Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A new publishing company, week one

We're going to go back in time a bit, to the summer, and when I first got this crazy idea to start my own small press.

I had a book idea that I knew I could sell. I already own a very large web site, a popular one, that gets around 30,000 visits a day. The topic is very specific, and on it I sell books, noticing two things.

1. Very few books on this topic existed at all, and my bestseller was a title from 1996.
2. What few books were out there were getting dated, and new ones were not coming out.

I also wanted a very specific title, one that didn't exist in the market, and I knew it should. I wanted it for myself. Later I would learn that three titles DID exist exactly like mine, but that's another story. Books that are not on Amazon have very little visibility.

The first step, before I formed the company, decided on a name, filed any paperwork -- before I did ANYTHING, was to assess the viability of profitability on my book.

This title, if done ideally, would not be eligible for Print on Demand. It needed to lie flat, like a cookbook, and therefore would require an offset run. I had no idea how many I could sell, realistically. I had sales numbers for books on my web site, of course, but I wasn't really trying. My site was mainly about information. I had zero ads and the books were relegated to a "resources" page.

So the first thing I did was to start pushing existing books a little harder, to see if this would help or harm my site. Then I began Googling printing companies to get bids. This wasn't as hard as you might think, as the specific wire-o binding I was looking for wasn't terribly common. I chose about ten companies and filled out their Requests for Quote forms. I had no idea what I was doing, saying things like "6x9 landscape," which is an oxymoron (it's 9x6, period, always list the width first.) Most of the companies just sent me their numbers, but a few helpful souls corrected my mistakes, and I learned. Thankfully I had used a Yahoo address, so nobody really knew who I was. :)

The project was entirely in color, so I knew it would be pricey. The bids were terrible. The cheapest for a 1,000 print run was $6 per book. The most expensive was a whopping $9.50. I had already read on the Small Publisher's Association of North America web site that the standard trade wholesale discount off the list price was 55%. So to figure out what my book would have to cost to cover the discount, the printing cost, shipping to me, and add some room for profit, I would have to charge a lot more than I had planned for such a small book. SPAN and other organizations had suggested seven to eight times the print cost. The book would have to be $42? No way. It wasn't worth it. I couldn't do it.

At this point, I had two options.

1. Increase the print run to get the per book cost down.
2. Forget about it.

But here's the thing. I had submitted this book idea to publishers, several of whom complimented the project and found it a wonderful idea, but too niche a market for them. It was true, I couldn't see where this book would fit in bookstores. The topic was quite sad, and it was an online market, I knew. I had been involved with this particular subject matter for 10 years.

But these publishers made exactly the book I wanted, a 40-page 9x6 full color wire-0, and sold the books for $13! They had to be getting inexpensive copies made somewhere. I knew I couldn't afford the up front cost to print 10,000, and maybe they were, but I just didn't think so. Their titles were niche too, books on adoption or little planners for brides.

My mission: to figure out where they were printing them so cheaply.


A great link for new publishers at this stage:

Aeonix Sample RFQ and explanation of printing terms

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