Why you should never print 500–1,000 books

Stack of books at book printer economy of scale in printing

Printing anything involves an economy of scale that has to be factored in to make your printing venture profitable. If you’ve ever printed flyers, you’ll know that it doesn’t cost much more to print 500 than it does to print 50. Not every self-publishing author intends to turn a profit, and if you do not intend it, often it will not simply happen.

A print-run of books between 500 and 1,000 is not usually a good idea because you may be mistakenly trying to get the best of both worlds—not overstocking books you cannot sell, but trying to get unit pricing lower to create some profit. Sometimes when you divide your priorities like this, you end up failing to hit any of the (incompatible) targets.

Pick from A, B or C below.

  1. I just want a small number of books to give away and sell
  2. I think I can sell or give away six or seven hundred books
  3. I want to print, distribute and market my book in a professional manner with some profit

A—Printing a very small number of books and getting it ‘out there’ for sale

If you answered A, then you should choose print-on-demand as this is a great option that gets your book widely distributed without the risk of having a large inventory of books in storage that you cannot sell. By ‘large’ I mean anything over 500. Selling books is hard work, and if you’re not 100% committed to it, then you’re not likely to sell 500, let alone more.

Being ‘100% committed to’ selling books will be different for different books and different authors. It might mean having 3-6 months full-time availability to build an author platform, organise reviews, do author interviews, write blogs, do videos and podcasts, interact on social media, and a budget to advertise your book directly to the target market.

Please read more about print-on-demand—including its advantages and disadvantages—on our book printing page and the subsequent print-on-demand page

B—Printing six to seven hundred books

If you answered B, you will almost certainly be disappointed by the results. You are clearly not in the A category of just wanting to test the waters and get your book ‘out there’. You are also not in the C category if you are not able to commit the necessary time and resources to make your book into a business activity.

If you do manage to sell your six hundred books, the profit from this will be fairly low as the printing costs per unit will be relatively high (compared to a print-run of the same book at 2,000 copies, for example). Yet you will have to put in a substantial amount of time and effort to move the six hundred, which if it succeeds you may wish you had printed 2,000 and were making $6 per book instead of $1 or less. These figures become even more difficult to swallow when you throw advertising into the mix, which takes thousands of dollars to do anything. If the most you can make from selling six hundred books is $600 then, clearly, spending thousands of dollars on advertising will not be a viable business decision.

C—Total commitment to turning a profit in self-publishing

If you answered C, then you’re jumping in boots and all. You are committed, and you will do everything in your power to print a large enough run that you’ll see a reasonable profit per book sold, and you will market and promote your work until you’ve managed to sell them all.

To put this in practical book printing terms, an offset printer has to charge a certain minimum fee whether you print 1,000 or 2,000 copies of a novel. The book printer has to cover the basic minimum costs then include a mark-up in order to stay viable as a business. These basic minimum costs include general expenses like sales and marketing, project coordination, creating the plates that are used in the printer to reproduce each page repeatedly, packaging and handling. These basic minimum costs do not increase when the number of books increases, so that is why printing 3,000 instead of 1,000 books could net you a dramatically increased profit per book sold.

Shipping and freight, customs and dock transfer fees will increase as your print-run increases, but not on a 1:1 ratio, as these are calculated on weight and value. These complexities are handled by us in our print procurement service, so please contact us if you’re interested in printing offset books in Australia, China or Singapore.

If economics is of no consequence to you then whether you print 500, 600, 700, 800, 900 or 1000, the price difference per unit will not be great. The total spend depends on the quantity of books printed, and if you think you can sell 600, 700, 800 or 900, ask yourself if you can sell 1,000. Ask your printer for a price to print 1,000 and you’ll see that for not much more investment, you get many more books, and can therefore make a much higher profit per book sold.

For printing between 500 and 1000 copies, you can still choose between print on demand (POD) and digital book printing (which we can assist with as part of print procurement). You will still be able to choose a book size, paper type and colour type that suits you. But if you are intending to make a business out of your book (some profit) then numbers between 500-1,000 (arguably also 1,000-2,000 depending on your book) are not a good business decision.

Please contact the PMBO to discuss your printing requirements, and we can work with you to determine the best printing option for your book.

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