If you’re a self-publishing author, chances are the title of this piece made you sit up and take notice. You and I both know that the biggest disadvantage indie authors face is a near-total lack of access to the hallowed temples of retail known as “brick-and-mortal bookstores.” Amazon and iTunes are all very well and good, but if you’re anything like me, you don’t quite feel like you’ve really made it unless you can sneak into your local Barnes and Noble and giggle at seeing your own name peering back at you from the shelf.
Blurb, one of the older and more technologically robust self-publishing services out there, wants to help you solve that gaping hole in your lonely little heart. They’ve partnered up with Ingram, the master catalogue from which booksellers buy their stock, to list self-published titles created through the Blurb platform. This significantly smooths out the ordering process for book shops, and authors will even be able to offer discounts to entice purchasing agents to snag a few copies. Blurb does a significant amount of its business in overseas markets, which means that authors will have a chance to lure in international readers in addition to growing a local following.
Blurb CEO Eileen Gittins is naturally pretty excited about the new service, which coincides with an expansion of its trade book publishing options and an ebook update to one of its design suites. “The elements are now all in place for independent authors to design, market and sell their digital and print books – at a healthy margin – via global distribution to booksellers both online and at retail,” Gittins said in a press release. “It’s a happy day for both Blurb authors and Blurb employees too; delivering this extensive a range of offerings is a big deal for everyone.”
But let’s put aside the feel-good factor for a moment and take a look at some of the cold, hard figures behind all of this. First of all, we need to consider the market for books. Where are people buying most of their content? If you guessed “Amazon,” then you’re right. The decline and fall of the brick-and-mortar empire isn’t just a go-to topic for bored news site editors with nothing else to say. It’s a real thing that’s happening.
Putting aside the ignoble death of Borders, it’s pretty clear to see that Amazon is doing quite well in the book trade. Even if independent book store sales match the $4.5 billion that B&N is selling, it’s still safe to say that Amazon has at least as wide a reach as physical locations (and likely much, much more). If your customers are already on Amazon and they’re passing your book by, you might not be broadening your chances of exposure as much as you think by getting your book on the shelf.
Secondly, you’re going to pay more by printing through Blurb – at least in some circumstances. The Last Death of Tev Chrisini is a long book, and therefore an expensive one, but let’s use it as an example. To buy 30 copies of The Last Death from Createspace, its current publisher, I will pay $190 (plus shipping) using my author discount. For the same number of copies from Blurb, the base manufacturing price is $288. If I’m just going to take my books and go sell them at a lemonade stand in front of my house, then it’s obvious which publisher offers the better deal.
But if we get a little more mathematical (bear with me), then Blurb doesn’t sound so bad after all. If I want to list my Blurb book on Ingram, I need to pay that base manufacturing price of $288 (or whatever your book turns out to be). I also need to add a discount that is steep enough to entice Ingram book buyers to invest in me. Let’s say that’s 50 percent. If we use the numbers below…
…then I’m making a lot more off a Blurb book than I do from Createspace royalties, and the retailer is making about twice as much as I am (assuming they end up selling the book for the suggested $15.00 price). That sounds good, especially if you’re a book store that isn’t too sure about this whole new-fangled independent publishing malarkey.
So is it worth it? Assuming my math is right, then maybe so. If you’re looking for a publishing outlet, you could probably do worse than Blurb (especially if your book caters to international readers, which seems to be a fairly big focus of the announcement).
It may be more meaningful as an abstract: self-publishing if finally breaking through into traditional distribution channels, and the difference between big press publishing and independent authors is even narrower now than it was before. That’s good news for everyone, including book stores that are struggling to keep their heads above water. Will more indie publishing platforms follow Blurb’s lead to court Ingram’s vast purchasing reach? I certainly hope that this is only the beginning.