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As any publisher knows, pricing a book is not a simple black-and-white process of covering print and shipping costs then adding a reasonable return on investment. Every book is different, and publishers must account for the type of book from academic to trade title, press size, target audience, author payment, peer review pricing, marketing and distribution costs, and more. Here are just a few of the things publishers consider when determining the true cost of book publishing.

Book pricing considerations

Without high-quality expert content, publishers have no books. That’s why they put a great amount of effort toward finding the best writers to produce that content. Attracting talent may take enticements such as advances and royalties or, as in the case of academic and scholarly publishing, the university press’s reputation or prestige of the university backing the research. To win the best authors, a publisher may also need to invest in a high-profile presence at various trade and association conferences and exhibitions as well as a strong social media presence.

Other contributors to the cost of publishing are expenses for core activities, including acquisitions, editing, design, production, and marketing. Don’t forget about the publisher’s infrastructure costs, including rent, utilities, and maintenance as well as those for legal services.

Prices also vary according to the types of books publishers produce. Trade titles focus on certain niches, and publishers target them toward non-academic audiences with interest in the topics at hand. On the other hand, scholarly books are research-based publications academics produce for academics. Libraries are often the biggest market for scholarly books whereas trade titles tend to have wider general audiences.

So, how do publishers break trade and scholarly title costs down?

Dollars and cents

A 2016 study of two University Presses, University of Michigan and Indiana University, found their average costs per title were $27,576 and $26,714, respectively.

However, these estimates covered production costs, not full-run publishing expenses. Production cost is the price to produce the first copy, not counting printing and royalties. Publishing costs, on the other hand, include both as well as production not only in terms of the frontlist — the books published during the first calendar year — but also the backlist. The backlist is the list of books more than a year old that publishers produce, and this part of the publishing business is usually profitable. By taking into consideration all publishing costs, per-title costs are a lot less.

According to Jed Lyons, CEO of academic, text, and trade book publisher Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, the cost breakdown of the company’s average $12 printed and shipped book is

  • $7.20 for labor, marketing, travel, rent, and similar employee and infrastructure costs;
  • $3.60 for printing; and
  • $1.20 for the author.

With these figures in mind, how do publishers ensure their books make it to continued publication on the backlist for a better chance at profitability?

Staying profitable

Operating a profitable book publishing company today requires constant analysis and adjustment as well as the ability to streamline processes. It might mean striking a new balance between author quality and editorial cost savings. It could mean exploring new digital technologies, print-on-demand options, and mobile apps. Some publishers are also opting to make publishing acquisitions that boost their backlists to increase profitability.

Staying profitable requires constant vigilance and adjustment to changing publishing technologies and trends. Seek the help of publishing experts to see how you can offset some of the costs of book publishing and remain a sustainable and profitable operation.

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