Tuesday, June 23, 2009

À la carte overcharging

Since the author-services companies (vanity presses) make most of their money not by selling books to readers, but by selling services to writers, they like to sell lots of high-profit add-ons at much higher prices than writers would pay if they dealt directly with the sources. Some things they charge you for, you can even get for FREE. Some low-cost publishing packages have low prices because they leave out a lot. Many options are really necessities. It’s like ads for inexpensive computers that don’t include a monitor. Be careful. Watch out for hidden costs, and for overcharges.

The companies want you to think copyright registration is difficult. Wheatmark will do it for you for $199. Author-House charges $170. Xlibris charges $249. Outskirts Press charges $99. You can do it yourself for $45. It’s not difficult. Vantage Press says, “We make all arrangements to take out the copyright in your name, and at our expense.” That’s misleading. The service is not really free. They may be writing a $45 check to the Feds, but that comes after they’ve received a much bigger payment from you.

I like to use color business cards that show the front cover of my books to promote the books. If you’re a customer of Outskirts Press, they’ll gladly sell you 500 cards to promote your book for $199. Wheatmark will be pleased to provide 1,000 for $249. AuthorHouse charges $250 for 1,000 cards. However, you can get 50% more cards (1,500) for about $73 if you go direct to VistaPrint. I’ve used them. The quality and speed are as impressive as the price. For $79 — a few bucks more than I pay for 1,500 cards — Xlibris will sell you 150 cards. It’s a very good deal — for them, not you.

Promotional postcards can be useful if you have a good mailing list. Wheatmark will provide 1,000 4x6-inch or $349. AuthorHouse will do 1000 4x6-inch cards for $500. Xlibris wants you to pay $199 for 100 cards, NEARLY TWO BUCKS FOR A FRIGGIN’ POST CARD. VistaPrint can provide 1,000 bigger 5.5 x 8.5-inch cards for less than $100.

AuthorHouse will set up a website for $399 and host it for $29 per month. Lulu charges a whopping $600 to design a tiny three-page site and does not offer hosting. Outskirts Press charges $299 for design and $29 per month for hosting. iUniverse charges $399 for setup and $29 per month for hosting. I design my own websites for FREE with easy-to-use templates, and pay $9.96 per month for hosting by Network Solutions. Other hosting companies charge even less — even under $5 per month. $9.96 is low enough for me and I’m happy with Network Solutions so I’m not shopping around for a new host.

Wheatmark will provide an online press kit for $449, plus $50 annual maintenance after the first year. It’s really no different than an author’s website. The sample is well done, and probably worth the money — but you could design your own for free if you have the time, ability and desire. $50 per year is a fair price, too. And the service lets you make modifications at no cost whenever you want to.

Like most of the publishing services companies, Wheatmark will try to sell your book from its own website. They’ll arrange for a web address (such as MySuperBook.com) to “point to” your page on their site for $99 per year. You can get similar services for less than half that price from Network Solutions and other companies.

If you can research and write a book, you can write your own press release to promote it. Lulu charges $100 to write a release. Their alleged professionals are noted for dull headlines that will probably never get noticed by the media ("Author Depicts American Journalism In The 20th Century" and "Lulu Press Announces the release of How To Keep Your Man: And Keep Him For Good"), small size (five paragraphs), dull writing and bad grammar.

Lulu says, "After purchasing the service, Lulu will send you instructions on how to submit your press release." If you want Lulu to do the work for you, they will, presumably for an extra fee. Lulu distributes their releases through free services such as PRLog and PressReleasePoint, and each release includes a big plug for Lulu -- sometimes more extensive than the information about the author.

Xlibris will write and distribute a press release to announce your book for up to $1799 -- but at least one of the distribution services they use (Newswire Today) doesn't charge anything. AuthorHouse will distribute your press release through PR Newswire for $750. You can pay $680 if you go direct to PR Newswire. I’ve found PR Web to be as effective as PR Newswire, and their top package costs just $360. Their least expensive deal costs just $80. The free services don’t seem to do as well.

Outskirts Press will submit your book to the Independent Book Publishers of America’s Benjamin Franklin Awards for $299. You can do it yourself for $180, plus the cost of a few books.

You can get a Complete Internet Marketing package from iUniverse for $9,999. It includes Author Website Set-Up, Social Media Set-Up, Google and Amazon Search Program, Barnes & Noble “See Inside the Book,” and an Email campaign to 10 million recipients. iUniverse says that you’ll save thousands of dollars with this package. If you don’t buy the package, you can avoid pissing-off millions of people who receive the spam email. If you do the important parts yourself, you can probably save $9,000 or more of the $9,999.

iUniverse will also gladly accept your payment of $799 for their “Social Media Marketing Setup Service” which sets you up for a blog, and in FaceBook, MySpace, Fickr, Feed-burner and some other online communities that I’ve never heard of. The ones that I have heard of are FREE.

If you want to use a stock image in your book, a generic drawing or photograph, AuthorHouse will charge you $12 per image. I use Fotolia.com, and generally pay between $2 and $4 each, and can choose from over five million illustrations at prices as low as 14 cents each. Other companies such as Photos.com and iStockphoto.com provide similar selections and prices. BE AWARE that many “free clip art” collections do not allow their pictures to be used for commercial purposes, like your book. If you can buy a good picture for four bucks, don’t risk getting sued.

Some of the companies offer “expedited services” to get your book on the market extra-fast. For example, the normal time to publication for Xlibris is three to four months. If you’ll pay $349, they’ll get your book out in under two months. AuthorHouse will speed things up and get a book out in 30 days or less for an extra $500. Outskirts Press normally takes about three months to produce a book, but they’ll grease the wheels for 99 bucks. If you really self-publish and have Lightning Source do the printing, your book can be on sale ONE WEEK after you submit your materials.

Lulu will sell you a package of search engine clicks on Google, Yahoo! or MSN for $89, $199 or $369. Lulu says its program has “pricing that’s as much as 75% cheaper than other services” and will “generate a guaranteed number of clicks to your content.” For this system to work, someone must actually search for specific key words that are related to your ad and your book, and they must be motivated by your little ad. The Click Through Ratio (CTR) is usually below 5%, but could be lower than 1%, or higher than 25%. Some keywords may be so obscure, such as your name, that NO ONE will search for them. On the other hand, some key words are so popular, such as “sex” or “investment” that your tiny ad may be competing with dozens or hundreds of other ads. If the people paying for those ads are willing to pay more than you are, their ads will be put higher up than yours, and may be clicked on before or instead of yours. Lulu’s prices may not be the bargains they want you to think they are. For my own websites, I usually pay between 50 cents and $2 per click, but other online businesses pay just a nickel or a dime. On one of my popular websites, my average cost per click (CPC) is 55 cents. With Lulu’s top plan, I’d pay $369 for 500 clicks, or 74 cents each.

I could go on and give you even more examples, but if you have not yet figured out the point of this blog posting, you deserve to be taken advantage of. Depending on which source you choose to believe, either P. T. Barnum, David Hannum, Michael Cassius McDonald or Mark Twain said that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Don’t be one of them. Spend your money wisely.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the useful information and insights. I had no idea that these companies overcharged so much on simple stuff like business cards that anyone can order without their "help."