and images embedded" and "crop/registration marks" and you might start getting a bit nervous and think you're in a little over your head. Yeah, I would, too. (I'm pretty handy with formatting a book's interior but I'm admittedly graphics impaired...which is why I always have a professional designer create my own book covers.)
You click back and then click on their suggestion to contact Booksurge for assistance. You get to what you think is their homepage and see a marketing blurb with boxes where you're supposed to give them all your contact information....before they even tell you how much this is going to cost. Huh?? But, wait, if you're in the know, you'll realize that the URL that Amazon/CreateSpace gave you isn't really the main Booksurge homepage. Booksurge.com is. You go there and then you can find the prices.
You click on Print-Ready PDF Submissions and find those are only $99. But, wait, isn't Amazon/CreateSpace offering that for free? (Remember, Booksurge, Amazon and CreateSpace are all owned by the same company!) What's up with that?? But, wait, there's more! You can get that program and then let them upsell you on their marketing package for only $1991.65! Holy cow!! You quickly click your back button and then click on their publishing packages. You see they offer things with cute names like Kid's Choice and SpirituallySpeaking. Hey, there's one called FictionWriter. You wrote a novel so you click there. Uh oh. You feel your shoulders tense when you see the prices on that page - $499 just for design/layout, $3600 for copyediting, and more. You quickly back out of that page, too. You then find a Create Your Own Package Program link. That looks much better. Up at the top, it says the total design program ranges from $699 to $2749. What does that mean? You look at all the options and you're just not sure. You finally realize that all the packages have Author's Advantage listed as the first line item, which is $499. That must be the base package. You also discover that's just for the interior of the book. You would also need to order a cover from them. Covers range from $499 to $999 "plus additional illustration fees." That's a minimum of $998! Wow, this "free" POD publishing service offered by Amazon sure looks expensive!
I'll stop there but I think you get the gist of what I'm trying to share with you here. Few things in life are free and the things that are truly free usually aren't what you thought they were going to be.