Saturday, April 9, 2011

Self Publish With BookBaby

So, a new player on the self-publish ebook market is up.  Lets take a moment to see how BookBaby works.

The basic lay out is fairly similar to Smashwords, you upload a document, they turn it into an .epub, and send it off to the Apple Store, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Reader (Sony store.)

Now, here's the difference, you pay BookBaby $99.00 (on sale right now, usually $149.00) upfront.  Then each additional year you pay them $19.  And you've got to pay them $19 for an ISBN (unless you already own one).  Then you get 100% of your sales (minus Amazon's, B&N, Apple's, or Reader's cut).  With Smashwords you pay 0 upfront, have no upkeep fees, and get a free ISBN.  You keep 85% of your sales (once again, minus the seller's cut).  So, using some really simple math here, if you make one dollar per sale, you've got to sell one hundred and eighteen books before you break even on BookBaby.  But once you've sold those 118 books, all your income is profit.

Meanwhile, if you make $1.00 per book, and Smashwords takes their fifteen cents, you have to sell six hundred and sixty books before you've paid Smashwords  $99 in royalties.  Then you have to sell and additional 127 copies in each additional year to even the $19 maintenance fee.  And another 127 to cover the cost of the ISBN.

So, here goes.  You sell one hundred books for a dollar a piece.  On Bookbaby, you've made one dollar.  On Smashwords, you've made 85.  For the next hundred books on BookBaby, you're at 101 dollars, on Smashwords you're at 170.  For the next hundred you get to 201 and 255.  Next hundred 301 and 340, and on and on, the number gets closer and closer until BookBaby pulls ahead. 

So, the question is, what's the value of money in your hands versus potential money?  It's entirely possible that you'll sell those kinds of numbers if you've written a good book and put the work into promoting it.  (And, of course the more you sell your book for, the fewer books you have to sell to break even.)  If you've already got a half decent following, this may be a great way to go.  At the same time, especially if you're just breaking into the ebook market, you might want to go with Smashwords first.  At least that way you aren't paying for distribution out of hand.

BookBaby also charges you to add images, charts, graphs, and more than thirty interactive chapters to your table of contents.  Things like that feel nickle and dimey to me.  (All are free on Smashwords.)  But the prices aren't outrageous, and if you're banging your head against a wall trying to get the Smashwords Meatgrinder to work, spending an extra $100 for picture formatting might not seem like a big deal.

This is another calculation you need to do, which is worth more, your time or your money?  It took me three hours to get my Word .doc all set for the Meatgrinder.  With BookBaby I would have skipped most of that (You do have to do some of your own format fixing for BookBaby, and if your copy is really messed up, they do charge you to get in into shape.) and just sent them $99, and they would have done it.   Depending on what you'd normally make in an hour, you may save money by sending your manuscript off to BookBaby.

Unlike Smashwords they offer ebook cover design for $99 or $199 depending on how fancy you want to get.  The covers on the gallery looked fine, and that's a decent, but not fantastic, price for the offerings.  Or you can upload your own for free.

All in all, I'd say BookBaby looks like a valuable new option on the ebookery front.


  1. Despite the rhetoric on the Writer's Cafe, I do find your math here interesting. I had already planned on buying a block of ISBNs, and as you say, Smashwords is currently taking 15% off every purchase. If you actually expect to sell books (not just put up a book that doesn't sell, year after year), this seems somewhat interesting.

    When you're talking about a $2.99+ book, the BookBaby yearly fee seems especially interesting as the $19.00 per year turns out to be very, very few books sold per year. Meanwhile, Smashwords would be taking 45 cents per sale indefinitely. Do you have any friends that have used this?

    The FAQ is an interesting read also:

    Additionally, they could also handle audio CDs through I think it's certainly an option worth looking at. I'm just not sure if it's the best one to do for a first book. This would be something for an established author to take advantage of who expects to sell hundreds or thousands of books a year - unless I am missing something.

  2. Thanks very much for your comments on BookBaby. We’re the newest member of the CD Baby family of brands and we've been a trusted friend and partner to the independent music and film community since 1997. And while our record of paying out over $180 million to artists, filmmakers -- and now authors --- through these years is a strong selling point, we think our deep understanding of digital distribution process is an even better reason why authors should choose us. We enjoy great working relationships with Apple, Amazon and many others.

    Admittedly I’m a bit biased about why folks should use BookBaby for eBook conversion and distribution. But it’s really wonderful that authors have a lot of options. For one thing, our 100% revenue payout is the best financial option for a lot of authors. And for another, we’re very easy to work with. We accept many original file formats - from MS Word to InDesign -- for conversion. We do a lot of these text file conversions at no charge, but can also handle the most complex publications with charts, graphs, tables, illustrations, etc. for a nominal charge. Authors have control over which stores they want us to distribute their books and can set their own paypoint.

    We really enjoy getting comments about BookBaby. In fact it’s this kind of feedback that’s helping us shape and grow our company. Please feel free to email us at books@bookbaby if you have any questions or suggestions!

  3. This is definitely an interesting development. I agree with Rex in that this might be a great option for more established indie authors to explore.

    I think it also depends on how much the author wants to be involved in the publishing process. Some of us are terrified by the prospect of formatting, designing, editing, and managing everything else that goes into a self published book; but some of us actually enjoy doing those things and enjoy the freedom of cutting out as many middle men as possible.

    We'll have to keep an eye on BookBaby. The more options, the better.

  4. Keryl, Great information in this post. BookBaby has a lot going for it, but some of the math (as you have clearly outlined) is inescapable and steers you to other providers like Smashwords- for short stories, works without a true projection of at least moderate sales, etc. Once again great info, and I enjoy you critiquing the options that continue to come into play for authors.

  5. If you live outside of the US it is way more convenient to use Bookbaby Bookbaby pays through Paypal. Smashwords has you fill out forms to send to the IRS and then withholds your royalties until those forms are received. No Thank you.

  6. confused, can I send in a manuscript and have it published or down load software and retype the whole thing?

  7. Or... if you don't have the time and/or patience to learn layout with Adobe InDesign (which is very effective and can prep the ePUB file properly, although to my knowledge at this time any ID before CS6 will require a free software called "Sigil" to edit the ePUB for Table of Contents, file info, keywords, and Java datestamps, pretty sure that's now in CS6-7), you can always save yourself a few bucks and hire someone who not only knows layout and InDesign (I use CS5 and Sigil for my own graphic e-novels, and aside from occasionally forgetting Java datestamp formats, never really get an issue) but can actually do it. Think about it... if you had to add a lot of graphics, images, and other extras, and then on top of that have your Doc file converted to ePUB beyond the 50 pages (I think), trust me you could easily save yourself some cash this way. Especially when you also have to consider the time and effort not only of layout and beta-testing the file but the coding that's required (it's not like a typical website, really all you need to muck around in on the HTML is the keyword list and the datestamp), wouldn't you rather give that money to an experienced layout editor/author and spend the time and aggravation working on your next book? Just sayin'. BookBaby's okay, but now I'm starting to see the disturbing trend of the sales report release dates creeping later and later every calendar month. On top of that, while I did flag all three "Project Asylum" issues as "mature" (it's not Playboy, but more along the lines of Heavy Metal Magazine), after I saw the sales were really slow I asked why. They told me it was the mature flagging and because of that the vendor sites made it difficult to find. So I asked them to un-flag it, they said they'd do it next time they updated the vendors. Annnnnddd... nada. But then again I do have a very very powerful weapon in my arsenal. My experience in comics and graphic novels. So starting in January 2014, when my first issue comes up for renewal, and February for #2 and July for #3... no dice. I'm already working with a couple established publishers for submission reviews. Hopefully I'll be able to keep you posted. But think of it this way... publishers like BookBaby are excellent at teaching you "trial by fire", and even if you don't sell a lot of copies with them, don't take it personally. A real publisher has a marketing department for all of their authors and titles, regardless of the media, that's how they make their bread. BookBaby's just a facilitator, their only concern is getting people through the system and not of making anyone successful. Not that I wouldn't recommend them, I probably would, actually, if only because I really got to see what I could do with my skills and storywriting. Just keep in mind there's gonna be a time when you go, "Hey, let's go after the bigger fish!" Best of luck and may your pens never run dry!

  8. Thanks bookbaby sharing such a excellent post