The process of self publishing a book has been an incredibly steep learning curve. The relationships between the choice of materials, the size of the book and the ultimate 'unit' price is not a straightforward affair. Then there's the issue of how many books should be produced as part of the print run. Economies of scale are significant but I'm not that keen on having piles of unsold books in my house for years.
Quotes, quotes and more quotes!
Since October of last year I've had a total of 25 separate quotes, from the ever patient Greg at Wells Printing, for printing the book as I searched for the right combination of materials, size, print run and price to make something that worked. Four different print volumes for each quote gave me one hundred different costs for the book.
Case Bound? PUR bound? Embossed cover? Foil block lettering? Paper? Freelife Satin? Magno Satin? Tatami? Size? 11"x9"? 13"x11"? 12"x9.6"? End papers? Foil colour? Headband design? Each combination gives a new quote to consider so I compiled a spreadsheet showing the cost for each option, the resultant expected retail price, break even sales needed at the recommended retail price and break even needed at an average retail price in case I needed to reduce the book at all.
So many numbers and no real gauge of the real thing that matters, how many would it be possible to sell?
All these considerations sit against a backdrop of artist insecurity. Is my work good enough for a book? Am I just being egotistical about this? It was only when I got close to launching the pre-orders that I made my final decision and became confident enough to underwrite the whole cost of printing. I knew that once I'd launched the pre-orders, there was no turning back. I had to go through with the print run even if just one or two of my close friends bought the book.
For this project, the form factor and feel of the book is important to me. If I was going to stick my neck out and self publish then I really wanted something that showed the photographs off to their very best. And that means at a decent size and case bound (hardback). Something that felt good to hold and also that people would be proud to put on their book shelves.
Yet all of the costing spreadsheets suggested that the sensible decision was probably to produce a softbound book with some textured card as the cover. That would yield a book with what I felt was a realistic price of around £30 or less.
Tarn tales II, available as a free print during the pre-order period
In February of this year I heard that my first choice person to write the foreword for the book, Joe Cornish, had agreed to do so. Based on an early pdf file and some support from On Landscape's Tim Parkin, Joe reacted positively and wanted to meet up to discuss it. I was ecstatic about this, I think this was the turning point that gave me some real confidence about the project. This book was something that Joe would put his name to and that meant so much to me.
To solve the final conundrum of pricing I've done two things:
Firstly I've reduced the margin on the book, meaning that I'll have to sell more in order to break even. But I'm comfortable with this, it doesn't have to break even in a very short period of time. Also I'm aware this isn't a simply a 'spreadsheet' decision. Lower prices means that more will buy, but its hard to quantify that.
Of much more significance, in the two weeks leading up to the pre-order launch I received some sponsorship for the book, the combination of these things means that I can retail the standard book at £32, approximately £8 less than I would have been able to without it. And with a free print! For that I'd really like to thank:
Without this generous support there would have been no way to keep the retail price at a reasonable level, one that competes with publishers of books with much higher volumes.