Ron Pramschufer: This is Ron Pramschufer, and welcome to Publishing Basics Radio, where weekly, we try to help you navigate the self‑publishing minefield. iUniverse is one of a handful of well‑financed, pay-as-you-go publishers that are out there on the Internet. The average sale of an iUniverse book is only about 200 copies, yet this Amy Fisher book; the first printing was over 20,000 copies, so this obviously caught my attention. My guest today is Susan Driscoll, President of iUniverse.
Susan and I, today, are going to be talking about the Amy Fisher book, so Susan, your company handled the printing of the Amy Fisher book in, what do we call it, a non-traditional POD manner. Tell me about it.
Susan Driscoll: Actually, I have what I call the Oprah rule. If an author will come to us with a guaranteed contract with Oprah, we will publish their work for free and certainly will consider the investment that we have to make in the book, and obviously, somebody would come to us because they are interested in control and in getting a bigger share of the profits than they could get with the traditional publisher.
Ron Pramschufer: Pretty much anybody who’s read the paper has heard of this Amy Fisher book at iUniverse.
Susan Driscoll: Yes.
Ron Pramschufer: Was she the first one?
Susan Driscoll: Yes, she was, and it pretty much was an experiment for two reasons. 1.) We wanted to see if we could handle a celebrity author with the same kind of care that a traditional publisher would handle the author. We wanted to see how it would work to have the author in complete control of every decision, and we wanted to really prove, what I call the man-driven publishing.
Now, everyone talks about print on demand as a technology, where the books are printed when the orders come in, but I think the key operative word there is demand rather than the printing technology, and Amy was a case where we pushed demand-driven printing to the limit, where there was certainly up-front demand bookstores wanted to order and stock the book, so we did an offset printing for the first printing, and then we wanted to see what kind of demand or reprints would materialize and switch to print-on-demand after the usual printing.
Ron Pramschufer: One of the big downsides everybody talks about with the POD publishing or whatever type of publishing – we’re talking that, basically, is print on demand. Is it you sell non-returnable, but then – I notice the Amy Fisher book – is it sold as returnable?
Susan Driscoll: That’s right. Fully returnable, and they’re offered at industry standard discount.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Doesn’t this open up a whole other can of worms?
Susan Driscoll: It certainly introduces a lot of risk for us, but it’s a game that, if you’re in traditional publishing, it’s a game you have to play. You have to be – again, you have to have a fully returnable book. It’s gonna be in bookstores on the shelves; you’re going to have a significant return rate. It’s just the reality of the business.
Ron Pramschufer: So then, if I’m selling a conventional-printed POD book, I’m sort of swimming up a stream because my books are non-returnable?
Susan Driscoll: Again, it’s all about demand. If somebody wants to buy your title, it doesn’t matter to a bookstore if it’s returnable or not because they’re fulfilling an order.
Ron Pramschufer: Now, I notice that in the Amy Fisher book, I think it was about 300 pages, and it was priced at $15.95, which seems pretty close to what the real world is out there.
Susan Driscoll: Yeah.
Ron Pramschufer: But, if I was just signing up for one of your other programs, where you set the retail price, seems like the retail price would have been like $19.95 or above for that exact same book.
Susan Driscoll: It probably would have been more like $17.95, I would think, but again, it’s the difference between offset printing and print‑on‑demand. Print-on-demand books are higher because the printing cost, when you’re printing one copy at a time, are higher, and so iUniverse titles and all print-on-demand titles tend to be slightly higher priced than their offset print traditional publisher counterparts. Now, with Amy, as I mentioned, the first printing quantity was well over 20,000 copies, so we could afford to price the book lower just because the printing costs were lower.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, but like I’ve told people probably like 1,000 different times that the public could care less how much you pay for your printing. They’re only gonna pay what they’re gonna pay for a book. Fifteen books that are similar subjects, and they’re all $14.95; that’s the retail price.
Susan Driscoll: I find that when a customer’s interested in the book, price is not one of the things that they first look at, and I think that most customers are willing to pay a dollar or two more for something that they really want, so we have not seen, again, with the authors who are engaged in marketing and really driving sales, price isn’t a factor. It becomes a factor when you’re competing; if you have a romance title or a mystery title and you’re competing against a mass‑market paperback, then there’s a very significant difference in price, and the customer’s much more likely to buy a very inexpensive, mass-market book than an iUniverse title, but again, it depends on the subject matter, and it depends on how much the author can convince the customer that the customer should buy and read the book.
Ron Pramschufer: Now, you were mentioning Oprah there before. That’s my favorite. Amy was on for like an entire show right back in September.
Susan Driscoll: An entire show – yes.
Ron Pramschufer: And then, they repeated again in March.
Susan Driscoll: Yes.
Ron Pramschufer: Now, I notice that you had an iUniverse publicist, and that’s a fairly new service. Did you all book her or did she come with her own booking?
Susan Driscoll: Actually, Amy came with her own booking.
Ron Pramschufer: And I’ve got Oprah, so you’re gonna do it for free for them.
Susan Driscoll: It’s the Oprah club.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay.
Susan Driscoll: You know what? She knew that – in fact, that’s one of the reasons she chose iUniverse. She knew that she had all the talk shows in her pocket. She didn’t need the support of a publisher to get any of those. She knew she had very strong ideas for what was gonna be in the book, and she didn’t – literally did not want a lot of editorial involvement. She wanted complete control, and so she came to use because she knew that she didn’t need us for publicity, and she knew that she could have the kind of control that she wanted.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, now everybody I know and talk to about Oprah; I mean, Oprah’s like the Goddess out there of books. They think if they go onto Oprah, they’re gonna sell like a million books right off the bat. With two appearances on Oprah, how many books do you think Amy can thank Oprah for?
Susan Driscoll: What I tell every author is that it doesn’t matter if you’re on Oprah; it’s how much Oprah ends up endorsing your book or connecting with you as an author, and so for Amy, the first time she was on Oprah for a full hour, the week that she was on, the book sold about 10,000 copies, and that was actually very successful. It’s just not true that when you get on Oprah, the books fly off the bookstore shelves.
Certainly, people were aware of Amy and were aware of the book, but there’s a very big difference between being interested in the subject or being aware of a subject and actually going out and wanting to make an investment in the subject.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, I’m glad to hear you say that. I mean, it’s so – I’ve read some early articles when the Amy Fisher book was first coming out, and a couple of people said that she would have been through a traditional publisher – I don’t know, say like Martins or one of those sensational publishers, would have been able to get like a high six-figure advance, if not a low seven-figure advance.
Susan Driscoll: Right.
Ron Pramschufer: You think she could have?
Susan Driscoll: I think she probably could have. You know, we’ll never know because she didn’t try.
Ron Pramschufer: Did she come anywhere close to that in her earnings?
Susan Driscoll: That, I can’t say. That’s private.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, I know you can’t tell me how much. That’s why I was just asking if she came close.
Susan Driscoll: Well, I’ll tell you, she made the gamble that she would rather forego an advance in exchange for a higher percentage of royalty that she would get with a traditional publisher, and that’s the gamble that she made, and it’s up to her to disclose whether she thinks that was a good decision or not.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, and then you mentioned – I was just gonna say how do I get a deal like Amy, if I walk in and show you the booking that I’m getting on Oprah?
Susan Driscoll: You bring me Oprah; I’ll give you a very special deal.
Ron Pramschufer: There we go. Got any new Amys in the wings?
Susan Driscoll: Not right now, but we’re looking.
Ron Pramschufer: Well, thank you very much for talking to me, Susan.
Susan Driscoll: Thank you, Ron.
Ron Pramschufer: For Publishing Basics Radio, this is Ron Pramschufer. See you next week.
[End of Audio]