Earning money from self-publishing via the online print route – is it worth it?


Publishing your own book, doing your own thing independent of a publishing company and at the same time making your publication available to both the over-the-counter book trade and the e-book market – successful self-publishing makes it happen, or does it? Online pricing provided by self-publishing book-on-demand providers, such as BoD or epubli, attempts to make taking the plunge into the world of self-publishing palatable by offering low prices.

They promote their services by offering high royalties and simple publication procedures. Self-publishers finance the publishers of their works in person and therefore at their own risk –a move that needs to be carefully considered. I believe that sounds like a manageable risk to start with. But what is the reach of a self-published book and what distribution channels are available?

Below I shall be taking a look at how attractive the online choice for potential self-publishers is and what consequences the choice of a service provider has on the distribution of self-published books. Familiar and frequently used providers of print-on-demand books include BoD, epubli, CreateSpace or Tredition.

BoD’s website features an online configuration function that enables consumers and ambitious self-publishers to design/layout, publish and order their own book. Costings are provided without the need to register. Publications are digitally printed, using the print-on-demand method. Books on Demand GmbH, based in Norderstedt to the north of Hamburg, has been in this business for more than 15 years. It provides a range of solutions, from customizable book design (adjustable-to-the-millimeter formatting, types of paper, types of binding and book covers) to a full print and e-book version distribution service. But it’s worth taking a look at the corresponding costs. If it’s to be a b/w paperback with 380 pages, costs range between € 11.94 and € 7.55 per copy for a purchase quantity of 24 or 200 or more respectively. Mind you, these are only the pure printing costs, where sales & distribution are handled by the self-publisher. However if I wish to make use of BoD’s distribution channels and not have to worry about sales, then a margin is stated, which depends on the recommended price and the potential self-chosen retail price. In other words retail price minus sales tax, less bookseller percentage, less production costs. What’s left is around 10 % of the price recommended by BoD, a margin of around € 1 per paperback. On its website, which overall conveys a neat impression, BoD offers its services primarily as a complete solutions provider, i.e. as editor, printer and distributor of the book and/or e-book, which can be lucrative for authors with possibly little sales experience. The marketing tool used is a model, which apparently provides an extensive overall package for the budding self-publisher at a one-off cost of € 209. Ready-to-print PDF files are submitted either by upload or by e-mail, image files can be submitted separately if needed. The website provides sufficient illustrated guidance and explanations via information sections and the search function. The latter also provides information about how long distribution of print copies and online provision of e-book copies takes – e-books and print books are available online after one to two weeks and in the over-the-counter book trade after some six weeks following approval.


“If you want to be a self-publisher, you need to be aware of the costs involved in book design and marketing. This is not something where you can afford half-hearted experiments; otherwise things start to get expensive!” – Bernd Zipper

Higher costs of sales are revealed when considering the chargeable add-on options, which not every author can afford but which may be needed to ensure a decent presence in the book market. Most self-publishers regard marketing activities, cover design and proof-reading as well as the actual content as critical success factors for the marketing of their books.  Things get hefty when self-publishers make use of BoD services to boost publication reach. I don’t mean that these services are only pricey if purchased from BoD – other providers also charge similar prices for these kinds of services. All the same, purchasing additional services, such as layout/design, proof-reading (to say nothing of editing), e-book conversion and decent post-publication promotion, costs around € 1700 (including the basic costs). An audit of conceptual design and target audience targeting, professional cover design, book trade presence and e-book promotion are then included! A package of comparable scope from provider, Ruckzuckbuch, costs some € 2000. A difference of € 300 doesn’t sound like very much, you would think. But if you consider that a self-publisher earned on average around € 500 a month from book and e-book sales in 2014/2015, that corresponds to more than half of monthly earnings. The e-books are delivered by BoD to the stores within a maximum of four weeks, enabling them to be purchased online.

I have compiled a brief overview of providers of services for self-publishers and their service offerings.
I have compiled a brief overview of providers of services for self-publishers and their service offerings.

Given the appeal of e-books (despite their low consumer market share (in terms of sales) of currently around 5 %), they need to be factored in as one of a number of self-publishing options available. That’s particularly because the net margin on ePUB-based e-books is up to three times as much as on print editions and marketing via providers like amazon tends to be a promising option. That is also one reason why many self-publishers are increasingly or even exclusively focusing on the e-book market.

My take: Publishing company-independent publishing costs money and requires a great deal of proactivity or initiative. It must be well-planned and is not suitable for rush jobs. Social media and a proprietary website can at least form the basis for promotion or raising awareness. If you want to earn money from self-publishing, you not only need to deliver a book with great content, you also  need to take heed of possible additional expenditure and sales expense, sales channel options and marketing issues. Nevertheless self-publishing gives talented writers the opportunity to enter the market independently and relatively quickly.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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