Blurb Book Talk 2007

Started Jan 5, 2007 | Discussions thread
Nicholas Wilson
Junior MemberPosts: 49
Re: Blurb Book Talk 2007 - bookmakers/sellers
In reply to DavidCanonRebelXt, Jan 30, 2007

I made and sold 300 copies of my photo book in the past two months, but it's probably a special case, and wouldn't work out the same in different circumstances. You can get details about the book at or just google mendocino seventies and hit "I'm feeling lucky."

What makes it a special case is that I've been a photographer in the same small Northern California town for 35 years, and I published a book about people, places and events in the seventies. The book is targeted for people who lived here then. It was a special time when there was a culture change and a mass migration from the cities to the country, the back-to-the-land movement. So it's about an alternative culture community that mainly lasted a little over ten years.

I initially planned to sell only 100 copies, but because of lucky breaks getting free publicity on the local radio station in the local paper, a lot of interest and buzz developed. I quickly changed my plan to print a signed and numbered limited edition of 200 copies. I took advance orders through my website for two months while I produced the book. By the time the books were delivered December 9, I had pre-sold 130 copies with a $10 advance order discount to stimulate sales.

Due to the cost of printing at Blurb, $40 a book for a hard cover 160 page book, I expected to only be able to sell them directly, because in order to sell through a bookstore you normally have to wholesale them at 40% off the cover price. If I made $10 per book and wholesaled them at $50, the bookstore would have to sell them at $83.33 to make their normal profit. I knew that wouldn't fly. Fortunately, I was able to make a deal with a local store to sell them at $59.95 and pay $49.95 wholesale. But this was only because of the special nature of the book and my standing in the community. Essentially the bookstore and I each made $10 per book sold.

The store hosted my inaugural book party, and through a combination of my direct sales and the store we sold out all of the 200 books 8 days before Christmas. NOT a good time to run out of stock! I ordered 50 more books, and Blurb turned them out very quickly, but due to the holiday jam UPS didn't deliver them until the day after Christmas. Fortunately, I had created a special gift certificate greeting card that the bookstore could sell in order to capture some of the gift market despite having no physical books to sell. The card had the book cover image on the front, and on back a special gift certificate saying the card could be redeemed at this store for the book as soon as they came in. The store sold about 30 of those, so when the 50 book 2nd printing arrived, the store immediately took 40 books and I sold 10 more direct, while immediately ordering a third printing of 50 more, which arrived the day after New Year's. I sold the last of those today, making 300 sold in all, with over 100 books sold through the bookstore. Had I not run out of stock before Christmas I probably could have sold 300 by 12/31.

Sales are definitely much slower now than during the holiday rush. One reason is the relatively high $59.95 retail price of the book. If you look around in a good bookstore, you can find many art books of a similar size for much less money, say $29.95. I knew that the high price of my book would make it viable primarily as a holiday gift, which is why I timed it for release in early December. I was right, and quite a few people bought multiple copies for gifts. But the high price definitely limits sales volume, especially in January, when many folks are pretty tapped out.

My experience with Blurb has been excellent. They went the extra mile to get my books printed quickly and delivered to me, and I owe a lot of thanks to Bruce Watermann, Blurb's VP for Print Operations, who participates in this forum, and who went way beyond the call of duty to help me out. The printing and binding quality was just excellent, and I've received many compliments on it. A book review by a longtime bookstore owner said that my book was the first print-on-demand book he had seen that looks just like any other art book in the store. Blurb really delivers on "bookstore quality."

I found Blurb to be an excellent fit for my book project. I think it's perfect for very short runs of special interest books when there's enough demand to justify a high per book price. I don't think it's a good way to go if you expect to sell through bookstores, and certainly not if you want to sell through Amazon, which takes an even deeper discount off the cover price.

I spoke to a local book publisher who said the rule of thumb is that the retail price of a book needs to be about 8 times the manufacturing cost in order to be economically feasible for sale through distributors and chain bookstores. Multiply my $40 cost times 8 and my little book would have to retail for $320!

Other local authors who self-published their art books had them printed in Singapore, Korea or China. One book roughly comparable to mine, a photo book about wild mushrooms, cost about $9 each to print 2000 copies in Korea. It retails for $29.95, with the author handling his own distribution.

I spent close to $12,000 with Blurb for 300 books. I probably could have printed 2,000 books in Asia for $18,000. I might have sold about 500 books instead of 300 due to the lower retail price. Then I'd be storing 1500 books, weighing about 3000 lb. and filling 60 large cardboard boxes weighing 50 lb. each.

My point is that for the right size project, Blurb can be the perfect solution.

Blurb provided the perfect way for me finally publish a book that people have been asking me to do for decades. It was my first book, but it won't be my last. Thanks, Blurb!

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