So it’s a common notion with “microbrew” publishers that some things are out of reach unles you’re willing to lay down a really fat amount of cash. One such thing is the idea of doing a full-color hardcover book, even a small one.
Certainly there are some issues with such a book, so this notion is not without merit. Color art can cost you, on average, double what black and white does. And if you’re oriented on print-on-demand technology, especially with one-copy-at-a-time outfits like Lulu, the unit costs can be really prohibitive.
But the thing to realize — the thing I hadn’t entirely realized yet either — is that print on demand is nevertheless putting a squeeze on the traditional printers out there. The printer I used for the Dresden Files RPG, Taylor Specialty Books operating out of Dallas, does very good work, but I had no expectation that they were able to do print runs that numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands.
Turns out I was wrong.
When I started talking to Daniel Solis about taking on the printing and distribution duties for Happy Birthday Robot — a full color interior, hardcover, 40-page, square (8.5×8.5) kid-friendly story-building game formatted like a children’s book — I thought I’d have to do a lot of poking around to see what print on demand places would charge me only an arm rather than an arm and a leg for doing the work on a print run of maybe 500 or so. But I figured I’d ask Taylor anyway to see what they could offer.
Their answer? They can do print runs as small as 300 copies.
This was surprising, and I asked for a quote. Reality is, the cost per unit on a print run that small is not great (though still pretty good if you consider the quality of an offset printing job), and started to get more workable as things moved into the 500-or-so copy range. That’s the range I was looking for (I ultimately settled on 750 copies instead), and I had a good established relationship with Taylor, so I went for it. The resulting book is damn pretty.
I figure some of y’all are eager to see real numbers on this thing, so here’s what I can show you:
Product specs: 40 page, case bind 8.5×8.5; physical proofs for cover and interior; no dust jacket; cover: 4/0=Process Ink ONE side, BLEED-OK, 100# Gloss Book w/ Gloss Laminate over .120 board; 40 page text: 4/4=Process Ink OVER Process Ink, BLEED-OK, 100# Matte Text (328ppi) 5×8 page signatures; binding: smyth sewn, no head & foot bands, round back case bind on the 8.5″ spine
The Quote (not including the shipping component, which ran in the mid-$300 on 750 copies):
These totals are still usually well outside the purchasing power of a guy-in-his-basement indie, but they’re pretty damn interesting at the level of folks willing to spend a few thousand bucks to produce a slim game with high production values (I’m thinking of companies like Bully Pulpit and Galileo Publishing among others).
As it is the unit cost in the mid-$5 range meant we could price the Happy Birthday Robot hardcover at $25 (comparable to many a children’s book) and still manage to make a small profit over expenses when selling into distribution. That’s about the sweet spot that you want to aim for.