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Doing the Numbers on CreateSpace POD

TGO Sample Layout Page - 500 Wide.jpg

I’m hard at work on a print edition of Ten Gentle Opportunities. Several people have asked for one, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for the last six months or so. On the surface it’s easy enough; I’ve done many print books in the past. This time I got seriously tangled up in a critical issue: How many words should I attempt to put on a page?

It’s a critical issue that doesn’t come up at all in ebook layout, where fixed-length pages don’t really exist. (That is, unless you’re distributing PDF files, which almost no one does for fiction anymore.) The problem is that there is a fixed cost per page for POD books, so the bigger the type, the greater the page count, the higher the unit cost, and the smaller your profit margins. The page shown above may look dense, but it’s about par for trade paperback fiction from traditional publishing houses. Bigger type or greater leading would mean a longer book and a higher unit cost. In this entry I’ll try and explain how that calculation is done and what it means to your bottom line.

I’m not done with the layout yet, but a castoff (length projection) falls somewhere close to 300-310 pages. Unit costs add up this way: CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD division) charges $0.012 per page, plus $0.85 per copy, making the unit cost $4.57 for a 310-page book. As best I know, the unit cost doesn’t vary depending on the page size. More on this later.

Now, that’s just for the unit cost. There’s another factor that isn’t present in all POD systems, particularly, where most of my POD titles are currently hosted. This is the sales channel charge, which amounts to Amazon’s profit margin on the title. Adding to the confusion is that there are two different percentages for the sales channel charge, depending on how the customer ordered the POD book:

  • When customers order the book through, the charge is 40% of cover price.
  • When customers order the book through the CreateSpace e-store, the charge is 20% of cover price.

The CreateSpace e-store provides a page for each book. You basically earn the smaller sales channel percentage by driving buyer traffic to the book’s link on the e-store. I’ve never tried this so I don’t know how many sales I can steer to the e-store. I guess I’ll soon find out.

In terms of knowing how much you earn for each copy, then, you need to set a cover price and then calculate the channel sales charge for Amazon vs. the CreateSpace e-store. Let’s use $12.99 as a cover price example here:

  • For Amazon, you multiply 12.99 X 0.4 = $5.20. Knock $5.20 off the cover price and you get $7.79. Out of that value comes the unit cost of the book: $7.99 – $4.57 = $3.22 as the money you clear on each sale.
  • For the e-store, you multiply $12.99 X 0.2 = $2.60. Knock $2.60 off the cover price and you get $10.39. Subtract the unit cost of the book: $10.39 – $4.57 = $5.82 as the money you clear on each sale.

You don’t have to do the math manually like this; CreateSpace has an online calculator. I just wanted to show you how the calculation works.

That’s a significant difference, and my guess is that Amazon is trying to provide an incentive for actively marketing your POD books. Keep in mind that you don’t choose one sales channel or the other. Your book is present on both stores at the outset, and your sales will be a mix of both. Your challenge is to get as many people as possible to order through the CreateSpace e-store.

The other way to boost your royalty value is to use a larger trim size. I’m laying the book out as a 6″ X 9″ trade book because that’s a very common size for fiction and it’s what I’ve used on all my other POD titles. Now, the unit cost doesn’t vary by trim size, but a larger trim size (holding the type size and leading constant) will hold more type per page and thus give you fewer pages and a (slightly) lower unit cost. I played around with this and decided that the minimal difference isn’t worth altering my standard layout template.

You could, of course, raise the cover price. Be careful: Readers who have come to expect ebooks to cost $4 or so might consider $12.99 off-putting. In fact, I consider $12.99 to be something like a maximum for a trade paperback novel by an unknown, and I may drop that to $11.99. Pricing is a black art, alas.

So there it is: You sell a POD novel for $12.99 and you get some mix of $3.22 and $5.82 per sale. That’s modestly more than you’d get for the Kindle ebook version priced at $3.99, and close to what you’d get for the same ebook at $4.99. (I don’t think this is an accident.) Is it worth the trouble? I don’t know. Indie authors I’ve talked to say they like having a physical book to show around, but they really don’t sell many compared to the ebook edition.

I’ll admit: I’m doing it because I enjoy book layout and I’m good at it. The schedule isn’t clear yet. I’m still wrapped up in house issues. (Health insurance too; right now my insurance agent tells me there are no individual policies for sale in Maricopa County, as bonkers as that sounds. There may be some by November. Nobody knows yet.) I’ll certainly launch the print edition here when it happens.

The key point is that if you can’t lay the print edition out yourself, you may lose money on it, and sticking with ebooks could be the most prudent choice financially. Do the math and sleep on it. This can be a very weird business.


  1. Rick H says:

    It’s not just print books that need typesetting.

    I read a lot of ebooks, and one of the things that bugs me is no clear delineation between ‘sections’ of a chapter, where the ‘scene’ changes – there should be a blank line in between.

    And paragraphs should have a slight indent; in some books/text. the paragraphs run together.

    Both of those can make the reading more pleasurable if done well, and harder if not done, at least for me.

  2. TRX says:

    Blank lines and hanging indents seem to often get lost during format conversions. Judging from comments from authors who have been called to task for various ebook issues, I’m pretty sure the root problem is that many authors (editors, production crew) don’t actually *look* at the output before uploading it.

    1. This is true, to some extent. (As with everything else in the world.) I’ve caught some people in a great many typos and what are clearly autocorrect errors. (Like the “comprise” vs “compromise” error I spotted in a medical flyer and mentioned on Facebook.) That said, I’m a fiendishly attentive proofer, and I’m careful about formatting, especially formatting that I control, like my own. (Typos still sneak past me. This is a psychological problem easily solved by renting or borrowing a second pair of eyes.) I remember spending a fair amount of time a couple of years ago with a test document on which I imposed a great many styles, some of them exotic, and then exported as ebook files and loaded into several devices and apps that I had at that time. Drop caps are something I love but most ebook renderers simply ignore. Devices are beginning to respect “lines before” and “lines after” but that hasn’t always been the case. Grapevines and other squiggles centered and intended as scene breaks often render as other characters or not at all. The problem will resolve over time, but like a lot of other things in media, it grates on me.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    I’m going to respond to the sample text.

    There is an easy and obvious answer to this zombie problem: Cremation.

    Incidentally, is it only dead humans that absorb loose magic and re-animate? What about dead animals?

  4. Tom Grubb says:

    But does your printed page count end up being what is used for ebooks? The reason I ask is that you may want to pad the pages anyway. I refuse to buy ebooks that have <300 pages equivalent. First, I don't like short stories but it also can leave me feeling ripped off. It is especially bad when the author publishes a series where every book is 200-300 pages; it is obvious that they are trying to keep the per book price *looking* low but in actuality it is higher.

    1. In a word, no. Page counts for a given ebook can change dynamically depending on the font and font size, which the user to some extent controls. Amazon worked out a “standard” page to handle KU page turns. I talked about that on this Contra entry:

      A KENP page (which is the page count Amazon calculates for KU ebooks) is between 180 and 200 words long, values I calculated myself. Ten Gentle Opportunities is 94,000 words and 513 KENP pages, or 185 words per page. The Cunning Blood is 145,000 words and 721 KENP pages, or 200 words per page.

      The “print length” that you get to see in the book listing is different, and I’m not sure how it’s calculated for ebooks without print editions. It’s basically insane: The print length for Ten Gentle Opportunities is given as 323 pages, which works out to 291 words per page. The print length for The Cunning Blood is given as 320 pages, which works out to 453 words per page. This is just wrong, and smells of decaying algorithm to me.

      So you bring up an excellent question. I’m always happy to publish the word count on my books, and having come up through journalism, word count is the gold standard. Page count depends almost entirely on page layout parameters. If you don’t know those, you basically know nothing about the length of the book.

      Amazon doesn’t publish word counts and I have a suspicion they don’t want to. Not sure why. If I ever figure it out, I’ll report here on Contra.

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