[I won't use "bleg" but "lazyweb" has a nice ring to it.]
There’s the question: How vital is an ISBN?
The specifics: I’m getting closer to actually doing a self-published/Print-on-demand book, one of several I’ve been thinking about, where potential sales don’t warrant traditional library publishing and I expect that nearly all sales would come from my own websites and people linking to them.
I plan to use Lulu. The first book–many of you have read two draft chapters, possibly not knowing that was what they were–looks to be about a 200-page 6×9 paperback when I’m done revising and reformatting it. I was planning to sell it for $20 to $25 or so, not hoping to make Big Bucks but maybe earn out, say, five or ten cents a word or, say, $10 an hour for the time I’ve put in on it. (My fondest dream would be to earn as much as I did for the Library Technology Reports issue I wrote, but that’s not going to happen…)
I can do that at Lulu with no real risk, have my own storefront for Cites & Insights Books, no problem.
But if I want an ISBN, they’ve bundled that in with “global distribution” services–adding the book to BIP, adding it to Ingram’s catalog (or some “wholesaler” that I assume is Ingram), making it available for Amazon & B&N.com if they want it, etc. The fee’s not too bad ($99–none of this is at all secret: It’s right on Lulu’s website. More if I want “my own ISBN” instead of one from Lulu’s pool).
But, and here’s the big but. (No jokes, Annoyed Librarian!) For anybody but Lulu to sell it, the retail price is double the wholesale price–where on Lulu, there’s no distinction. For a 200-page paperback, I’d have to charge $40 to get the same net proceeds as I’d get for a $20 Lulu price.
It’s not clear to me whether I can charge $20 at Lulu and $40 everywhere else…See update below.
I don’t see these books getting any bookstore sales. I don’t see them getting many wholesaler orders. I might send review copies to American Libraries and Library Journal, but since LJ didn’t review First Have Something to Say (as far as I can tell, no publication reviewed it), I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble to try… Basically, I figure sales will be based on interest from my readers and whatever word-of-web/word-of-mouth goes beyond that.
So here’s the question–feel free to respond via comments or through email (waltcrawford at gmail.com):
Is an ISBN vital for this book (or any book) to sell to librarians (and in some cases libraries)?
Is it the case that people will buy books from Amazon that they’d never buy directly from Lulu?
I have no idea. Help?
Update: It is now clear that there can only be one “suggested retail price,” and that orders direct through my Lulu storefront will be charged at the full retail price. Turns out this was a very recent change in Lulu policy, apparently at the insistence of Ingram, and is causing a fair amount of grief… for reasons that the following example may make clear:Let’s say I produce Book A. It’s 200 pages long, 6×9 trade paperback, b&w printing. I anticipate 100 to 300 sales, at least 95% of which would come via links from C&I, Walt at Random, and others who choose to say “hey, this is a great book, here’s how to get it.” Let’s say I would like to clear $1,000 to $3,000 (which comes out to five to fifteen cents per word–less than I ever write articles for–and nowhere near minimum wage on an hourly basis). So I want $10 net proceeds per book.
- Without an ISBN: I set the price at $21. Lulu (and its PoD printer) charges $8.53 for production and 20% of the remainder ($2.50, more or less), leaving me with $9.97. $21 is a bargain price for a 200-page trade paperback in the library field, so I’m happy. U.S. residents, at least, pay around $2.50 for postage, so the total’s still under $25.
- With an ISBN: If the suggested retail is $21, I still get $9.97 for Lulu orders–but the wholesale prices is then $10.50. If Amazon, B&N, or anybody else picks it up from Ingram, the charge per book is slightly lower ($5.50 instead of $8.53), but I wind up with $4 (80% of $5) instead of $10.
- Worse yet: If Amazon or B&N does sell it, they probably offer a slight discount–say $1.50–and have cheaper shipping when people buy more than one item So there’s an incentive for buyers to go to Amazon; they can get it for, say, $19.50 instead of $23.50. The buyer saves $4; I lose $6.
- The alternative is that I get $10 on Amazon/B&N orders–but only by setting the price to $18.00 wholesale, thus $36 retail. That means I get $21.97 for Lulu orders–but it also means that a lot of people who might pay $21 won’t pay $36, and I feel like I’m ripping off those who do.
Suggestions? Of course, this could be entirely hypothetical–there’s no reason to believe that online booksellers would choose to offer a specialized library-related book.
I do note that “similar” paperbacks at Amazon are going for $28 to $30, so maybe I should split the difference…
[Oh, there's also the odd choice: instead of $99 and getting a Lulu Press ISBN, I can pay $150 and get listed as my very own publisher with a single-ISBN range. Of course, a second book gets an entirely separate single-ISBN publisher, and so on... I really don't see the point in this--having something listed under "Cites & Insights Books" rather than "Lulu" in Ingram just isn't going to make any difference.]
Second update, February 15: Thanks to comments and further examination of the Lulu situation, I’ve made a near-final decision. No ISBN, availability strictly through Lulu’s online store. See my 2/15 comment for more. Thanks to those who commented!