KDP, Print on Demand and Printing books in Color

Through the Looking Glass xoloe illustration, Tweedledum's fuss by John Tenniel

"But, but...what do you mean, that it will cost THAT MUCH?!"

Thus begins a discussion that I get to have, repeatedly, with new-to-it self-publishers that have come to us, with a manuscript that they've tended lovingly, worked on, slaved over for months--and have chosen just the perfect image--in color--for some element or the other. A frontispiece, let's say, or just a small graphic detail for the title page.  (You remember the icon-ish graphics for The Hunger Games books, right?)

And what this means is that I get to explain to new publishers that color printing is expensive. I don't care if you're doing traditional publishing (more on that below) or POD (print on demand)--color costs. And it costs a lot.

Color costs. And it costs a lot.

What most new publishers don't realize is that there isn't any way, in POD printing, to only print the color pages (or that one hotly desired color image) on the color machine.  Unfortunately, in print on demand, the entire book interior, start-to-finish, is printed on one machine and one machine only.  

In traditional publishing, you can pay a bit more for design and layout, and your book designer can design your book so that it lays out in 'signatures,' which means that s/he plans the pages for printing together. S/he can lay it out in such a way so that all the color pages can be printed easily, together, and then cropped and included in the final book, with the bulk of the text printed on the regular Black ink printer.  (You can read more about how signatures work, here:  https://pressnostress.com/impositionwizard/tutorials/imposition/booklet/ and you can then envision how book designers can manage to make color-only sections work, for a printed book.)

But, in POD, nobody is doing signatures, nobody will print the pages separately and then collate, combine the book.  That's just not how that goes.   That means that you either pay the freight for 100% color, or you live without.  (On a bright note, you don't need the level of expertise that signature design takes, either, for your book designer.)

 If you're like most would-be self-publishers, you're thinking, "oh, so what?  How much can it really be?"  So, let's run the numbers, shall we? Let's take a typical, 300-page novel, laid out in 6" x9". (n.b.--the trim size is  not taken into consideration when the costs are calculated, so you pay the same for a 5" x8" page as you do an 8.5" x 11" page.)

  • 300-page book, Black ink printing:  printing cost, $4.45. Minimum list price on Amazon.com: $7.42. If the book is on sale for $10.00, your royalty from .com would be $1.55; the book would not be priced high enough to qualify for Expanded Distribution.
  • 300-page book, Color ink printing:  printing cost, $21.85. Minimum list price on Amazon.com: $36.42. If the book is on sale for $10.00--well, it can't be.  If you price your sales price at $40.00, your royalty from .com would be $2.15; the book would not be priced high enough to qualify for Expanded Distribution.  for ED, the book would need to be priced not less than $55.00, and you'd earn a $0.15 royalty from ED. (And $11.15 from Amazon, if anybody was nutty enough to buy it, of course.)

 I know, I know, you think I'm crazy.  No, you think, she can't be right!  Five times as much? (Believe me, the arithmetic multiplier goes up, too.) So, here's the link to Amazon's Royalty Calculator:  https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200735480#royalty_calculator .  Download it yourself; it's an Excel spreadsheet with built-in macros, so if you don't have Microsoft Office/Excel, you probably won't be able to use it, sadly.  Ask a friend to use it for you if that's the case.

We all love color--humans are built that way.  But before you set your heart on that sunset, that icon, that fleuron in pink--be aware of just how much that love will cost you.

Until next time!

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Man standing in the dark next to his computer holding a candle, like Diogenes of Synope

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