Each sale of The Fey Man in paperback earns about 40p in royalties

Are Paperbacks Worth It for Indie Authors?

Let’s talk numbers. I know, it’s terribly gauche to talk about money and how much we all earn, but if we don’t talk about it then we’re all ignorant. Besides, this isn’t an attempt at gloating. I’d like to make a serious point here: are paperbacks worth it for an indie author?

Let me show you what I mean. The Fey Man is 374 pages long and priced at $9.99 / £7.99. Amazon take 40% of the list price. They then apply a Fixed Charge which depends on the page count, which is $0.85/£0.70 for The Fey Man. On top of that they apply a Per-Page Charge, which is $4.49/£3.74 for The Fey Man. So whenever I sell a copy, I earn $0.66 ($9.99 – 40% – $0.85 – $4.49), which converts to £0.45. Or, in the UK, from £7.99 I earn £0.35.

Now take a look at ebooks. Amazon have two rates for ebooks dependent on price. Below $2.99 or above $9.99 and it’s 65% (don’t price your ebook at $9.99). But, at $2.99 or more it’s 30%. $2.99 it is! Amazon also take a delivery fee based on the file size, which is $0.11 for The Fey Man. So for each ebook I make $2.02, which converts to roughly £1.30.

(The UK government charge 20% VAT on ebooks so from a £1.99 ebook sale I see £1.04.)

These figures alone suggest the paperback is a waste of time, but don’t forget to factor in the cost of commissioning a spine and back cover from your artist, as well as the cost of ordering prints and the sheer amount of time it takes to format a paperback. And for a measly £0.35? Why bother right?

There are, of course, other benefits to paperbacks. Living in the UK, we still have a huge segment of the population who haven’t adopted ebooks. That pesky VAT keeps ebook prices higher than they ought to be, for a start. So if I stopped producing paperbacks, I’d leave a lot of readers behind. A paperback also makes the ebook a better value proposition: £1.99 looks like a better next to £7.99 than in a vacuum.

I also suspect that paperbacks are seen as a validation. That you’re not a “real” author if you don’t have a paperback. But I wonder if this attitude will last. Will we see a day when paperbacks are relegated to items of luxury? Given the sheer cost of paper, ink and postage, will a day come when authors forgo the paperback and release their books in digital formats only?

It’s happening in the music, film and video game industries. I can see it happening in the book industry too.

But what do you think? Is there a death knell sounding for paperbacks? Or will they be around for many years to come?

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