Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Announcing Crispin Press

When we first decided to publish a cookbook, it was clear from the beginning that we were going to offer it in full color, with photographs. We didn't want to put out a product that didn't have color, and photographs, and that was that.

Unfortunately, the custom and small run printing and publishing business charges through the nose for color printing.

We initially contracted with a small run publisher, with a quote that we thought to be reasonable for the first print run (based on a minimum order of 500 copies). We based our initial figures on the quote and so priced the books at $25 a piece.

Unfortunately, between the launching of the cookbook and the actual printing, the quoted printing cost per book soared to $30; $5 higher than our announced cover price.

Obviously no profit would be had at such a price, as almost no one would pay $30 plus shipping and profit (nor would we ask anyone to). We'd also already announced a $25 cover price, and we weren't going to go back on that.

First, we looked at the option of going to a no-color book, with no photos. Chris reworked the layout, and re-wrote a bit to fill... but we just didn't like it.

So we priced around again, knowing that prices were high (the original printer was the lowest we found); and MY GOD I did not realize $30 a piece for a self-published cookbook was average to good, and for color was very good.

Printers and publishers who market themselves to NON-PROFITS selling cookbooks as FUNDRAISERS are charging $30 a piece for black and white. Don't even get me started on subsidy press/vanity press, and print-on-demand services and their idea of "reasonable".

Even the local printers seemed to want to bleed us dry, and I tried plenty of those. We could get a reasonable quote for black and white, small format, perfect bound only; anything else (and most especially the large format, full color, spiral bound book we wanted), the prices started out at "unreasonable", and topped out at "ridiculous".

So we looked at all of the various printers' quotes, looked at what WE thought to be reasonable, and asked the eternal question of capitalism: Can we do it better and cheaper?

As it happens, we discovered we could.

We ran the numbers for printing the books ourselves, taking into account real professional equipment, binding equipment, paper, ink and other consumables, packaging, shipping... everything we could think of (and Chris is remarkably good at deflating my ideas of how little something will cost. He has this knack for finding extra costs in every corner that we need to account for).

Turns out our cost per book is considerably less than quoted to us. Of course we knew that would be the case; printers and publishers have to make a profit after all. What we didn't understand, was that the difference between what we would have been charged, and what our costs would be to open our own publishing company, were in fact enough that we could cover the costs to do so within the first few hundred copies sold of a single cookbook.

So we thought about it for a few days, got some opinions concerning equipment and quotes from reputable vendors (thanks Bobby!), ran the numbers again and again; and kept coming back to the same point: We can do this ourselves.

I've done copy editing work. Chris was a professional magazine writer for a while, has done article editing (though not copy editing. He knows HOW to spell, it's just he's so dyslexic he reverses words around constantly), knows digital pre-press, and understands and knows people in the business.

We already have the scanning and imaging equipment, and the computer systems and software from Chris's business. We've got the time, and the space...

The numbers told us that the cash influx from the first couple hundred orders would be enough to cover good, professional, small run production color printing and binding equipment, and all of the consumables...

Not only can we do this ourselves, but once the first few hundred cookbooks are sold, we'd be left with all of this really good professional equipment (bought at wholesale prices, thanks again)...

As it happens, we know SO many people who need this kind of service, and I'm still really pissed about the fleecing of the non-profits...

Well, it would be silly not to at least try it. After all, we've already pre-sold all those books, and we're going to need to print and bind them anyway, and this is the only way we aren't going to LOSE money on that...

We decided we were going to do it.

So, it pleases us very much to announce the creation of Crispin Press

Crispin Press is being founded as a short run publisher and printer; offering low volume, color and black and white, specialty, custom, and personal, printing and publishing services; as well as digital pre-press, and editing services.

We will provide limited distribution and fulfillment services, print on demand, and may provide print on demand fulfillment services (if we think the book is worthwhile).

We have already established a distribution contract, and will be able to offer a zero inventory publishing and distribution service through Ingram (the number one book distributor in the country), and Amazon.com; at least for black and white (we can't do enough color volume to get distribution, at the price we'd need to sell it at).

We're in the midst of setting up Crispin Press as an Arizona LLC separate from Chris's business (we already have a company for Chris's contracting business); and for now are doing business under Chris's company, operating as Crispin Press.

Ok... so why did we decide to actually start up a publishing company? Isn't that a long way from just printing a few hundred books to raise money?

When we were researching the market, and trying to decide whether we should try and found our own publishing company, or just print our book and be done with it; we looked around at what was out there for small run publishers, and we just didn't like what we saw.

In particular we saw that certain specialty markets we were interested in were underserved, or poorly served by current providers.

These markets include:
  • Fundraisers and non-profits
  • Small-audience non academic, and non-religious publications (the academic and religious presses do a good job)
  • Home schooling textbooks, workbooks, and other instructional and training materials
  • Gaming materials and manuals
  • Hobby materials and manuals
  • Firearms manuals, training materials, and books
  • Shooting manuals, training materials, and books
  • Hunting manuals, training materials, and books
  • Manuals and training materials for specialty markets
  • Political and philosophical materials on the libertarian and conservative side
  • Family History Books
  • Printed and bound family albums
Basically, any book that would have an audience of more than 10 and less than 10,000 is in limbo. You can go to a subsidy/vanity press, but they're so expensive, there's no way you'll ever make a dime selling your book (which is why it's called a vanity press).

Sure there are other small run publishers out there, like iUniverse for example; but as I said, they charge through the nose for color, or for anything other than perfect bound (let's not even get into what they charge for hardcovers in color).

We really think this is viable; because the fixed costs are pretty low (modern digital pre-press, and short run color printing technologies have made that possible), and because it's my labor, and the labor of my family and underemployed friends on a temporary basis.

Basically, we don't have a shop, we don't have a warehouse, we don't have a payroll, and other than the direct printing and binding equipment (which is expensive, but reasonably priced for the work it can do) we have the gear already; so we can really afford to do this cheaper than anyone else, in the small quantities we're looking at doing.

Besides which, if this doesn't work, we're not really out anything, because we needed to do everything but the business paperwork to get the cookbook done anyway.

I don't think we could have dreamed up a better prospect for a home-based, part-time, flexible, extra-income business. One that can be run from my iPhone, no less.

I want to personally and individually thank you for your pre-orders of the cookbook. It was that strong interest in helping us out, and in buying our book, that made all this possible.

Thanks to all of you who have pre-ordered cookbooks and/or given us free publicity, we've made our minimum number plus a few (around 210 at the moment). That will allow us to cover our costs on the equipment, and on printing and shipping the first print run of the cookbook.

Anything we sell over and above that, we're actually making a profit, and paying down our legal bills.

Our first product (the cookbook) will be shipping as soon as we're done re-writing, reformatting, and redoing the layout.

Our initial design and layout were predicated on the services of our first publisher. Now that we are publishing ourselves, we need to reformat, and do some re-writing to fit the new press and binding system. Chris is working on that now, and it should be ready to start printing in a week or two.

Our website will be going online shortly as well. We've got the domains and hosting up and running, but we're still working on the design and coding.

When the site is live, we will publish our toll free number, contact, and sales info. We will publish a standard price schedule for services at that time. In the mean time, email me for more information.

Hopefully we can turn Crispin Press into a long-term solution to our legal debt problem, that will allow me to work at home, and help other people with services they need as well.

Thanks to all of you who made this possible!