In last week’s post, I covered how to create Advance Review Copies (ARCs) of your book. I also gave you several compelling reasons why ARCs are a great book marketing resource. Today, I want to build on that post by providing an actual case study for an ARC I recently created for a client. I’ll share with you the various printing and publishing platforms that were considered, costs for the different options, and what the final verdict was on who we selected and why.

Being that the subject book is yet to be released as of this writing, I will keep the author and title confidential. Rest assured, however, what you’re about to read is direct data and information related to the ARC for this book. I hope you find the data and research provided useful in your own consideration of producing an ARC of your next book.

The Book

My client’s book is a novel of nearly 350 pages (344 to be exact). The interior is 100% black and white, but with crisp, detailed images at the header of each chapter. It’s a work of art really. As is the cover, which he created himself with a bit of help from a friend. In all seriousness, I cannot wait for this book to launch as I know it’s going to be a best seller! Who knows, it may even be made into a TV show at some point.

When we first began the project, we investigated similar books on the market and arrived at a 6”x9” trim size. This is an industry standard size and won’t garner additional cost in producing the final book when it’s launched in early 2019. Incidentally, the launch date was pushed out after discussing it with a publicist he is now working with. And, as I mentioned in my previous post on ARCs, being mindful of your timeline can be super critical!

Both the ARC and the final print copy will have a “perfect bound” binding, which means it has a glued spine with a color laminated cover of heavy cardstock. So, there you have it. All the facts you will need to research what your book will cost to print: page count, interior color or b&w, trim size, and binding type. Of course, there are a few more options that pop up on various platforms, but those are the critical items you need to know.

Specifications

Outside of the basic facts I listed above, you will undoubtedly run across several differences in specifications of the materials various companies use to print your books. Mainly paper weight. I found it surprising the various paper weight options that were or, in some cases, were not available. While it doesn’t make a lot of difference when printing an ARC copy, paper weight can make or break a final printed copy of your book. Too light and your 400-page book won’t be durable or take notes and highlights well. Too heavy and your readers may put it down due to arm fatigue. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

When comparing costs, I tried to hold to an 80# cover stock with a laminated, gloss finish and 60# interior paper – uncoated. Some companies have ranges on either side of these numbers, others do not. So, when doing your homework, understand that comparing apples to apples is somewhat difficult. Upgrading paper stock for the cover or interior can easily cost you a few cents per copy to several dollars. Be sure to know what you’re getting when requesting ARC quotes!

Budget

As with anything you’re doing to give away, keeping costs to a minimum is job one. You also want to get as much bang for your buck as possible. And, once you see the numbers below, you’ll probably be surprised at the vast cost differences between companies.

As you work to establish a budget for your ARC copies, keep in mind that many book reviewers, journalists, and bloggers much prefer a digital copy over a print copy. This is a boon for you as you can easily send them a PDF or ePub version of your ARC. This saves you printing and shipping costs as well as a lot of time! Therefore, make contacts early and find out who will give you a review and what format they prefer. This will give you an idea of how many ARC copies you will need to print and help you establish a budget.

If you’re working with a publicist, ask them how many copies they recommend be printed. If the number seems extreme, ask them to elaborate on why. Remember, it’s your money, not theirs, and if an ePub or PDF is acceptable, there’s no reason to print unused copies of ARCs.

Be Mindful of Extra Charges

All of that said, my client established a $200 budget for his ARCs. This was after careful research and confirmation through his publicist. Keep in mind that if the printing cost is, say, $5 per book, you’re not going to get $200 ÷ 5 = 40 copies. No, shipping is not free or cheap on printed books. And, some platforms/printers charge handling fees. Tax will also be added depending on what state (or country) you live in. All these “extra charges” reduce the total number of copies you will receive.

A few other places to trim your expenses on ARCs is to eliminate the number of pages in your book by reducing the font size and/or line spacing slightly. Beyond that, opt for a matte finish cover instead of gloss. Or, as mentioned above, use lighter weight paper for the cover and interior pages. Reviewers generally won’t care about these minute changes, but your readers will definitely notice!

Platforms and Printers Considered

I like to keep things as simple as possible for myself and my clients. So, when I went to research various platforms for printing the ARC copies, I opted first to look at known print-on-demand (POD) companies and expanded my search from there.

The POD companies that were considered included: Lulu, CreateSpace, IngramSpark, BookBaby, and Barnes & Noble (Nook). A few others were investigated but were very cost prohibitive, so they fell off the list quickly. Beyond POD, I investigated local print shops and several printing companies online including: DiggyPOD, Advanced Print & Finishing, CMYK Graphics, 48 Hour Books, and Smartpress.

Local and Overseas Printers Eliminated

Note that local print shops and overseas printing options were very cost prohibitive and, therefore, eliminated from consideration. While not a completely exhaustive search, the local print shops and overseas printing companies we investigated were not equipped to manage small runs of books. And, buy small runs, I mean orders of less than 500-1,000 copies.

The few local shops we found who could handle small runs (100 copies or less), charged a premium per unit (sometimes 3x the cost of the POD estimates you will see below) and were eliminated from consideration. Even though 100 copies of a book printed oversees was sometimes 50% of what was found stateside, the shipping cost and speed, or lack thereof, put them out of consideration as well.

Online Printers Eliminated

I named 5 online printing companies above. Of course, if you scour Google, you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds. However, after looking at these 5 and a few others, it was clear there was no way my client’s budget would be met using any of them. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we found:

Online Print Company Comparison of ARC printing

As you can see, 48 Hour Books is the only one that comes in anywhere close to the client’s budget of $200 and that only provides him with 10 copies. You can also see that costs are all over the place when it comes to costs per book. Keep in mind that even though tax was not quoted from the online quotes given above, most states in the US do collect sales tax and these companies will most likely add that at checkout.

I should also point out that 4 of the 5 companies above had required minimums. Only Advance Print & Finishing did not. Just for fun, I put 1 copy in the quote form and the cost was $729 not including shipping! Buyer beware for sure.

Final Platforms Considered

After eliminating local, online, and overseas printing options, only the POD companies remained. So, what did we find while investigating these options? The good news is, POD is very competitive across the board when compared against the other options. This is most likely do to them being set up to create small runs of books – even one at a time – and still make money doing it.

The downside to using POD is that costs can still be expensive per book and some require ISBNs and barcodes on the back covers. You may recall from my last post where I cautioned that you definitely don’t want the registered ISBN to be associated with the ARC. I will explore this in more detail below and explain how we are dealing with this issue. For now, let me give you what you’ve been waiting for – the numbers!

Print on Demand Company Comparison of ARC printing

And the Winner is…

Not so fast! It’s relatively easy to see the numbers above and pick an obvious winner. However, let me explain a little more about what the chart doesn’t tell you. What’s missing is the ISBN and barcode requirements for each company. I, as a professional publisher, prefer to not have the ISBN (in barcode form) or barcode (price code) printed on the back cover of an ARC. My main fear is that the ISBN will somehow become associated with the ARC as the first edition of the book. And, we definitely don’t want anyone ordering a copy of an ARC when they intended on purchasing the final version.

So, of the 5 POD companies above, only Bookbaby and Lulu allow you to print an ARC without a barcode or ISBN on the back cover. However, Bookbaby is prohibitively expensive compared to the other services based on our budget requirements. Therefore, the Baby got booted. Barnes & Noble was eliminated due to its inability to give us a comparable quote, even though its unit cost is reasonable and in line with most of the other services. Perhaps a kind reader has more information on the elusive Nook owner and would oblige us in the comments.

Ingram Spark is relatively competitive per unit cost, but their shipping is quite a bit higher than the rest. Add to that the $1.99 handling fee which we feel should be included in their unit cost, and it’s a bit too much to stomach. Therefore, IngramSpark was eliminated.

And Then There Were Two

This leaves us Lulu and CreateSpace. Both are viable options, and Lulu gains a slight advantage with them not requiring ISBN and barcode info. However, CreateSpace offers more copies for almost the same cost. Therefore, after lengthy consideration, my client and I both agreed that CreateSpace would be the best option since this is where his print version will be housed – at least initially. But what about the barcode and ISBN on the back cover?

See update below!

Dealing with the ISBN and Barcode Issue

I’ve already mentioned my concerns with having this information on the back cover of an ARC. And, I’ll add to that by stating ARCs are never meant to be sold. Or resold, for that matter. However, I recently saw where an ARC copy of Catching Fire (second book in The Hunger Games series) by Suzanne Collins was sold for $70! So, as you can see, barcode or not, some folks will profit from ARC copies of your book despite your best efforts.

After discussing this with my client, we both agreed it wouldn’t be a horrible thing to include the ISBN and barcode on the back cover as long as the other elements were there stating it was, indeed, an ARC copy. However, I went one step beyond this and researched other publishers who had also included this information. The consensus was that one title would be setup for the ARC and allow CreateSpace to assign a free ISBN which would become a “throwaway” since the ARC would never be released for sale. Once this is done, the ARC copy can be approved and all sales channels disabled. Then, as many copies of the ARC can be ordered as needed.

Once the ARC copies are in hand, a pre-printed sticker would be applied over the ISBN/barcoded data. These stickers would include “ADVANCE REVIEW COPY – NOT FOR RESALE” and perhaps the release date, anticipated price, and/or any other metadata the author chooses to include. While stickers can be removed, it’s clear when received by the reviewer that it is definitely an ARC copy.

Retire your ARC

Now, once the need for ARCs is over, and the release date is approaching for the final book, you will need to ask CreateSpace to “retire” the ARC copy of the book. The reason for this is because if you simply upload the final cover and interior files within the same project, your release date becomes the date the ARC was published, not the release date you want for the first version. Finally, set up a new project/title with a new ISBN and non-ARC edition of the book and cover. Get it approved and enable sales channels when the launch date rolls around. It’s a little cumbersome I’ll admit, but when it’s all said and done, my client ends up with 5 additional ARC copies of his book over what Lulu would have cost, that is, less the minute cost of printing the stickers.

See update below!

What about KDP?

Yes, as a publisher, I am aware KDP now offers paperback book publishing. For the purposes of this case study, it had already been determined that CreateSpace would be the platform of choice of the final version of this particular book. There are many articles online comparing the various pros and cons of these two platforms, and that’s not the intent of this particular post. Perhaps I will cover that in another article.

For now, I will show you what this particular book would cost to print on KDP. Be aware KDP is much more complicated to determine what it will cost to print your book versus CreateSpace. Here’s their formula: Fixed Cost + (Page Count * Per Page Cost) = Printing Cost

Using the charts they provide on the US-based Amazon site, a 344-page book has a fixed cost of $0.85 and a per page cost of $0.012. Therefore, your printing cost would be: $0.85 + (344 pages x $0.012) = $4.98. So, as you can see, it’s almost exactly the same per book cost on KDP and CreateSpace. Tax collected should be the same since it is based on your state’s sales tax rate. Shipping is the unknown variable here as KDP does not publish shipping rates. It is also unknown if CreateSpace and KDP share printing facilities, so it could be problematic to assume the shipping cost would be the same for both platforms since they may be shipping from different locations to your zip code. That said, I doubt it varies greatly, and if you prefer KDP over CreateSpace, by all means, go with your first choice.


Final Thoughts

I’ve covered a lot of ground in this case study, but I hope you find it helpful and informative as you plan out the path for your ARC printing. If you’re wanting to know how to determine your own costs for printing on each of the POD platforms we have mentioned above, just click on one of the links below to be carried to their respective pricing pages where you can enter your own book specifications:

Barnes & Noble
BookBaby
CreateSpace
IngramSpark
Lulu

Finally, if you need assistance formatting your ARC into book form, Softpress performs this service at a very reasonable cost. Just Contact Us for more information.

Update! As of 8/28/2018, Amazon has announced it will be “merging” CreateSpace with KDP. Essentially, CreateSpace is going away and this is a sad day for many self-publishing authors, myself included. With this change, Softpress can no longer recommend CreateSpace as a viable alternative to printing your ARCs. And, it doesn’t appear KDP Print will allow you to do this either. Why? Your book must now be “live” on Amazon for you to order personal copies. This means your ARC would be, for all intents and purposes, “for sale” to the general public – which is not something that is desirable when creating ARCs. The jury is still out on printing costs as KDP has made it clear that, although they are using the same facilities, people, and equipment as CreateSpace to print books, they will be charging more for certain, low page-count books. More on KDP printing costs HERE. Therefore, I am now recommending Lulu as your go-to source for printing ARC copies of your book. I will provide additional updates as KDP Print and Amazon release new information.

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