On the Economics of Publishing ...
Here's Charles Ardai
, founder of Hard Case Crime
and an excellent crime author
in his own right, talking about the economics of publishing in today's world from a post on the hard-boiled mailing list Rara Avis
The up-front costs of putting out a mystery novel, even if you pay a paltry advance, don't pay generously for cover art, etc., are about $10,000. (You can get that down if you don't pay any advance, of course, and use clip art or just text for the cover -- but that's not the way professional publishing works.) Even if you print cheaply, figure on $1 per copy; most books cost more. And if you get distribution into stores (as opposed to selling one copy at a time through your website, or something like that), you have to be prepared to print two or three copies for every one you sell. And figure on only pocketing maybe $4 for each copy you sell (you can keep more if you have a higher cover price, but that'll only be for formats such as trade pb or hardcover that also cost more to print). So, let's imagine you print 10,000 copies and sell 4,000 ... Your costs are in the ballpark of $20,000 up front and your revenue is maybe $16,000. Let's say you double your cover price and your printing costs-- now your costs are $30,000 and your revenues are $32,000. Okay, you've broken even at the "gross profit" level. But you haven't paid your salespeople for getting the book into stores, you haven't paid the rent or phone bill or electricity for your office, you haven't paid for the advance copies you printed and mailed to 100 reviewers across the country, we haven't talked about warehousing or freight...and I haven't mentioned that it takes 60 or 90 or 120 days to get the revenue out of the stores' hands and into your bank account, but you've got to pay your author and artist and typesetter and proofreader and printer well before that.
So: Can you make money selling a moderate number of copies of a lot of books? Well, it depends on what "moderate" means, of course. But having a lot of titles that sell 4,000 copies and none that sell 40,000 (forget about 400,000 or 4 million) is a good way to go out of business. And very, very, VERY few of the books we love to discuss on this list sell anywhere near 40,000 copies. Even 4,000 is a stretch for some of
It's hard to imagine that in a world where even a crappy movie can sell 100,000 tickets, most crime novels struggle to sell 10,000 copies...but it's the truth. And it's usually the innovative, mold-breaking, intriguing, award-nominated books that struggle the hardest, while the formulaic DA VINCI CODE clone racks up its 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 (more) easily. That's why publishers do it. Because it works.