Most self-published paperback and hardback books are published as print-on-demand (POD), where a copy is only printed once it has been ordered and paid for. This makes it much cheaper – even free – to publish a physical book.
In former times if you wanted to self-publish, you had to pay for a large minimum print run typically costing thousands of dollars, and it was then up to you to sell them.
The downside with print-on-demand is that quality can be lower or inconsistent, individual unit cost is higher because there’s no economy of scale (plus distribution costs that the platform charges), and postage costs can be an issue, unless your POD company has local printing presses in each country.
About distribution costs
The price for which you, the author, can directly order copies is far lower than the price that readers will pay if they order your book online.
This is because platforms charge distribution costs. Lulu charges 50-65% of the list price. Amazon KDP Print has a 40% fee on Amazon, 60% for others. BookBaby has a slightly different model. It charges a flat fee of USD$399 per title but no additional distribution cost. Ingram Spark provides a helpful calculator for its costs here.
This means that the cost to a reader for your paperback book is going to be at least around AUD$15 + postage before you as the author even make a profit.
You can of course print copies of your book and sell them directly through your own website, but postage is still expensive in Australia. Another option is to try taking them to a bookstore or having a market stall, which can be an effective option for authors with books of local interest.
Set up cost
|Lulu offers print-on-demand globally. It provides an optional free ISBN, and it lists your book both on its own site (where you get a higher royalty) as well as Amazon. If you buy copies of your own book, they’re at the manufacturing price, but when sold through Lulu or Amazon, the base price is much higher so you’ll need to set your margin above that.
|US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Netherlands
|Basic unit price ~$10 depending on format/size
Amazon KDP Print
|Formerly CreateSpace, this has now been absorbed into Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), providing a single place to create your Kindle eBook and paperback. It is probably the simplest method. There’s no hardcover option yet.
|Unit price from USD$5
|Ingram Spark is the most professional and established platform for publishing print-on-demand books. It has the widest distribution network, which includes libraries and bookstores. It has the highest quality printing and the unit cost is often lowest. Ingram used to charge a $49 set up free but from 1 May 2023 it became free, with a 1% global distribution fee. It has also ended revision charges for the first sixty days.
|US, UK, Australia, then via partnerships most of Europe, India, Russia, China, South Korea
|Free set up (before May 2023 this was $49) and free revisions for 60 days
|Unit price from $5
|BookBaby is another option positioning itself at the higher quality end of the market. It claims to offer higher royalties than other POD providers. It also has a range of associated services, such as editing, cover design and marketing consultation. It will distribute to Amazon. If you have the money, and you want a bit more hand-holding, it’s a possible option, but shipping is expensive to Australia.
|~USD$100 to set up and ship a single proof copy
You can access a colourful summary sheet of this page here.