Writing and Publishing

Why Books Are So Expensive

But Authors Aren’t Making Much Money

Sheyna Galyan
7 min readJul 22, 2022
Photo by alfexe on iStock Photo. Used with license.

People have strong opinions about how much books cost, and among every group of readers, I hear or read questions about how to get books cheaper — or for free.

Personally, I hold Amazon responsible for training readers in general to expect $0.99 ebooks and $1.99 paperbacks. Amazon sells books as loss leaders, so their pricing isn’t realistic in the book world.

I’ve been in the publishing industry for twenty years. I launched my first publishing company in 2002, back when “self-publishing” was a dirty word. I’ve learned from traditional publishers and mid-sized independent presses. I was one of the early adopters of on-demand printing, years before CreateSpace, before IngramSpark, back when Ingram’s on-demand printing company, Lightning Source, was in its early years.

On-demand printing has pros and cons. The pro, obviously, is that books are only printed when purchased, saving on warehousing costs. However, bookstores are less likely to carry on-demand titles, and many publishers set up their titles with no returns — a dealbreaker for bookstores, which run on consignment and depend heavily on the ability to return books for full credit.

The biggest disadvantage to on-demand printing is that the unit print cost — the cost to print and bind one copy of one title — is higher than printing larger digital runs (500+ copies on a digital printer where toner sits on the surface of the paper) or offset runs (1000+ copies on an offset printer, where ink from plates is pressed into the paper). These days, the quality of digital printing is nearly indistinguishable from offset printing, a huge increase in quality over the past 20 years. Still, the more copies one prints, the lower the unit cost.

Why does the unit cost matter?

In the traditional book trade, everyone gets a piece of the retail price. A distributor warehouses books and either charges the publishers fees for storage, picking, packing, freight, and returns or takes a cut of the sales price (up to 20%). The distributor sells books to wholesalers (on consignment) at a 55% discount off the retail price. Wholesalers turn around and sell books to bookstores…



Sheyna Galyan

Author • Soul Guides™ Coach • Trauma-Informed Spiritual Teacher• Engage with your soul guides without all the BS. https://sheynagalyan.com