Illustrated Geek Cookbook Post-Mortem
What does it REALLY cost to print a full color hardback cookbook? I know plenty of you are contemplating Kickstarters for a variety of products in the future, so I wanted to give you a realistic idea of how to budget both time and money for your campaigns.
Let’s start by breaking down the costs of the Illustrated Geek Cookbook.
$10,496 - Book Printing for 3000 full color hardback books
$3116 - Ocean Freight
$1380 - Other Printer Fees
$521 - Poster Printing
$600 - Postcard Printing
$562 - Uline Mailers (Envelopes & Poster Tubes)
$2846 - USPS Postage to mail rewards
$19,521 - TOTAL EXPENSES
$16,760 - Kickstarter
- $1676 (Kickstarter and Amazon Wallet Fees)
= $15,084 After Fees
$1823 - Backerkit
- $1100 (Backerkit fees and books other than Illustrated Geek Cookbook)
= $723 After Fees and Expenses
$15,807 TOTAL EARNED
$19,521 Total Expenses
- $15,807 Total Crowdfunded
= - $3714 Deficit (Yay for credit cards!)
I only included expenses that I wouldn’t be able to benefit from elsewhere. If you’re planning a campaign of your own, I recommend factoring in at least an additional $500 for “other” expenses.
For example, my elderly laser printer died during the first 50 labels - right after I bought a whole new set of toner cartridges I can’t use on any newer hardware. I ended up buying a LabelWriter dedicated label printer and label rolls for it. Since I’m able to use the label printer for Etsy orders (or anything else I have to ship) I didn’t include it in the above expenses. The goal here is to give you a realistic ballpark for the minimum costs.
REWARDS ADD UP
If you’re not careful, you can easily end up spending more money on reward extras than on your actual product.
I recommend giving yourself a baseline extras budget plus added extras expenses for each stretch goal. (For example, my budget was $1000. Reaching the “everybody gets a poster” stretch goal cost me another 10%, but it was totally worth it to hit that goal.)
Before our campaign, I was advised to stay away from high dollar items like t-shirts, tote bags, or anything else you’d expect from an NPR Pledge Drive. Most people will only wear your shirt or use your tote bag three or fewer times, so you’re really not getting any secondary advertising out of it.
Shirts in particular are the number one thing successful Kickstarter backers told me they regret. Not only are they always more expensive than you think, but people will understandably want specific styles (mens/unisex, kids, ladies fitted, ladies loose cut, etc), alternate colors, and specific sizes. If your campaign does really well, you can easily spend a chunk of time every single day just managing custom t-shirts requests. If your Kickstarter is for shirts, that’s great. If it’s for anything else, shirts are a huge time and money sink.
INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING WILL EAT YOUR LUNCH
It feels horribly unfair to charge so much more to international backers, but getting heavy objects from point A to point B isn’t cheap. Most domestic orders cost me around $5 in postage while orders to Europe cost closer to $19 and orders to Australia & New Zealand were all over $25. Between the cost of the book itself, mailers, and postage, I actually lost money on all my international orders.
This can be really hard when you don’t know what your final product will weigh. (For example, I thought I’d be mailing paperbacks when I launched the Illustrated Geek Cookbook Kickstarter.) The rule of thumb suggested by other successful backers is to add $20 to the cost of all international orders.
DOMESTIC VS INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTION
The pros and cons here will vary a lot depending on your product. In general, though, if you’re doing anything in bulk, it’s embarrassingly cheaper to use overseas vendors.
Even after factoring in the cost of ocean freight, printing books in Asia let me upgrade from paperback to hardback, upgrade to a higher interior paper quality, upgrade to sewn rather than glued bindings, and still spend about 20% less than I would have to print a lower quality paperback version here in the United States.
However, there will be hidden or unexpected fees that eat into said discount, your turnaround times will be months slower, and worst of all, once the US based customer service reps hand you over to their international counterparts, well, I’m not the first person to have such a disastrous experience that I’ve decided to spend more to use a domestic supplier in the future. This is the stage where an awful lot of projects break down.
Getting higher quality components for less money is great. Honestly, despite all the hassles, my books are freaking gorgeous. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the savings is worth the incredible, stressful, drawn out hassles. (Note: If you’re making anything with electronic components, no matter how much you may want to go domestic, you’ll probably end up sourcing parts overseas.)
IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN YOU THINK
I looked at my sales rep’s worst case scenario and tacked on an extra two month buffer. The books were nearly five months overdue. Your case may not be that extreme, but somewhere along the way, something will take longer than you think. Figure out the longest amount of time it’ll take to get your product into backer hands, then add on 15-20% more time.
CONSIDER A FULFILLMENT SERVICE
If you’re shipping more than 500 items, a fulfillment service might be worth the cost. Basically, you pay someone else to sift through your orders, pack the correct rewards for each individual backer, and ship everything. Your fees include mailers (my Uline expenses above) and postage as well as labor. These services aren’t cheap, but if you end up earning substantially more than your expenses, they might be worth the time savings. I didn’t earn enough to afford a fulfillment service, so I spent 4-5 nights a week for 2 months filling orders then horrifying my local post office when I hauled in a carload of books every trip. If you can’t afford a fulfillment service and don’t want shipping to become your life, start buttering your friends up now so they’ll be down with free labor once fulfillment time rolls around.
BE HONEST WITH YOUR BACKERS
Shit happens. Backers know that Kickstarter isn’t a mall. If you keep folks updated about the process, most of them are amazingly understanding. (Honestly, I was shocked by the kindness of people’s replies.) If you fall off the face of the planet for months at a time then only emerge with bad news, people will be understandably pissed. I know that reporting bad news to people who trusted you with their money is freaking terrifying, but it’s the single most important thing you can do.
SOME SPECIFICS ABOUT BOOKS
Books really benefit from economies of scale. The cost per unit of 1000 or fewer full color books is usually 2 - 2.5 times the per unit cost of printing 3000 books. The economies of scale get even better when you’re looking at 5000 or 10,000 books.
If your book is black and white (a novel, how-to guide, or other nonfiction that doesn’t require photos) you may not need a Kickstarter. I’ve printed several books using CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand imprint. The quality of their color interior books is sadly lacking, but their black and white trade paperbacks are indistinguishable from anything you’d find in a bookstore. Honestly, if they offered good quality color interiors, I would’ve gone that route myself instead of crowdfunding.
I HOPE THAT HELPS!
I hope that gives any of you who are planning your own Kickstarters some useful advice and real world numbers!