Publishing economics

How do publishers set a selling price for their books? It’s complex, depending on the type of publisher, the type of book, and the market sector they’re aiming at. A large publisher can spread costs across a number of titles, taking advantage of economies of scale. With a small, independent, specialised, unsubsidised publishing house like Calder Wood Press it’s fairly straightforward. Here’s what I do:

Based on the number of pages in the chapbook/pamphlet I start with an idea of the printing costs. I can get an estimate from my preferred printer, but I normally use the cost of the last title as a rough guide. Normally the printer will have a base price for a given print run, call it a minimum print run. Cost per copy may come down if I go above the minimum, but I have to balance this against the number of copies I think I might sell. If an author is well-known I will risk a larger print run and hope to sell. So I might start off with a price £n for 200 copies. That gives me a gross cost per copy of n/200. Then I add in the cost of venue hire and refreshments for a launch (I like launches) of £c, and any costs for cover artwork £a. So my cost per copy becomes n+c+a/200. Other costs, printing flyers, upgrading my software, computer maintenance etc are spread across all future titles. The cost per copy becomes n+c+a+x/200. I take off the gratis copies, the review copies, and the legal deposit copies, and that further increases the cost to n+c+a+x/200-y. At that stage I can set a selling price £p, based on my hunch as to how much the buying public will pay for a book of poetry. That’s not a lot, so I keep £p small, and in line with my other titles. Then I can work out my break-even point – the number of books I have to sell at full price to recover my costs.

Any difference between sales income and costs is my nominal profit, and in my case that goes forward to fund future publications. However, the market downturn in 2009 and 2010, combined with increased costs, mean that ‘profit’ is a theoretical concept at the moment. Far from taking some money out of the business to cover my time, I’m currently subsidising my publishing from my writing income. In the long term that’s unsustainable, but publishing good poetry is something I’m committed to, and something I enjoy doing. But I’m publishing fewer titles next year, and less the year after. That should also give me more time to devote to better marketing and promotion of the books.

In case that sounds too negative, I’m hugely excited about my 2011 publishing programme, of which more soon.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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