Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Feature: Analyzing The Costs of Using Print-on-Demand in the Philippines

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

In any endeavor, there are three elements that one leverages: time, money, and talent. If you're like me, you've probably thought about publishing a book yourself. I'll also bet that a lot of times, one excuse you'll tell yourself is that you don't have enough money to publish a book. In actuality, if you have the time and the talent (and I'm not talking about writing talent but rather being talented in one of the steps of the publishing processes; see below), publishing a book is feasible. It's probably not as cheap as your monthly salary (well, at least not with my job) but certainly within reach of anyone with a middle class income. Unfortunately, I'll be the first one to admit that I don't have both the time and the talent which is why I'm interested in exploring other publishing alternatives but let me show you your hypothetical options should you consider publishing a book.

Previously, I couldn't talk about book publishing without providing concrete numbers. However, I recently discovered Central Books which has a matrix of what it'll cost you so that gives us a rough estimate. Let's take it from the top. Central Books has two packages, the classic package and the workbook package. The biggest difference between the two is that 1) with the latter, you'll either have to do your own paperwork or your book isn't legal, and 2) you don't have promotional posters. #2 you can live without if you're willing to do your own marketing or interested in simply getting your book out there*. #1 however should concern you, especially if you're planning to run your book publication as a business. Now the workbook package is P4,000 cheaper (roughly $100.00) than the classic package. However, you will be burdened with acquiring an ISBN and submitting copies for copyright purposes. Since this is the Philippine government we're talking about, this is easily several hours of your time and will take several days. I'm an employee with a 9 am - 6 pm job. I don't have that luxury of taking a leave that long. I mean using my vacation leave for a day or two is fine. But the entire process will take days of you going back and forth. If I had the money, I'd simply play for the classic package. The extra cost is well worth it considering the time I'm going to give up. More importantly, I'll be avoiding the hassle of everything that goes along with securing an ISBN, such as proving that you're an actual publishing company (tax records, minimum money in the bank, etc.).

So here at Step 1, publishing a book already costs you either P9,500 ($240.00) or P5,500 ($140.00). This is just the preliminary costs.

Step two is figuring out how much the actual book is going to cost you. Central Books has a neat little matrix. Let's say your book is "6 x 9", slightly larger than your average mass market paperback. Now count how many pages your book will consume. Let's say you're publishing an anthology with minimal pictures (I assume that the package is for black and white books so none of those full-color coffee table books). 200 pages is a good estimate for a nice book that's not too lean. Now another estimate you'll be making is how many copies you want to be printing. If you studied the chart, you'll notice that the more copies you print (capping at 1000+), the cheaper it is. But before you decide to publish your book by the thousands, calculate if you can afford it. What's deceptive when it comes to printing cost is that the printer gives you the cost per copy. P82.79 ($2.00) might not seem much but when you multiply it by 1,000, that's costing you P82,790 ($2000.00). I don't know about you but that's way out of my budget. Let's settle for something more modest, say 100 copies. At P155.64 ($4.00), it's nearly twice as expensive but I'm not ordering a thousand copies, just a hundred. That's a total of P15,564 ($400.00).

At Step 2, for 100 copies of your book, you're spending either P25,064 ($640.00) or P21,064 ($540.00). Since this is print-on-demand, you can probably get a cheaper deal from an actual printer but remember, you'll have to do your own paperwork and most printers have a minimum print run of 500 copies.

Step three is reading the fine print. Currently, you have a rough estimate of how much your book will cost. However, that assumes that 1) the book has already been laid out and 2) there will be no revisions to the final output. For #1, assuming your text is perfect and requires no edits, you'll need a graphic designer to layout your book. Arguably you could do it yourself but you'll need to teach yourself how to do it and don't expect the book to look as good as it could be. If you're on a budget, one can theoretically layout an all-text book using Open Office or AbiWord and then covert the file to a PDF. Remember what I said about talent and time? As for #2, you'll notice that Central Books charges revision by the page. I've been working in a magazine for three years now. Never had I encountered a publication that did not need revision. Heck, there's still some errors when our magazine is placed in the newsstands. If you want your book to come out good, allot money for a graphic designer and make allowances for revisions.

Okay, let's assume you have a friend who's doing the encoding and layouts for you and that the pre-final manuscript has errors you can live with. It's off to the presses. Once the printing is done, you'll need to pick up 100 pieces of your book. I'm not the strongest man in the world but even if I was, I wouldn't be lugging around 100 books. Let's say you take a cab and let's assume you live near Central Books. Add P100.00 to your expenses. Now here's your real problem: how do you distribute your book? Let's tally your expenses so far:

At P25,164 ($640.00) or $21,164 ($540.00), your book roughly costs P251.64 ($6.50) or P211.64 ($5.50) per copy. What price will you be selling your book? Now here's the problem with distribution. If you're selling it at convenient outlets such as a bookstore, you'll usually need two things: 1) transportation to deliver your goods and 2) an official receipt (again, much like the ISBN, more paperwork!). Assuming you've got those two factors handled, it's time to negotiate how much is the retailer's profit. Theoretically, the formula is that a 40% of the product goes to the producer, 30% goes to the distributor, and 30% goes to the retailer. I don't know how it works elsewhere but from my experience, that's not the case here in the Philippines. If you're fortunate enough, 20% of the final cost goes to the consignee. That means slapping an additional 25% (yes, 20% = 25%... if you don't want to do the math, just take my word for it) on your product. If you're selling your book at cost (no profit), your retail price is roughly P315 ($8.00) or P265 ($6.75). However, that's assuming you get it cheap. The big bookstore chains like National Bookstore usually takes in 40% - 60% off the retail price. Let's assume it's 50% so effectively, you're selling your book at twice its cost: P500.00 ($12.50) or P422.00 ($10.50) per copy. And then there's more shipping costs as not all of your books will be sold by the retailer and you'll have to pay for the cost in transporting it back home. You guys still with me on this?

As can be seen, distribution can be quite as (if not more) difficult as getting the book printed. That's why a lot of authors prefer to go through publishers. But if you don't have that luxury and have that DIY mentality, well, there's the breakdown. Obviously, the costs will vary depending on how much time, money, and/or talent you're willing to invest in the project. I'd honestly hire an editor, a graphic designer, and perhaps a dedicated messenger to handle some of the other needs of the book and all for just 100 copies. Again, there are cheaper alternatives such as going to an actual printer (who'll most likely give you a cheaper rate but you'll have to print more copies) but here's a rough estimate of the publishing process.

*As a requirement for my Creative Writing program, our class was required to publish our own book. It didn't have to be a legal book so if you're in the same scenario as I was, you might want to look into the workbook package.


Dominique said...

Hi, Charles: for my own Creative Writing class, I compiled all our works into a 120-page chapbook. I wrote a small program to figure out the page ordering, then printed it out two pages per sheet. I can email you a sample, if you want.

banzai cat said...

Nice post, charles. This will come in handy.