When one of my friends heard that I wanted to produce the book myself and not cooperate with an established publishing house his face went aaarrrrggghh. Since then a lot of people have asked me that same question and I believe they are justified to wonder about this. Already in July I did some research on the topic. On the pro publisher – Iran is currently a trending topic in some European countries. The lifting of sanctions brought not only more tourism and business back into Iran but also more books about Iran into European markets.
The titles range from cooking to travel. Iranian movies have gained even more attention since A Separation by Asghar Farhadi became the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear in Berlin. Another factor is that my book would be the first of it’s kind. Never before someone produced a similar yeah, let’s call it ‘hipster’ book about interior design in Iran.
The magic numbers
But when I started looking into the publishing industry I was shocked by the numbers. Especially how little the authors receive from the actual selling price of a book. Depending also on hardcopy or paperback the author’s royalties usually varies between 8 and 15%. Yes, it’s that little! Of course, more established writers do have better deals but the majority are feeding publishers and distributors with their words. Of course, there are the costs of printing, warehousing and so on involved. But in total these only make up around 4-5€ per book.
Digitization also democratized the publishing sector. The number of independent publishers grew and self-publishing became a trend. Amazon as the online bookstore created an easy offer called CreateSpace which manages everything from printing to distribution through its website for new authors. There is one hitch. The author’s royalty share is the same as with big publishing houses. For our book project, the rate would be 14%. Now you can see how Amazon generated a net income of $596 million in 2015.
Why not flip the numbers?
In 2014 CreateSpace’s share for US Amazon sales varied between 50 and 90% of the actual retail price. Of course again they have to pay all production, warehousing and distribution costs but does it not still seem like a pretty high share? To me it did and I calculated the numbers if I was to do everything by myself. I would also leave out Amazon as distribution channel because they would then ask for a 30% share on the listing price. I basically wanted to set up my own little publishing house.
Calculating with a low number of books of 500 and even budgeting in shipping costs on my side, my share would be around 20-25% if I would set up the infrastructure of printing, fulfillment, and marketing. The more books I would sell, the higher my share as the initial investment amortizes. The discussion of whether to allocate the shipping costs to the customer is still not settled. But the decision regarding Amazon/publishers vs self-publishing is clear.
For me, it’s not about demonizing the publishing houses and not wanting to ever work with them. They can be useful on a different level, like when you already have a good track record. When you are in a better position to bargain your royalty deal and also when your book has already been published the way you wanted it to be. This freedom, together with my eagerness to learn every step while setting up my own little publishing house, is even more important to me than all numbers.