It’s a common practice for publishers to mark up the price of a book when an author requests to buy copies from the publisher. It’s so common that no one questions it. The author’s usual concern is whether or not they’ll order a higher number of books so that they can get more books for a cheaper price per book.
The author is charged wholesale prices—the prices that retailers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and your local bookshop pay—in order to own copies for personal use, marketing or review purposes, or so they can sell them out of the trunk of their car or on their website.
WHY DO I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS?
There’s a difference between a publisher who makes money off of book sales and the one who makes money off of authors (and rarely, if ever, because of book sales).
This isn’t about complimentary copies. This is about authors having to buy their books at wholesale to own copies of their own book—the book they worked hard to write, the one they poured blood, sweat, and tears into.
It’s not wrong for an author to pay to have their book published, printed or distributed. Book publishing is, however, not exclusively about producing printed works. It’s about producing books to sell books, and that means selling books to readers, not authors.
“BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE DO IT.”
I talked with a semi well-known speaker one day before he spoke. He wrote a book with one of the top 5 publishers and has to order his $40 (retail) book for $25 (wholesaler discount) because that’s what his contract says. He’s pushed for a paperback printing of his book, but the publisher hasn’t budged. It’s costly to stock his own book and it’s costly to the reader. A print-on-demand set up or a short run of paperbacks would have increased sales for the publisher and decreased cost for the reader.
Your book is meant to change lives and if you’re unable to bring it to market at a reasonable price then you won’t be able to touch as many lives.
So what if an author sells his book out of his trunk, at a conference or after a talk? That’s kind of the point. The publisher makes money when the author does well, even if that means they “sacrifice” sales at the beginning while the author grows a platform.
THE PROMISE OF DEBT
You or someone you know has probably signed a contract with the promise to buy 2,000 to 25,000 copies of their book. Sometimes, it’s over the course of 10 years, but more commonly it’s an immediate payout by the author to the publisher.
Sure, a print run of that size drives down the unit cost per book for the publisher, but the savings are not being passed down to the author. The publisher is double-dipping.
A publisher produces books, then sells them. Printers make money off printing books. When you confuse the two then at some point the author gets burned. The moment the publisher tries to mark up printing is the moment they treat the author as a customer instead of a partner.
You don’t expect an artist to buy prints of their own paintings from an art gallery, so why do you expect an author to buy their own book at a markup?
HOW SHOULD IT BE?
The author wrote it. It’s the author’s book. The publishing house’s job is to leverage the author’s content in order to make a profit for both the author and the publisher.
The author should be able to buy their own book at cost. This means they just pay for the printing and shipping. No markups. No hoops.
That’s the most equitable solution I’ve found and the most rewarding for the author’s hard work.
Are you an author? Spare your wallet and your garage. There’s no reason to go broke or go into debt to own copies of your book.
“Originally appeared in The OffBeat Business Magazine July 2016 Issue as ‘The Business of Books: What Your Publisher Doesn’t Tell You About Author Copies’.”
WHAT’S YOUR LEGACY?
What happens after you write your next book? How should you be marketing your current book? I’ll be announcing the beta test program for the Legacy-Driven Author membership soon. And you can join the wait list for it here.