12 Oct 2011

The microeconomics of publishing

As many of you know, I self-published The End of Abundance after giving up on my publisher (UC Press).

Many people are curious to hear how this venture has worked out so far.

First, let me say that I am very pleased to have total control over the marketing and production of my book. Most publishers do nothing to market your book. Their technical facilities are less advanced than the Print-on-Demand service I use (version 1.1 took 10 minutes/one day/one week for PDF/Kindle/paperback versions).

Second, the book would not have been possible without the massive support of you readers and the very special people who helped with editing and detailed feedback. FYI, this (slightly dated) book helped me with the publishing process; this blog post offers useful tips on Kindle publishing.

Third, the financial model also appears to be much better for me.

Let's get into those details (everyone wants NUMBERS!)
  • Since June, I have printed 650 copies and distributed 620 copies. Of these 620 copies, 470 (75%) were paid for; the rest I gave away (mostly to thank contributors).
  • I make $7-9 on paperbacks that sell for $20 on Amazon or $15 direct.
  • I make about $7 on Kindle copies that sell for $9.99 on Amazon.
  • I make about $9 on PDF copies that I sell for $10 via e-junkie.
  • These numbers and the distribution of copies (sold and free) across channels (below) mean that I have just about broken even on the CASH cost of producing the book. Further sales reward me and fuel my ambitions (hint!)
  • MOST books were direct distributed (book signings, teaching, etc.), which is great for meeting readers but tough in terms of moving volumes. I need to increase indirect (online) distribution.
  • My cash costs were low since friends helped with the production; I did my own typesetting and index. (We weren't perfect -- there were some typos.)
  • There were also non-cash costs (my time! my blood pressure!) but also non-sales benefits (speaking fees, invitations to talk about water, happiness). These "indirect" benefits are a huge bonus on a book that's not even a loss leader :)
Fourth, I think this book is a better move for me, compared to putting MORE time into academic publications that are slow to release and inaccessible (both in time and format). Maybe I will never become a professor, but I'd don't want THAT job if it means losing my role as a public intellectual.

Bottom Line: I am very happy I put this book together; it's working out really well. If you liked it, please leave a review to encourage others to read it. If you haven't read it, then order up!

Next week, the macroeconomics of publishing


Eric said...

I have been asked to complete and publish some books. In order to decide what to do, I needed your 'been there, done that' information.


CC said...

This is relevant: "Think about it: anyone with an essay, a collection of thoughts, a tumblr that’s been running for a while… you can turn those into a nationally distributed ebook in about fifteen minutes.

And when everyone is rushing to increase supply along the long tail, it doesn’t matter if a publisher decides to hold back and publish fewer titles – the public doesn’t know who publishes what and doesn’t really care.

The end result, I predict, is that sales per book published are going to decrease as much as 20% next year...Good for people who like to discover interesting ideas. Bad for people who publish them the traditional way."

Praveena Sridhar said...

Great to see how self publishing End of Abundance has unfolded! This sure is a pointer for folks like me heading down writing a book (or two?) way.

Cheers to the public intellectual!

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