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Print on Demand (POD) Gets a New Player

Jim Giacommatteo photographed with his opet dog

The Watchdog and his dog

ALLi Watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo announces exciting news of the latest big player to offer print on demand (POD) services to self-publishing and indie authors.

BookBaby Enters the Print on Demand (POD) Market

For what seems like the longest time, the POD market has been controlled by two players: CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Not that there haven’t been other options, but these two companies have come to dominate the self-publishing segment of the marketplace. In the recent report from Bowker, listing ISBN providers for print books, CreateSpace dominated with 186,926 ISBNs listed for 2013.

A couple of years ago, Ingram set up a new division (IngramSpark) for the sole purpose of handling self-published authors or small publishers with fewer than 10–20 titles. Lightning Source, a sister company to Spark, was there to handle larger customers.

BookBaby, though, hasn’t been sitting idle. They jumped into the eBook market and have managed to put together an impressive list of channels in a short period of time. According to President Steven Spatz, BookBaby is now positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities in the POD segment of the market.

Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

Print on Demand

I don’t know a lot about what BookBaby has set up yet, but I do know a couple of things. One is that they’re going to be using one trusted POD service, not subbing it out to a lot of different companies.

I spoke to BookBaby’s President about their plans. This is what he had to say.

“Having a dedicated POD facility will allow us to control the quality,” said Spatz. “Being able to guarantee a quality product for each and every book is important to us. We wanted to ensure we could do that.”

Spatz said, “This is different from any other Print On Demand program out on the marketplace. Not only do we offer the most robust distribution network in the business, we also deliver the highest-quality printed books and back that up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.”

Distribution

With IngramSpark having a built-in global distribution network, and CreateSpace being owned by Amazon, it’s a safe bet to think that anyone new to the market faces an uphill battle. But BookBaby has managed to assemble one hell of a good list of partners.

I don’t have the complete details, but when I spoke to Steven, he mentioned a few that impressed me.

  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Powell’s
  • Ingram
  • Baker & Taylor

Keep in mind, when you look at Ingram and Baker & Taylor, those two networks represent hundreds of potential outlets, including other online stores, independent bookstores, and libraries around the world. Here is a link to a more comprehensive list.

When I asked Steven about the POD process, he said that orders will be printed and shipped within five days.

Discounts and Returns

One puzzling part for me was the discount and returns policy. At the time I spoke with BookBaby, specifics weren’t available. I got the impression that they might go with a set discount (much like CreateSpace does), but BookBaby also mentioned the possibility of returns.

I didn’t get a definitive answer on actual printing costs either, but what I did get was an estimate of earnings. Here are the details as I know them.

“Profits will be reasonable,” said Spatz. “As an example, for a 6×9, 200-page book, retailing at $14.99—the author will earn about $2.84.”

I ran those figures through the calculators at CreateSpace and IngramSpark for comparison.

Here’s how it looks.
Company List Price $14.99
BookBaby $2.84
CreateSpace Expanded Dist. $2.74
CreateSpace Amazon $5.74
IngramSpark 55% $3.25
IngramSpark 40% $5.49
IngramSpark 30% $6.99

As you can see from the chart, BookBaby falls squarely in between CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution option and IngramSpark’s 55% discount option.

If you wanted to, I’m sure you could do the same thing I recommended in this post comparing CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and that is, to use both of them as distributors for print. In other words, use CreateSpace for Amazon to take advantage of the higher margins, and use BookBaby for everything else. That still means you’re paying for BookBaby’s POD service, but you’ll have to justify that—or not.

The math is straightforward. Assume you’ll earn approximately $3.00 per book, and divide that into the $200 set-up cost. That means you need to sell about 67 books to break even.

Note:

A point worth noting deals with future plans. BookBaby will be providing authors a BookShop page, much like the page for customers of their eBook service. They are hoping to have this up by mid-year, and it should be a boost to authors trying to sell books on their own, or steer customers to purchase directly from them.

My understanding is it will work like this.

BookBaby will take 15% of list price plus the cost of printing the book. The author keeps the rest. On a $15 book, that means the author would earn about $7.70. CreateSpace’s offering is similar but they take 20%, and unless I miss my guess, BookBaby’s BookShop page will be superior to CreateSpace’s offering in terms of SEO and ability to drive customers to it.

“Shipping would be at cost,” Spatz said.

Returns

As far as the policy on returns…I don’t know how BookBaby plans to address that, but here’s the interesting part—according to Steven Spatz, BookBaby plans on absorbing the cost of returns.

Yes, you heard that right—BookBaby will absorb the cost of returns.

I’m guessing that BookBaby plans to manage that on a pro-active basis, making sure stores don’t order excessive amounts to prevent problems, but as this is POD, I don’t see it as much of an issue. In the past couple of years I have only had two books returned through Ingram (Lightning Source) and that pales in comparison to what most publishers see. Still, it’s a nice feature to have and it’s comforting to know that you won’t have to deal with returns.

Another plus for BookBaby.

Cost

With many indie authors, cost looms large as the determining factor in any decision. I understand that reasoning. Book sales are difficult to come by, and profits—especially in the print world—are even rarer. So what will BookBaby’s service cost in total?

Let’s take a look.
Service $199
Print-ready file [1]
Set-up fee
Change fees [2]
Proof [3]
Discounts Set amount?
Shipping Included

As you can see, some of these questions remain unanswered, but I’m sure within the next few days we’ll have information from BookBaby so we can fill in the blanks. Here’s what I know—and don’t know—so far.
  • Print-ready file
    • Submit a Word or Pdf document using BookBaby’s template and they do the rest.
  • Set-up fee
    • The $199 charge covers this.
  • Change fees
    • No charge for new files submitted.
  • Proof
    • Proofs are done online, digitally. If you want a print proof, a charge applies.
  • Discounts
    • We discussed the speculation on discounts above.
  • Shipping
    • I know that shipping to stores, etc. is included, but I’m not sure what happens to orders authors need to fulfill for themselves.

Other questions that need answers:

  • What is the price of each book to the author?
  • What if the author wants to order 5o books for personal distribution? Can they do that at cost?
  • Can an author order one book to be shipped to a reviewer? At what price?
  • What about international shipping? (like for Goodreads giveaways) Where does it get shipped from, and what is the cost?

One of the questionable points is a requirement to purchase a minimum of 25 books when you sign up for BookBaby’s POD service. If you have a standard 300-page paperback it will probably tack on about $100.

Based on that assumption, here is what you’d be facing.
Sign-up cost POD Sign-up cost eBook 25 Books
$199 $299 $100 [4]
So the combination deal for POD and eBook, plus 25 print books will run you approximately $599.[5] And the books will be shipped to you free of charge for personal distribution or whatever you want.

Who Will This Appeal To?

When BookBaby announced their new pricing on eBook services back in December, I said it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but as the numbers have shown it does appeal to a lot of authors. The same reasoning applies with their POD service. Some authors—especially the ones who can do everything themselves—will look at the cost and the ROI, and say, “No thanks. I’ll go my own way.”

But others might look at BookBaby’s offering as a gift. Here are a few examples of authors who should welcome this.

  • Authors who are looking for a one-stop shop, without having to mess with details. With BookBaby you submit one file (eBook and Print) and you’re done with it.
  • Authors who want to concentrate on writing and promotion.
  • Authors who are willing to spend a little money to save a lot of time.

Advantages of using BookBaby (from BookBaby)
  1. BookBaby claims they will have the widest distribution of anyone for POD, including:
    • Ingram
    • Baker & Taylor
    • Amazon
    • B&N
    • Powell’s
    • Libraries
    • NASCORP
  2. Simplicity—submit one Word file and BookBaby will convert it to eBook and print. You’re done with it. Easy.
  3. Profits will be reasonable. (see example above)
  4. BookBaby will handle returns.
  5. Quality will be top of the line and guaranteed.

Bottom Line

With this latest offering, BookBaby is moving a lot closer to a full-service publishing company. They offer eBook and POD, and they have long offered additional services like book cover design and editing as add-ons. It’s not a stretch to see them bring all of that in-house and put together a few packages to compete with the growing number of publishing services.

If they go that route, I hope they keep it simple. Too many companies pad their offerings with high-priced options that not everyone needs. But BookBaby has shown they’re willing to listen to customers, so let them know what you think.


  1. use BookBaby’s free templates and submit file.  ↩
  2. for new file submittal, no charge.  ↩
  3. proofs are done online, digitally.  ↩
  4. based on estimate of a 300-page book  ↩
  5. based on price of a 200-page, 6×9, B&W, 50 lb. cream paper, perfect bound.  ↩

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7 Responses to Print on Demand (POD) Gets a New Player

  1. Aziza Kibibi June 6, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    As a self published author using Bookbaby’s POD service, I can confirm a lot of the information about the cost for an author ordering books is very expensive. I ordered 50 6 by 9 books that are 428 pages long. I used the interior design service which I was happy with because it took a lot of the formatting for print worries off of my mind. Though I would’ve liked a little more creativity, for the price, I was satisfied. My issue thus far is the distribution with the soposed extensive retail and wholesale outlets. After approving all of the proofs with Bookbaby, and being informed that it would take 2 weeks to see my book available on websites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it actually took 30 days. My book was available for preorder with a May 30th availability. After excitedly promoting and marketing this May 30th release date, when May 30th came I received calls that my book was not available on Barnes and Noble. After doing an extensive search on B&N, Amazon and Powells, most said that my book was unavailable or could not be found in the search, and on Amazon it states it’s temporarily out of stock. I was heart broken. Because Bookbaby is closed on the weekends I lost hundreds of sales. When I called Bookbaby the following Monday they had no idea what the problem was, highlighted that though it was out of stock on Amazon, it could still be ordered, and claimed they would research the problem with the other retailers and would get back to me. They also assured me that my book would be available on B&N in to 4 days. It’s been a week and the webpage where my book is supposed to be now states that “this book is not available for order through Barnes and Noble”. I’m giving BookBaby the benefit of the doubt considering that this service is fairly new. If you could look into this problem; maybe even research other self published authors experience with Bookbaby POD service, I would greatly appreciate it.

  2. giacomo giammatteo February 1, 2015 at 1:53 am #

    Mick: I only recently ironed out the details. It’s almost a bait-and-switch tactic, which is not a pleasant thing. So…if you sign up for the POD service, the actual cost of the books and the earnings aren’t bad, but if you go to order your own books aside from that…well, that’s where things get ugly. For 25 books it would cost $273.50. For comparison, it would cost about $125 at CreateSpace or IngramSpark, give or take a few bucks.

    To make matters worse, there is a minimum order of 25 books!

    And yes, there is an exclusivity associated with the POD, another drag on the deal. I’m going to amend the article and add the “new” details in.

  3. Mick Rooney January 31, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    Jim, I agree wholeheartedly with your add-on piece when the service was launched. It’s one of the reason I held on to actually see the press release and drill into the details.

    I agree, for some authors, it looks like you are getting a lot, but I’ve highlighted before the issue of book printing cost and the fact I don’t see them as that competitive, particularly if an author is not ordering too many books for personal/promotional use.

    My other concern is that Bookbaby appear to have an exclusive clause on the distro.

    M.

  4. Giacomo Giammatteo January 30, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Now that BookBaby has officially launched this service, some of the information I got prior to their launch seems way off. I just ran a few numbers through their online book printing calculator and the result was ridiculous! I’ve got a call into them to verify which numbers are correct. I’ll update soon.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bookbaby Adds Distribution & Print On Demand Service | The Independent Publishing Magazine - February 1, 2015

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    […] POD distribution it would appear that BookBaby is not quite competitive at all price points. The ALLi blog compared royalties between BookBaby and the leading POD services (Ingram/LSI, Amazon/Createspace) […]

  3. BookBaby Launches Print on Demand Option | Self-Publishing Review - January 29, 2015

    […] the royalty breakdown for a standard 6×9 book. See Alli’s Watchdog post for how this breaks down royalty-wise. Basically, it falls in between Createspace and Ingram Spark, […]

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