Reviving Frankenstein: Making PLR Publishing Profitable
PLR is long from dead, although the amount of really bad stuff out there can make you wish it was.
It still sells. I have a certain set of PLR ebooks which continue to sell through iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. (Amazon won’t take them, and GooglePlay is dead to Indie authors.)
As I was ramping up my paperback production, this was a perfect time to test these.
— Oh, I didn’t bring you up to date on this stuff. Oops.
OK, we’ll get back to our monster on the table in just a second…
The Hows and Whys of Print On Demand
Print on Demand (POD) was the first to start hammering nails into the coffin of traditional publishing. (The creature still lived, although wounded.)
POD is good for very short runs and in smaller page-counts. I can say this because I did the number-crunching to prove it. Regular press does better with larger books and large numbers of books printed. One of the bigger expenses in printing is the cover, especially hardbacks. And hefty books feel like they are more valuable.
The numbers I’ve run show that while the sweet spot for ebooks is $3.99 (per Smashwords’ Coker) the sweet spot for printed paperbacks is around ten bucks. I did find a study from 2013 that said that was the case. And if you look at Amazon, this seems to be true, anecdotally.
(Update: Found another study here, saying optimal paperback price is about $14.95)
Now, you have to make money at this book-publishing stuff. To do that you need a royalty. eBooks are great because there isn’t much overhead in it – so you can sell your books for four bucks and get nearly three bucks as part of it. (Sell it directly and you’ll get to keep around 90% of that price.)
There is an approach to pricing most people don’t get when they start out publishing books, which is to start low and gradually increase your prices until you find the pain point for your audience. Your 3.99 book might be actually worth 8.99 or more. You’ll never know until you try.
So for the purpose of this test, while I could go the 35-cent royalty route, like I do with the 99-cent Amazon bottom feeders, I wanted to keep this interesting for myself. So I figured that a two-buck royalty would keep my attention.
Where we are at now is this: a ten-dollar price point with two bucks coming back into our own pocket.
So, the POD product has to come in at under $8 cost.
There are two POD suppliers which fit self-publishing. Those are Lulu and CreateSpace (CS). Yes, there are a couple more, but their restrictions and extra costs mean you take a royalty cut, or have to price it higher. Lulu and CS are both free. Just my kind of budget.
Lulu was first to the market and has made CS evolve to keep up with them. Meanwhile, since Amazon owns CS, there is an inside track that cuts almost everyone else off at the knees.
Here’s why: when you publish a book, there is an automatic 50-55% markup after you price it. That’s because the other retailers have to be able to mark down the price, as well as take a “fair share” and get their own take out of each sale.
This means that Lulu as an outsider has to raise their price by a at least 50 cents everytime their cost goes up a buck. What costs you 5 bucks on Lulu will have to be sold for 7.50 everywhere else.
CS doesn’t have those constraints. They are almost always cheaper than Lulu or anyone else, except the Mass-Market paperbacks (which have very long print runs and very, very cheap construction.)
That said, I can sell a book on CS and always sell it cheaper on Lulu. which makes it key to have a membership where I can sell these books directly to my readers. So I can add value by offering several purchase options.
CS then responds by saying, “Yes, but if you are already a Prime member, then we can ship it for free.” (That hides the fact that you have an annual payment to Amazon for that service. And meanwhile, Lulu regularly has discounts on their site that can cover all your postage if you can buy at the right time.)
There is also the point that CS can keep certain books in stock if they are regularly in demand, while Lulu is always printing it only after you order it. So you are always going to have a wait with Lulu, unless you are willing to pay expedite fees.
Time versus Money.
That said, here’s how to chose:
That’s right. Because they are that different.
1) Some people are prejudiced against Amazon. Anything Amazon. Something to do with their track record of how they treat other businesses, like that would be a surprise.
2) Lulu books go far more places than CS, using Ingram.
3) CS has a no-return policy. Lulu has satisfaction guarantee, and has consistently very high quality books from their printer in North Carolina. CS is improving, but their model relies on distributed printing (which explains their recent printing problem in the UK.)
4) Key is that you can give more value with direct sales through Lulu.
How you price Lulu vs. CreateSpace
Essentially, the breakdown is in that $10 barrier.
I crunched production costs for everything from a 32 page book up to 300 pages.
The cold bottom line: to stay under a $10 price point and a $2 royalty,
- Lulu has a 32 page-count limit to produce your book.
- CS is about 175 pages as an upper limit to be under that $10 target.
- For Lulu, a 175 page book will cost $14.50 on Amazon, but $7.25 locally.
- One of your readers could buy it as a CS-printed book on Amazon for $9.94
- Also, that book bought on Amazon will improve your sales rank there, which in turn could get your book recommended more frequently.
So: publish on both. Like I said, it only costs you sweat-equity once for each platform.
That said, at 50% price break, Lulu can print and sell a 300-plus page book under $9 if they sell direct to the customer. Of course postage is extra for both platforms (unless you’re paying for Prime, or hit one of Lulu’s specials.) Lulu turns out to be an average of just over $3 cheaper than CS for any print run if you buy directly from either.
How does that work?
Lulu adds close to 25% to your royalty. CS adds 60% more. A $2 royalty will jump your Lulu book by $2.25 above your cost per page. CS does two weird things: a) their cost jumps up by 67% above what you’d pay personally to have that book printed, and b) a $2 royalty will add $5 to that higher cost.
In most actual production costs, CS is less than 20 cents more expensive than Lulu. Meaning that both of them are running with the same basic expenses.
So the difference between them is that extra $3 that CS adds as their pie slice.
CS gets away with this as they don’t have to raise their prices to get into Amazon.
If you want to wade through this spreadsheet, email me and I’ll send you a copy. Then you can take your own data samples to cross-check my figures.
How does our PLR Frankenstein monster work into this?
Well, a lot of PLR ebooks have to be tweaked to even make 32 pages. Most of them aren’t. (In their hey-day, these tiny ebooks were being over-hyped and sold for as much as $97! It’s no wonder Internet Marketing is synonymous with “scam”)
What I really wanted to tell you was about how I brought these all to life again.
The original test was to take all the PLR books I had, about 70, and get them on to iTunes, Kobo, Nook, and Google Play (Amazon won’t take PLR.) GooglePlay quit on me, but gave me a lot of sales data while my books were selling there. These were all ebooks.
So out of these reports, I distilled down a list of the books which sold an average of one book per month for the last 6 months. This gave me 19 books.
The test was next to see if they’ll sell on Amazon. I published all these through Lulu and paid for the proofs. They are now all live. And I only put a couple on CS to see if there is a problem selling them there – some books do get rejected if the same book on Kindle has a problem. We’ll know by the time this podcast hits the air.
But the fun part was how simple this was to create a set up to sell these books online.
Here’s the opt-in page.
And here’s the thankyou page.
So you can see for yourself how simple it can be to get people to opt-in, and then get instant access to the entire library.
Sure, this is a simpler approach, as it has all these books up in a single page. What that does is to get this type of reader onto my site so they can then click over onto the other content I have there. I took this approach because the main reason for the site isn’t to push PLR books related to building an online business. But I have these books, and they are selling otherwise, so I might as well see if they’ll sell as hardcopy versions. Also, I am building up a series of books (and later, courses) on how an author can build their online business, so these are a step in that direction.
You can see I’m not done with what I need to do here. In fact, that to-do list is right at the top of the page.
But this is pretty much a template scene. Once you have all the data in Calibre, you simply take the ISBN’s and build your links out of them.
I discussed this some years ago. But here’s the short-hand:
- Lulu gives you ISBN’s for every ebook and print version. These are 13 numbers in a group with hyphens. (And CS gives you ISBN for their version.)
- Amazon has a simple address for paperbacks which uses the 10-character ISBN (http://amazon.com/dp/132996716X) The 13-character ISBN can be changed into the 10-character version and vice-versa. (http://pcn.loc.gov/isbncnvt.html)
- The Lulu 13-number ISBN is used for their “author spotlight” (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/robertworstell?searchTerms=9781329967168)
- ITunes uses the ebook ISBN in a search (http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781304777638)
- For the Lulu ebook, you just change the ISBN of the paperback for the spotlight search link. (Nook and Kobo have similar ISBN search links.)
As I said, I keep all the meta-data on these books in Calibre, including all their various ISBN’s. I started this page by simply putting down all the long list of book titles. Uploading the images and setting them as thumbnails was simple, as was excerpting enough description text to be interesting. Then the links are all the same, I just had to change the ISBN’s for each book and keep track of where I was at.
Still to do will be to add the free PDF download for each book, which is just another value-add. If they like it, they can buy the ebook to keep a copy on their smartphone or tablet. This will be through Ganxy, where I’ll offer the PDF, .mobi, and .epub versions all for one price – that’s the “Buy Direct” link. If they want a copy to mark up, they can buy through Amazon or through Lulu.
Yes, if CS doesn’t choke, I’ll have the CS books there as well, but whether I’ll link to them is a question. They already have the advantage of lower price. Linking to the Lulu version gives that version a push on Amazon. So, I’ll think it over some more when I get more data…
Really, this was just to bring you up to date about how POD is working and where it’s a good choice. And also to show you how simple it can be to use PLR (or a set of books you already have on Lulu) to create a buying page for your readers.
A Short Read Publishing Strategy
I’ve covered writing short-read Kindles before – and published that book on both Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/robertworstell?searchTerms=9781329835696) and CS (http://amazon.com/dp/1523449683).
To make 32 pages (Lulu’s minimum, CS will start at 28) you’ll need about 8000 words at 250 words per page. The minimum short read for Kindle is 2500 words. A novella is about 10,000 words.
So the upper end of our sweet spot is to stay under 175 pages, which would then mean about 44000 words, a short novel and bigger than many non-fiction books.
This also means that if you are bundling your short-reads, you can put four of them together and then also offer a print version. Just more value for your readers.
That’s an idea you can keep track of. Of course, if you want to give your readers a nice offer, then you can also offer them the Lulu discount as well.
Why did PLR Flatline?
- It’s generic by definition.
- All the data in them needs to be checked for accuracy.
(In short, most of the writing sucked.)
The way you succeed online is by providing great, valuable content. But all that content has to have your particular view and approach to that subject. (See Pulizzi’s Content Inc and his “Content Tilt.”)
PLR is something anyone can put their name on, like store-brand peanut butter. You don’t know what’s in it, and any other store can compete on price with it. PLR has also been sold widely and can be picked up for next to nothing at various places online. It can easily be found online for nothing more than Google search.
The trick with PLR is to use it as your starting point, not a final product. You have to verify everything they cover in there and make sure you are giving people useful data they can use to improve their quality of living. There is often a lot of good data laid out in a simple format. But you’ll have to re-write it completely in order to get it onto Amazon to sell it. And if you just upload a bunch of junk onto a website, it won’t be anything that will build a business. (Meaning: keep your day job.)
Having a stack of PLR articles on your hard drive can help you with inspiration, but you’ll have to take it from there.
Anything you put online has to solve a problem for someone. It has to enable them to get a better life. Generic solutions only solve generic problems, and these are only worth the paper they are printed on. Like “free advice,” you get what you pay for.
Note: none of these PLR books have my own name on them. This is simply a test.
– – – –
Well, that brings you up to date now.
As a note, this is just around 2700 words as I write this sentence. It will probably wind up as about a 5 minute audio file. If you’re following this logic, you’ll see that I could post this article itself as a Kindle “short read” and link to the audio file. Then bundle it with my Short Reads ebook (also podcast) and maybe one other book, and I’d have special books all with “audio inside” links which would send them to my website. Again, write once, publish in as many ways and as many formats as possible.
But that would only be if I had something which would solve problems others actually have. Putting up content just to have something out there is great practice, but seldom profitable. This episode is just another exploration in how to publish simply.
Meanwhile, have as much fun as you can with this.
See you next time, then.
(Update: All good on CS – time to get the rest published.)