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Ask Ron (Featured Columnist)

Aren’t the various publishing services like Author House and Xlibris just printing services?

How’s the old saying go… can’t find the forest for the trees?  This is how I am starting to feel on this subject. I have spent the past 3-4 years harping on the Vanity Press aspect of Author House, Xlibris and other publishers like them.  A quick search on the keyword phrase “Vanity Press” will show publishers who are paying to be listed as vanity presses.  Answers.com, using the Houghton Mifflin dictionary, defines Vanity Press simply as: vanity press - n.  - A publisher that publishes a book at the expense of the author.

Some of the presses listed are:

  • AuthorHouse (formerly 1st Books Library)
  • Booksurge (formerly GreatUnpublished.com)
  • Dorrance
  • iUniverse
  • PublishAmerica
  • Trafford
  • Vantage
  • Xlibris

There are no surprises in the above list of publishers.  They are all publishers, because they own the ISBN’s of the books that they publish.  They all charge a fee to the author for the service of publishing their book. There is a place in the world for the Vanity Press as long as the author knows what they are buying, and what they aren’t.  Some of the above companies practice extremely deceptive advertising in an attempt to lure the naive author to their services and amount to little more than scams.  These companies should be investigated and put out of business. Maybe after Elliot Spitzer runs out of Fortune 500 executives to put in jail, he’ll have time to focus on the vanity publishing industry. But not all “pay to be published” publishers practice deceptive advertising to obtain new customers and are, in fact, extending a service to authors, who are finding it more and more difficult to become traditionally published.

In a recent WBJB Publishing Basics Radio interview with Jan Nathan, the Executive Director of PMA, Jan was asked the question, “What type of publishing (vanity, subsidy, traditional, small press, independent) best describe places like Author House, Xlibris and IUniverse?  Her reply was that she considered them more printers than publishers… POD “People”.  Wow…. Why didn’t I see it that way?  I thought about it for a while and after doing so, the pieces started falling into place. Those of you, who know me, know that I am a printer by trade.  My first website, www.BooksJustBooks.com , dealt with small press and independent self-publishers and was strictly a print buying service.  The online Instant Printing Pricing is still the centerpiece of the original site as well as the new site, www.selfpublishing.com. I expanded into other services to answer a need I saw in the marketplace.   The services I offer now cover every facet of the publishing process from education to marketing.  Other than the ISBN ownership issue, which I still believe is very important for the author and not the publishing service to own, publishing services compared as printing services makes sense.

With that in mind, let’s look at several of the more popular publishing services on the Internet. All these services offer the identical “worldwide distribution” under various names and all have online bookstores associated with their websites. In addition, all sites provide either direct services or associated services for everything from editorial and design to book marketing.  

The first example is based on the average sales figures supplied to me by the former VP of Finance of Xlibris in a Publishing Basics Radio Interview (click her to listen) and are based on an average 256 page book. The other services were either a little over or under the Xlibris sales number.  According to Xlibris, the average book sells 150 copies out of which the author buys 100 for himself and the remaining 50 are split evenly between books sold via the publishing service website and books sold through the Ingram/Lighting Source worldwide distribution program (POD).

1st Published Title

SelfPublishing.com

Lulu

Iuniverse

Xlibris

Author House

150 copies

Setup/Admin Fee

$100.00

$0.00

$459.00

$500.00

$698.00

ISBN****

$225.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

100 author copies

$765.00

$790.00

$932.00

$1,319.00

$848.00

Bookstore Distribution

$69.00

$149.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

Royalty/Profit on 25 books through company website

-$189.00

-$166.00

-$90.00

-$137.00

-$100.00

Royalty/Profit on 25 books through distribution channel

-$99.00

-$46.00

-$40.00

-$55.00

-$43.00

Total cost to author

$871.00

$727.00

$1,261.00

$1,627.00

$1,403.00

 ***** The author owns the ISBN (10) with the SelfPublishing.com option only

2nd Published title

SelfPublishing.com

Lulu

Iuniverse

Xlibris

Author House

150 copies

Setup/Admin Fee

$100.00

$0.00

$459.00

$500.00

$698.00

ISBN

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

100 author copies

$765.00

$790.00

$932.00

$1,319.00

$848.00

Bookstore Distribution

$69.00

$149.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

Royalty/Profit on 25 books through company website

-$189.00

-$166.00

-$90.00

-$137.00

-$100.00

Royalty/Profit on 25 books through distribution channel

-$99.00

-$46.00

-$40.00

-$55.00

-$43.00

Total cost to author

$646.00

$727.00

$1,261.00

$1,627.00

$1,403.00

As you can see from the above comparison, the average author pays significantly more using the Big 3 pay to be published publishers vs. either SelfPublishing.com or Lulu. Lulu has the best price by $144 in this scenario over SelfPublishing.com but Lulu owns the ISBN and not the author.  On an author’s second title SelfPublishing.com is lowest by $81 and the author owns the ISBN.

The second scenario is based on a moderately successful title which sells 1000 copies.  Figured in this example are 750 books being bought by the author to be sold through alternate channels, 50 being sold through the publishing service website and 200 copies being sold via the worldwide distribution network.

SelfPublishing.com

Lulu

Iuniverse

Xlibris

Author House

1000 copies

Setup/Admin Fee

$100.00

$0.00

$459.00

$500.00

$698.00

ISBN

$225.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

750 author copies

$2,955.00

$5,008.00

$5,720

$9,892.00

$5,724.00

Royalty/Profit on 50 books through company website

-$378.00

-$332.00

-$180.00

-$274.00

-$200.00

Royalty/Profit on 200 books through distribution channel

-$792.00

-$368.00

-$80.00

-$110.00

-$340.00

Total cost to author

$2,110.00

$4,308.00

$5,919.00

$10,008.00

$5,882.00

 *****  The author owns the ISBN with the SelfPublishing.com option only

In the above scenario SelfPublishing.com wins hands down.  

In the end, you are the one who is going to make the choice who to use. Remember, writing is a love and publishing is a business.  If you are entering the publishing business, you have to treat it as such.  If you only plan on printing a few copies to show off to your friends and family, one service is as good as another.  If you are self-publishing because you think you have a chance of “making it” in the publishing world, you need to do your homework. Remember, “Knowledge is Power” and “Ignorance in NOT bliss”.  Do your homework and try to look past the smoke and mirrors. You wouldn’t open an auto repair shop without learning something about automobiles. The same thing holds true for publishing.


Thinking of publishing with one of those online Print on Demand publishers? Get an insiders look at the POD, Vanity and Subsidy Press industry by listening to my new PodCast show on Publishing Basics Radio where weekly I help you navigate the self publishing minefield. www.WBJBRadio.com


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Recommended Books on Self Publishing

"Publishing Basics- A Guide for the Small Press and Independent Self-Publisher” by Robert B. Johnson & Ron Pramschufer – FREE
"Publishing Basics for Children's Books” by Iwana Ritabooke - $9.95
"The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 days”by Fern Reiss - $19.95
"The Publishing Game: Publish a book in 30 days” by Fern Reiss - $19.95
"The Publishing Game: Best Seller in 30 Days"by Fern Reiss - $19.95
The Publishing Game – Set of all three books - by Fern Reis - $49.95
"Beyond the Bookstore"by Brian Judd - $49.95
"The Self Publishing Manual” by Dan Poynter - $19.95
"100,000 + Power Phrases”by Bob Johnson - $17.95
"The Literary Law Guide for Authors” by Attorneys Tonya Marie Evans & Susan Borden Evans, Foreword by Dan Poynter - $19.99
"1001 Ways to Market Your Book” by John Kremer - $20.95
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