Self-Publishing Hardcover Books: POD, Royalties, Distribution
Why self-publishers make less money on POD hardcovers. Pricing and royalties compared to offset printing. IngramSpark settings to make more money.
Self-Publishing Hardcover Books: POD, Royalties, Distribution, Bookstores

Self-Publishing Hardcover Books: POD, Royalties, Distribution

Within the reading and publishing community, hardcover books are often considered the pinnacle of prestige and quality. Many readers—especially loyal readers of their favorite author—tend to prefer owning a book in hardcover format.

For the self-funding, self-published author, a hardcover edition is a worthy goal, but we play by a different rulebook compared to traditional publishers.

This article explains the economics of hardcover publishing, important differences between traditionally published hardcovers and self-published hardcovers, and the challenges and options for self-publishers who wish to publish hardcover books, especially print-on-demand (POD) hardcovers.

Why do publishers release hardcover books before the paperback?

There are several reasons, but the primary one is that traditional publishers make significantly more money publishing a hardcover book compared to a paperback.

Traditional publishers print books in volume, usually thousands of copies at a time, called a print run. They can do this via offset printing, which yields the highest quality and provides numerous design and paper options, or they can order the run digitally. Like most manufacturing processes, costs-per-unit decrease based on volume.

What’s interesting is that the difference in offset manufacturing costs between hardcover and paperback is relatively small. Add to this several additional advantages that hardcovers enjoy.

  • As mentioned in the opening, readers of print books generally prefer hardcovers and are willing to spend the extra money. And if they love an author, they’re not going to wait for the paperback.
  • Reviewers and award programs prefer hardcovers. We’re not talking about hobbyist bloggers, but award programs and major book reviewers from the literary establishment prefer to receive, or sometimes insist on receiving, hardcovers.
  • Libraries prefer hardcovers because they are more durable and can withstand repeated loans.
  • At brick-and-mortar bookstores, hardcovers are easier to display and hold their position on the shelf.

But bottom line, hardcovers sell at almost twice the price of paperback equivalents but cost much less than twice the price to produce. This is why you often see deep discounts for new hardcovers. There’s more margin.

Can self-published authors publish hardcover books that compete with those from large publishers?

Absolutely. The option of a print run is not reserved for traditionally published books. Anyone that has the money and a warehouse to store the books can do the same.

Self-publishers might print as few as 2,000 or so copies, but the economics are similar. Here are a few cost examples; all three include dust jackets:

  1. 6” x 9”, 384 pages, black and white: $3.10 per book when printing 4,000 copies.
  2. 6” x 9”, 336 pages (24 color pages): $6.88 per book for 2,000 copies.
  3. 9” x 10”, 256 pages, full color: $5.06 per book for 2,000 hardcover and 2,500 paperback copies (called a split-run).

Two important things to note:

  • Some books, such as number three, simply cannot be produced using POD, due to the dimensions and paper requirements. POD efficiencies stem from sticking to standard sizes and materials.
  • You are investing several thousand dollars up front to bring the unit cost down. The importance of this will be clearer a little further on in this article.

Budgets, design requirements, and sales potential influence whether this is the best option for your book. You must be confident you will sell enough to break even.

POD hardcover books vs. print runs

When do POD hardcover books make sense?

  1. Obviously, when investing several thousand dollars in a print run is not financially possible, or where the risk of selling enough copies to break even is high, POD is a solid option.
  2. If the design requirements for your book are modest, POD is a great solution. The downsides are that you are limited to standard sizes and only certain paper options. But the bigger constraint will be the cost of color printing.

With POD, the price for color assumes every page has color. Consequently, the manufacturing cost is much higher for POD color compared to offset color printing.

  1. A third reason to embrace POD for hardcovers is that it greatly simplifies distribution. A POD hardcover printed by IngramSpark or Amazon KDP is automatically listed for sale in online bookstores such as Amazon and (It also requires no storage!)

Offset-printed books need to be accepted by a distribution service (and warehoused), which may add to costs and which requires more management. (We assist self-publishers with this service. Please schedule a consult session if you need assistance.)

Hardcover royalties

As explained in our Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print, royalties for self-published books cannot be determined until you first compute manufacturing and distribution costs.

Manufacturing costs for POD hardcovers

We’ll use the examples of offset-printed books previously mentioned to illustrate the cost differences when printing these at IngramSpark. (A little further down, we cover more specifics about IngramSpark vs. Amazon KDP hardcovers.)

Using the IngramSpark print and ship calculator, these are the POD hardcover costs:

  1. 6” x 9”, 384 pages, black and white: $12.72 each (vs. $3.10 per offset book).
  2. 6” x 9”, 336 pages (24 color pages): $16.82 each (vs. $6.88 per offset book).

(Note that book three above cannot be produced by IngramSpark due to its non-standard dimensions, so there is no comparison.)

Distribution and selling costs

We’ve reached the most important section of this article: the costs of selling books.

The standard discount for books sold in bookstores is 40%. Bookstores get books from wholesalers, namely Ingram, and Ingram charges 15%. This total of 55% is also what Amazon charges publishers.

This means the publisher (you) is left with 45% of the retail price, from which they pay all their expenses, including manufacturing costs.

Using the IngramSpark publisher compensation calculator, and staying with the above two examples, we see the impact of distribution costs on retail pricing.

  1. 6” x 9”, 384 pages, black and white. The minimum retail price is $28.27.
  2. 6” x 9”, 336 pages (24 color pages). The minimum retail price is $37.38.
  • At those prices, the publisher receives no royalty—in fact, the publisher receives no money to pay for the cost of producing the book.
  • You also have to ask yourself if the retail price is competitive with other books the reader can choose from.

Keep in mind those much-higher POD printing charges are for a book with far lower quality.

Compare this to the hardcover royalties possible for the offset-printed book

Now we begin to see the advantages of offset printing. If you can lower the manufacturing cost, you can not only price your book competitively, but you can also make money (and royalties) for your publishing venture.

Let’s look at potential profits per book if we use offset printing costs and the minimum pricing from the prior example:

  1. 6” x 9”, 384 pages, black and white. At $28.27 retail, a profit of $9.62.
  2. 6” x 9”, 336 pages (24 color pages). At $37.38 retail, a profit of $9.94.

IngramSpark and Amazon KDP hardcover options

What is the key difference between IngramSpark and Amazon hardcovers? IngramSpark can print hardcovers with dust jackets.

Both printers can print what’s called “case laminate” hardcovers, where the cover is printed on the hard boards of the book. Think Hardy Boys books.

This is also a popular option for children’s books and cookbooks.

In the case of IngramSpark, they can print case laminate with or without a dust jacket.

How self-publishers can leverage POD hardcover books

While selling POD hardcovers in a bookstore makes little sense for most self-publishers, it doesn’t mean you should ignore or forgo the format. Here are several things to consider.

  1. The cost to create a hardcover is relatively low once your book has been designed for paperback. All you need is a new cover file for the dust jacket and content for the flaps. The interior file is the same for both formats.
  2. You might not sell many, but your loyal readers are often willing to pay extra for a hardcover.
  3. You can use hardcovers as special gifts and signed editions. Perhaps copies for those in your acknowledgments, or for selling direct to readers from your website or at an event.
  4. Here’s a tip that might increase online sales, not to mention profits: instead of choosing the 55% discount option to support stores that likely won’t be ordering your book, choose the minimum discount: 30% (35% in most international markets).

Readers can still walk into a bookstore to order the book, but your profit will be much higher and/or you can reduce your retail price.

Note: Only IngramSpark allows you to set discounts. Amazon has no such setting.

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