Understanding Your Book Price For Print And Retail

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Book pricing—the cost to publish and print your book as well as how you set a retail price—is a critical part of your self-publishing process. Understanding your book price can be complex; it factors in a lot of necessities like shipping costs and everything can vary based on your printing quality, page count, and trim sizes.

I know a lot of authors and I know one of the topics they are least interested in discussing is money. But you need to understand the cost to publish and print, as well as the price range you need to sell your book effectively. Considering costs is one of the first steps to take when planning your book. If you don’t have a realistic budget, you might find yourself struggling to publish or losing money on your book. 

How Much Does It Cost To Print A Book?

Your cost will vary based on a variety of print options. Paper, binding, ink, and page count all impact your pricing. Listing out every possible variation would be impossible, but you can use Lulu’s Pricing Calculator to easily try different options for you book.

You also need to consider how much it costs to ship a book (or multiple books), which our calculator also provides estimates for. While you will sell books online on Lulu’s Bookstore and Amazon, you will also need to sell direct and in-person. That means planning for printing and shipping costs.

How Is A Book Price Determined?

The average cost of a paperback book with about 200 pages ranges from $18.99 to $9.99. 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. 

Lulu’s paperback price is based the print cost. This is true for all of our trim sizes—there are no fees or set up costs. The retail price (also called the list price) is a composite of the print cost and the revenue amount you set. Because Lulu’s pricing structure is unique, you can actually publish with no upfront cost at all. Many print-on-demand publishers will require a set up fee or initial purchase of books. Lulu gives you the option to put all the costs on the buyer, making publishing completely free.

Printing Book Prices

The base price for your book is the cost to print. Lulu printing costs are also the amount you’ll always pay to buy your own books.

If you create a standard US Trade paperback with 200 pages, it will cost $5.54 to print. That is the base minimum price. Factors like page count and full color printing will alter the price. That’s why it’s always important to start with the pricing calculator to determine exactly how much printing your book will cost.

As you approach the publishing process you need a firm understanding of the print options you’ll select and the printing costs those options will incur. You will likely need to order some quantity of books to have on-hand, so the printing and shipping costs for your book will be vital information.

Retail Book Pricing

Once your book is published, readers will pay the retail or list price to buy the book. Under a print-on-demand model, the retail cost will include printing and revenue, so a sale will not cost you anything. 

Using the example above of a US Trade book costing $5.54, let’s say you set your retail price at $11.99. The difference ($6.45) is your revenue. On the Lulu Bookstore, you’d earn 80% of that (the remaining 20% is Lulu’s share). And with Global Distribution, you would earn a smaller amount because retailers take a large cut of the profits themselves.

Finding The Right Book Price

Our 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. Book printing is our specialty and we focus on that to provide you the best print books on the market.

But it will be up to you to determine exactly how much your book costs for readers to purchase. I recommend starting with this pricing list from School Library Journal:

School Library Journal 2016 and 2017 pricing comparison

It’s slightly outdated now, but gives you a good starting place to think about the average price readers expect to pay. Take advantage of this, either by undercutting the average to drive sales or going a little higher if you’ve got dedicated readers. 

Maximum formats

With your original manuscript, you can make a wide variety of book formats. Hardcover and paperback, full color and black & white, print and digital; self-publishing means you’re in control. Diversity provides options. You should always strive to make your book available in the formats your readers want.

It’s true 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 a self-published author can realize. 

And this doesn’t figure into the fact that a self-published author will have absolute control over their marketing planning. 

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.

Do what’s best for you, your book, and your author brand. But above all, educate yourself to the options you have available. That includes a thorough understanding of how book pricing is determined and how your author revenue factors into the pricing structure.

21 thoughts on “Understanding Your Book Price For Print And Retail”

  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!

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  15. Hello there. I’m Claudia and I have a paper book published at lulu.
    I want to change the price of my book but now with the new update of lulu, I cannot find where to change it .
    Anyone knows how to do it?
    Thank you 🙏🤗

    1. Hi Claudia,

      Once you’re logged in and find the book on My Projects, click the title. From there, you’ll be in the book editor. Click ‘Pricing & Payees’ from the navigation and update your price. The new price will save automatically. I suggest clicking the ‘Review’ step to verify the price update.

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