shadesong just made me aware of CreateSpace, a new print-on-demand, sales and distribution service for multiple media including audio CDs, books, and DVDs. Folks are excited because this holds out the promise of self-publishing without the stigma. But does it work?
Why CreateSpace is attractive
CreateSpace prints books, CDs and other media on demand and enables you to sell them through Amazon. Amazon sales equal a much higher comfort level for buyers.
Yes, CreateSpace books do appear to show up in Amazon title searches, at least in my tests. "Search Inside This Book" is also supported. And I would not be surprised if they appeared in "people who bought X also bought Y" lists generated by Amazon.
Dollars and cents: where it gets tricky
I priced out the use of CreateSpace for two media: books and music CDs. I ignored their own examples, which are rather optimistic, and went for scenarios involving prices customers might willingly pay.
It would be hard to make much money on an audio CD produced with them, with a base fee of $4.95/unit and an Amazon sales cut of 45%. You earn a 55 cent profit on a $10 CD, a $1.10 profit on an $11 CD, a $1.65 profit on a $12 CD. Can't get away with charging any higher than that for music. The good news is that I do see prices for CDs in the $11/$12 range, although popular new releases are sometimes much lower.
If you use a CreateSpace E-Store instead of Amazon, you lose less dough, but you lose that warm fuzzy Amazon One-Click feeling.
The story with books is similar. Asking $10 for a 200-page paperback book with no color inside might be asking a lot. But you'll pay a $3.15 fixed fee, plus 30% for Amazon ($3.00), plus 2 cents per page ($4). That adds up to $10.15. so you can't ask $10 for your book.
If you step up to $12 for that 200-page book, though, you'll make a profit of $1.25.
For comparison, Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea is close to 200 pages and sells for $11.20 new on Amazon. So $12 is a defensible price tag.
Note that while Wizard of Earthsea is better than anything I'm likely to write, the book has been out a long time and there is no shortage of supply. So there's no reason to assume an inflated price for it. This makes it a reasonable price comparison point for short novels.
Of course, modern genre novels tend to be longer. So let's say we're talking 400 paperback pages. Then you're looking at an extra $4 in per-page fees. You can't sell it for $15, you go into the red there. The math works at $20, with a profit of $2.85.
But good luck selling a 400-page paperback for $20. For comparison, Greg Bear's Moving Mars (well-written science fiction, not junk by any standard) is 500 pages and it's available for just under $10 on Amazon.
What You Don't Get
When you choose not to work with a traditional publisher, you don't get the credibility attached to their name. Also, you don't get placement in brick and mortar bookstores (some self-published authors manage this on their own, but it's a helluva job). There will be no book-of-the-month-club edition of your book, at least unless you have already successfully marketed many copies yourself.
In a nutshell: marketing is your job, 100%.
Also, the connection with CreateSpace may attach a stigma to your work among those who understand how CreateSpace works, though never so bad as the stigma attached to subsidy publishers who pretend to be something else.
The Bottom Line
CreateSpace do take a bite, don't she!
For audio CDs aimed at a general music audience, it's a bite that still permits a price your listeners might be willing to pay.
For short novels, the situation is similar. At 200 pages, you can price your book tolerably.
Authors of longer novels probably won't be happy with CreateSpace, due to a high break-even point (no, CreateSpace won't let you sell at a loss, even if you want to).
The big winners will probably be those who have a built-in audience that doesn't care if the book costs $10 more than books of a comparable length, because of the content. If you've written the one and only decent book on roller derby for cats, cats on wheels are going to buy it anyway.
Costs, and therefore potential sales prices, are lower if you use a CreateSpace e-store instead of Amazon. But access to Amazon's payment system, which holds out the promise that customers will see your stuff as more legitimate and pay you with less anxiety, is a big part of the appeal of CreateSpace.
Yes, I would probably try CreateSpace if I had a perfectly good book that nobody wanted to publish. But if you don't have a built-in audience of, say, 100 people who are chomping at the bit to buy your book, simply popping it up on CreateSpace won't change that. There's Too Much Stuff Out There As It Is. CreateSpace helps quite a bit with sales and distribution, but don't kid yourself: you are the marketing department.