Baggage Claim

Hello, I’m Oliver (aka SuitCase.) Visit the comic I help make, dig around my old website, tweet at me, ask me stuff on Spring.me or email me.

Making Money with a Book is Not a Bad Idea

This is the final part of a series of posts about making Bittersweet Candy Bowl Volume One. Please read: the introduction, part one and part two.

Let’s bring this long, arduous journey to its conclusion.

Money. How much did we make? Was it worth it?

I’ll be super open here. I’m not quite as skilled at this as Dorothy Gambrell, nor am I as organised, but I do have numbers for the book.

But first, vague guesses.

My guess about where 2011 profit would come from

This was my original back-of-a-napkin (well, back-of-a-contracts-problem-question-sheet) conception of where we’d make our money this year. At the time I was figuring out what the membership idea was going to be (turned out to be a wonderfully successful little paid-fan-club thing, Bittersweet Club International) and I only had this vague idea of how we’d sell the book, perhaps Lulu, perhaps Createspace, but probably not anything where we’d have to stock hundreds. Each quadrant was supposed to represent about $7,000.

But the pie chart is all wrong, now. Here’s my projection for 2011’s actual sources of revenue:

The probably reality of 2011

The book has blown up and made everything else smaller (non-book merch is only about 5% of the big khaki slice). We grew the pie!

It took time and money, though. We didn’t expect to have to spend $13,000 to make a book to sell. Here’s that table again, of how much it cost to get it together.

Table of book costs.

We had to spend all that before we officially put the book on sale. We managed it pretty easily, though, with no Kickstarter or anything. Our printer took credit cards just fine, so most of the run was funded by Chase and Citibank’s largesse, with bills to be paid well after the books were delivered. More importantly, we gathered about 280 preorders, which amounted to $14,000 due to the big sketch & limited edition ideas.

Now, there are some added per-unit costs not accounted for in this chart. You know, the money that comes out of the $39 (our store) or $49 (Amazon) we charge for a copy.

First of all, you can round down the net revenue to about $37 per copy sold on either site. Amazon’s commission is about $12, but they do pay your credit card fees and ship it for you. Paypal merely take $2 for items sold direct through our store, and we charge the customer $4 for our actual shipping cost. So effectively, even though Amazon’s copy is priced $10 higher, every copy we sell makes us $37 once it’s on the way to the customer and the money’s in the bank account.

The major ongoing cost comes in the Fulfilment by Amazon program. It’s really not too bad, but there are a few different fees beyond their eminently reasonable shipping costs. (On par with media mail.)

To summarise:

  • They force you to sign up for the $39/mo professional plan to add new products
  • They charge a monthly fee for the space your items are taking up
  • They charge a big annual fee when your items have sat in the warehouse for over a year.

The initial monthly fee I just folded into the book production costs. A few months, then back to a standard account. Easy.

Now, the ongoing fee for space is pretty reasonable. Of the 1400 books Amazon received, we’ve got rid of about 400 of them through customer orders or the shipment to our relay to Canada. (See the previous post for details on that.) And a book of ours takes up 0.08 cubic feet.

So how does that work out for our 1000 books sitting in the warehouse? Well: in the holiday months, $48 a month. Non-holiday, $36. A little more than negligible, but pretty reasonable — for the book that sits in the facility for a year, it costs you 50 cents. That’s fair.

The real kick in the guts comes when the books have sat there for over a year and you get the new “Long-Term Storage Fee”. This would be $3,600 for a thousand books. (Eek!) I’m hoping by then, we’ll be down to only a few hundred in stock. At $3.60 a book, it’s ugly but manageable. But we’ve got a lot of time before we have to deal with it.

But that’s really it! Apart from Amazon’s selling fees, the PayPal fees, and the FBA fees above, everything is pure profit. And so it should be, for all the effort involved!

And here’s the reward. The revenue.

At the time of this post, we’ve sold right on about 450 books. Included in this 450:

  • 192 × standard books sold directly to US readers ($39 RRP, $37 net)
  • 125 × sketch books ($59 RRP, $56 net)
  • 75 × limited edition books ($59 RRP, $52 net)
  • 25 × discounted Amazon copies for preorderers ($42 RRP, $32 net)
  • 25 × full-priced Amazon copies ($49 RRP, $37 net)
  • 8 × copies sold at ConnectiCon ($39 RRP, $36 net)

Right about $20,000 in revenue. If we work things out by just paying off the $13,000 outlay and then counting every dollar afterwards as our profit, we’re about $7,000 in the green.

That should get to $13,000 after our pixellated sales drive gets us to 600 copies. (600 copies and we’ve doubled our investment, that’s the idea.) Maybe we’ll get to $18,000 if we get a Christmas rush of 100+ extra sales beyond that.

Assuming my estimates are on track and we make that money, by the end of 2011 we’ll still have about 800 books left to sell. That’s $30,000 worth of stock left to sell in 2012, at full price, or perhaps $20,000 if we assume we’ll do bundle deals when Volume Two is out and sell the leftover copies cheaper.

To recap: we risked $13,000 and spent a lot of time making and selling the book, and:

  • As of today, we’ve made $7,000.
  • As of the end of 2011, we’ll have likely made $18,000.
  • As of the end of 2012, we’ll have possibly made $38,000.

This is starting to feel like real money, huh! And if we build the reader base even further, and get a smaller Volume Two out the door for a lower price, who knows what is possible for us next year!

That brings this little series to an end. It’s most of what I learned, and all I can think of posting for the world to learn from. I hope the posts have been of some interest to those who wanted to know about our struggle to self-publish a big, heavy webcomic book. You can read more from an artist-enterpreneur’s perspective (a rare breed!) in the wonderfully interesting reMIND blog. Otherwise, I’m not sure what I can point you to — I wrote this knowing that there’s not a lot out there that really covers the stuff here in a human way, so with some luck I’ve made a little contribution here.

  1. su-itca-se posted this