Pricing to sell: How much should your book cost?

How much does a book cost?

For a standard paperback with about 200 pages, the average cost ranges from $15.99 to $9.99 for a trade paperback. It’s important to recognize that this price range includes traditionally published and self-published books and holds true for fiction and non-fiction titles.

Enabling authors to publish and sell at a fair price is central to Lulu’s entire business model. We’ve believed in offering the opportunity for authors to make more with their book since day one. Still, the ins and outs of pricing can be cumbersome.

With that in mind, today’s blog is going to focus on how Lulu pricing works. Using that information, we’ll extrapolate a plan authors can use to get a sense of just how to price their book to bring it to market and find success.

Printing Costs

You might wonder if your books will primarily be sold online, why the printing cost is important to consider. A reasonable consideration. But the truth of the matter is that nearly half of sales for self-published books come directly from the author. Unless you have a big following or a strong dedicated sales list, there is a very good chance you’ll be buying your own books and selling them by hand.

If that sounds like a lot of work, I’m sorry to say it, but you’re right. It is a lot of work. That’s just a fact of doing it yourself. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent and a traditional publisher, they will do the majority of this legwork for you, but they’ll also cut deeply into your earning potential. But if you are determined and willing to put in the work, self-publishing can be very rewarding.

To begin with, Lulu pricing is such that the cost to print your book is the bottom line you’ll pay for copies of your book. For example, a Premium paperback, 6×9 with 200 pages costs $5.25 to print. And that’s what you’ll pay. Period. Because we recognize how many books our authors sell by hand, we’ve created a pricing model that aims to keep your overhead low. I’m sure many of you are aware of our coupons too, which can further reduce the cost to print and/or ship books. I’m going to leave coupons out of any figures we look at today, just be aware that you most likely will be able to utilize coupons to further bring down your costs.

Our print cost calculator lives on our book creation page – http://www.lulu.com/create/books – right in the middle of the page. While it can make finding the calculator a little difficult, the benefit of tying it to the creation page is that you can see clearly the features included in your book alongside the pricing. Remember, the price you’re seeing on this page is the cost to print the book. You’ll be able to set a selling price to any amount you want (so long as it’s more than the printing cost, of course).

That printing cost will be important because you most likely will be buying copies of your own book and selling them at signings, through social media or your author site, or just by hand to friends and family. One thing I see some authors do is to sign those hand-sold copies to make them a little more unique. You can also offer those copies at a reduced price, or even give them away. The book’s yours, after all, so you can do anything with it you’d like!

How many copies you need on hand is a constant question, but I advocate for only stocking a small number of copies unless you have an event upcoming you know you’ll be making sales at. Otherwise, you can keep twenty or even fewer copies on hand for readers. And if your supply shrinks, you can always order more! Printing on demand allows us to facilitate your needs and your budget at the same time.

Retail Pricing

Despite the likelihood that you’ll sell many copies by hand, you should still list your book on Lulu’s bookstore to allow anyone online to buy a copy. There are some exceptions of course, like a book you plan to sell to a specific audience or a book that isn’t meant to be available to a wider audience. In general, you’ll want to reach as many readers as you can, so having a means to order online is critical.

Our pricing model for retail sales is pretty simple. So long as the price is more than the printing cost, you can list the book on Lulu and earn revenue from sales. We allow you to set that price as you see fit.

Using the example above, let’s say you have a book that costs $5.25 to print. If you set your retail price at $9.99, readers will pay that amount when they order online. What happens to the difference ($4.74) between your cost and the price you set? You earn 80% of that amount ($3.79) and we take the other 20% as a commission. We do have to keep the lights on, so we have to make a little bit of money.

Here’s another way to view the pricing:

Sale Price: $9.99

Print Cost: $5.25

Net Profit: $4.74

20% to Lulu: $0.95

Earnings: $3.79

This model is specifically designed to make selling books on Lulu’s store the most profitable way to sell your book. We have a vested interest in your success since we only earn our commission when you make a sale. Of course, we offer distribution and for most authors, you’ll want to take advantage of that, but we’ll get into the cost and profits surrounding distributed books in the next section. What’s key to remember about Lulu’s pricing scheme is that we seek to foster a mutually beneficial relationship, one that allows us to offer printing and publishing at the lowest possible costs and encourages selling through our store.

To get a better sense of our retail pricing, let’s continue with the example I started. You have a 200 page, 6×9 premium paperback. The printing cost is $5.25, and you’ve set retail price to $9.99. Each online sale through Lulu will earn you $3.79, and you’ll be able to purchase as many copies as you need at $5.25 to sell by hand, at any price you’d like. Where does that land among the sea of other self-published and traditionally published books?

To start, let’s look at this pricing list from School Library Journal:

Here you can see the average trade paperback price is $15.60. A trade paperback is about the same as a Premium Paperback on Lulu, excepting that a Lulu book printed by Lulu’s print network will likely have higher quality paper. But ignore that. For our purposes, let’s operate under the idea that a standard fiction trade paperback is universal.

In this case, you’re looking at an average retail price of $15.60. And we established that a Lulu book priced at $9.99 will earn the author $3.79 per copy sold. This is per book sold. No worrying about selling past an advance, or taking pennies on the dollar for each sale because a publisher and agent need to get a cut. And all of this while still coming in more than $5.00 under the average price.

This last point is doubly important. Because you’re selling a book through your own marketing efforts, you need to incentivize readers who might otherwise not consider buying a book from an unknown author. A price cut is an excellent way to entice potential readers.

Distribution

I’m hoping if you’ve gotten this far, you’re feeling excited about the pricing and earning structure we use here at Lulu. I don’t want to diminish your motivation, but you need to know that sales through retail channels (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) are going to result in significantly lower revenue. Print-on-demand books from Lulu sold on retail sites, use a Wholesale model to determine pricing. It looks something like this (using the example from above):

Manufacturing Cost: $5.25

Creator Revenue: $2.00

20% to Lulu: $0.40

Wholesale Price: $7.65

We come to that price by first adding a revenue amount specified by the author. This is a static amount, so as the author you can make this amount however much you’d like. The key difference is that the revenue you’d like to earn is built into the base price for the book, rather than being determined by the sale price.

Think about it like this; the base price on Lulu is the printing cost ($5.25) while the wholesale base cost is the printing cost plus revenue ($7.65). The revenue added to the printing cost is both the amount you specify and 20% of that amount as Lulu’s cut.

What makes this problematic for a self-published author is that the retail price for a print-on-demand book will be about twice that wholesale cost. What this means is that a book you could sell on Lulu for $9.99 and earn $3.79 per sale on, will be priced around $15.00 on a retail site and will pull in $2.00 per sale. A couple of dollars may not seem like much, but for an author, every penny counts.

The difference between sales on Lulu and retail sales through our distribution channels bears a little more consideration. I’ve seen bloggers and commentators misrepresent our pricing model numerous times, so I want to be as clear as possible in this regard. Lulu presents a simple pricing model based on the author’s desired earnings and the cost to produce the book. A retail, wholesale price is built around the “costs” associated with producing the book – including any revenue you and Lulu earn – and generally results in a retail price double that cost.

This is where I hear so many people either confused or operating from bad information. The price a book has to be set to for retail pricing is not something Lulu mandates. Rather, the requirement comes from our distribution partners. The rule is such that the price your book ends up using for retail pricing is also the price you must use on Lulu for that same book. Basically, Amazon doesn’t want you undercutting their price on Lulu.

Rules like this hinder authors because they prevent sales on Lulu at a lower cost, with higher revenue.

Still, I’ll argue for placing your book in distribution regardless of this. Here’s why:

  1. You can still earn great returns on your book. Even if you set your retail price to $15.99 to meet retail pricing requirements, you’ll earn around $2.50 for retail sales, but a whopping $8.60 per sale on Lulu. That’s a tremendous return at a still reasonable price.
  2. Getting a book on Amazon, as much as it pains me to say it, is crucial to your success. You cannot afford to lose a reader because they can’t use Prime membership perks to save on shipping. Every sale on a retail site is a book in a reader’s hands. That alone has value, even if you don’t earn as much revenue as you could have.

The bottom line is knowledge. I’m not going to tell you to avoid any retail options because every venue you can make your book available on is beneficial. Yes, you should aim to make as much per sale as you can, but the revenue return from online sales is very likely only a portion of the total earning potential you’ll see. Sales by hand are going to be crucial too, and because Lulu offers at cost printing with the highest quality materials, you can really see strong returns on those sales.

The business of publishing is complex and is made more so by the wide variety of platforms and their diverse pricing and revenue models. I’ll say again, the bottom line is knowledge. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to make informed decisions about how to price and sell your book.

Pricing for Success

That brings us to the last thing I want to touch on. Some pricing best practices.

There are two essential elements to keep in mind when thinking about pricing.

  1. Your print cost
  2. The price listed online

Continuing with the example of a book at $5.25 to print, let’s imagine you are going to attend a book signing at your local independent bookstore. You order 50 copies at about $250 (allowing for some discounting) and pay another $50 for shipping. $300 dollars is your cost now, and you’ve got 50 books to sell. If you sell them at a flat $10 a book and sell out, you’ll end the day with almost $200 earned. Not bad for a single signing. To be reasonable, we have to allow for some additional expenses and the likelihood that you won’t sell all your copies, but even netting $100 dollars is good for a single event.

In this scenario, the $10 a book price point is great as you can turn a profit selling just more than half your stock, and you can offer the book at a very reasonable price. On top of this, if we assume the book is priced for retail on Lulu at around $15.00, the copies you sell by hand at $10.00 is at a “discount.” Even though you’re still making a good return per book, the price looks like a steep discount to your readers. This kind of subtle thing rewards your reader without drastically impacting your bottom line.

For the most part, the difference between online sale pricing and on hand pricing will be your best tool for driving sales and still earning money with each book. Let’s consider a couple of examples to help illustrate this point.

First, we have a graphic from Author Earnings, a well-known source for data regarding publishing sales and trends.

This graphic is pretty dense and part of a much longer series of graphics Author Earnings uses to convey a range of data about the state of publishing. For this conversation, there are a few important points to note from this specific graphic:

  1. Print books are over 60% of the total format share
  2. Non-traditionally published print books (self-published) make up about 2.7% of the total print market
  3. Self-published ebooks account for 42% of the ebook market

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that as a self-published author, you are still a smaller piece of the publishing pie than traditionally published authors. And, as you can see, ebooks are the preferred format for most self-published authors. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as ebooks are less expensive and easier to produce, can be priced lower (for example, an ebook on Lulu is completely free to make and returns 90% of revenue. An ebook sold at $5.99 on Lulu will earn $4.50), and provide the same basic content.

Consider this information alongside the fact that authors ordering their own books on Lulu account for almost half of all orders placed. That means 50% of the books we print are going directly to the author. Why? Because Lulu authors know that they can sell better by hand than online. Yes, they’ll make sales online and yes authors should include an ebook version of all of their books to offer a lower cost, digital option. But for the print market, nothing can replace the appeal of a stack of books pillaring in front of the author.

Here specifically is where competitive and careful pricing becomes crucial. Remember, a self-published author is not bound by format or design restrictions. Imagine you have a novel ready to go and you want to get it out there and start selling. You can publish a paperback with an ISBN for distribution, a non-ISBN paperback version to sell specifically on Lulu and your author site, an ebook for sale on all platforms, a dust jacket hardcover you can sell either through distribution with an ISBN or solely on Lulu depending on demand for hardcover, and on top of all of this, you can always create a unique version to sell by hand at an event, perhaps featuring a special foreword, bonus chapter, or teaser for another book still in the works.

All of these different books come from the original manuscript and can be produced through Lulu without any upfront cost to you. Diversity provides options.

Use this to your advantage when pricing your work. Think in particular about how you can price books sold by hand to be particularly competitive with online pricing. We know that print books from self-published authors make up only a small portion of the market, but the margin a self-published author can make on those books is significant. Even at a conservative estimate of $1.00 revenue per book, a traditionally published author needs upwards of 10x the sales to match out the earnings. And this doesn’t figure into the fact that a self-published author will have absolute control over their marketing planning, so that margins and venue costs, transportation, and all of that can be allowed for.

Simplify the Complex

The short version is simply this: investigate and understand pricing thoroughly. It dismays me to see so much content on the web that inaccurately characterizes how pricing for print-on-demand works. Not to mention the exceedingly simplistic view that some experts offer. As if the only option for publishing were to create a single paperback book and sell it on Amazon.

At Lulu, you’ll hear the phrase “tell your story” over and over. Our goal has been and remains to enable everyone and anyone to tell their stories. Sometimes that makes the most economical sense with Lulu, other times you’ll land a book deal with a traditional or small publisher and that will make the most sense. Do what’s best for you, your book, and your author brand. But above all, educate yourself to the options you have available.

18 thoughts on “Pricing to sell: How much should your book cost?”

  1. I know that several copies of Talking Stalking have been purchased But ! I have not re.ceived any cash from these?
    John k Dryden

  2. Unless I missed something, you don’t seem to mention your very high delivery costs, which increase the price per copy exponentially (especially for small orders). I now deal mostly with a print-on-demand company based in the UK in which delivery charges are included in the price of the books, the price per copy being based on the price per copy of the initial run. If I initially order 25 or more copies, each subsequent order, of even one copy, is priced pro rata and still includes delivery. Lulu’s status as a global/American company gets in the way of competitive pricing like this.

  3. ‘You can publish a paperback with an ISBN for distribution, a non-ISBN paperback version to sell specifically on Lulu and your author site’
    I’m confused: I am about to add an ISBN to a book currently available through LULU and up the distrution to Lulu’s retail sites Wholesale model with higher price. Can I still keep the original without ISBN on sale at Lulu for my direct sales at its original price. Apart from the ISBN on cover and inside the two books will be same. Is this allowed or do I have to change title or alter content slightly?

  4. Hi John,
    You should reach out to support to check on revenue payments. We do pay on a schedule so it could simply be that we haven’t come to a payment date yet.

  5. Hi Janice,
    While it is true that shipping can add a significant cost, it varies such that allowing for it while considering pricing as broadly as we are in this piece is very difficult. You will notice during the section where I estimated a small batch order for an event I was able to include a shipping price because I was considering a set amount of books.
    It’s also worth noting that we offer coupons to offset shipping as often as we can.

  6. Hi Trevor,
    You would have two books – each with the same content. Essentially two editions of the book. A distributed edition and a non-distributed edition. If you’re concerned about having duplicate books, you might add a notice on the copyright page, but otherwise, it’s fine to have multiple editions of the same book.

  7. Hi Jane,
    Prices for retail sales are set by the author. So if you’re buying a book on the Shop you’ll pay the price they set.
    Printing costs for your own book are displayed based on the binding, paper type, color, and page count. The example I used was just one of many combinations possible. The exact specifications you choose will impact the base price.
    Remember too that applying an ISBN triggers the wholesale base price model.

  8. @Jane if you are the consumer buying the book it cannot be sold at the same price it cost to make. That would be like selling a pair of Jordan sneakers for $16 (what is cost to make a pair), and then the company/creator would not make any money from their product. In this case if an author set their selling price as the same price it cost them to print the book they would not make a dime on the sale.

  9. I am the author. When I have previously bought copies of my book the price has been around $5-6. This year it is $9.99. I do not know why, and I cannot find out.

  10. Paul – Re your earlier reply. Thank you – perfect solution – I shall now create the two versions which will allow me to maximise my margin with direct control and bulk order for personal distribution and direct sales via my web site, whilst still allowing the majority world-wide (particularly in the US) to do the usual thing and look for it on Amazon etc. (I have my own registered series of ISBNs).
    One further question – can the non-ISBN version be available on the LULU store or has it to be confined to direct link from my website via link to the project on the LULU site?

  11. I am from India and am wondering if i could sell my ebooks in the website. Also, is the short story contest only for people in the USA?

  12. Hi John,
    Unfortunately, our contest is limited to US residents only. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to open it up to more countries.
    You can absolutely sell on Lulu from anywhere in the world!

  13. Hi Paul, When I place links to my Lulu Spotlight page, I believe the prospective purchaser is presented with the prices in US dollars, which is off-putting for a UK or European citizen.
    I seem to remember that the Spotlight webpage of a few years ago allowed you to select currency for the prices displayed so I could, for example, always ensure that when I advertised to UK readers the prices always came up in UK pounds straight away.
    Is there a way to do this at the moment?
    Thanks,
    Paul Schofield
    spiritualchanneling.co.uk

  14. Hi Paul, Ref my previous question, I should add that I am aware of the mechanism for changing pricing currency via “Change Store”, but feel that this is too cumbersome, involving several clicks to get back to the Spotlight page, which is not optimum if trying to instantly capture the interest of a new prospective customer,
    Thanks
    Paul Schofield
    http://spiritualchanneling.co.uk

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