Depending on your topic, bulk sales may be very viable (normally to universities, corporate clients, or conferences).
Or you may just want to have 50 or 100 copies on hand to give away as part of your seed marketing.
Bulk orders are a bit of a chore to set up initially, but become quite time-efficient once you’ve got the processes and providers in place.
Three printing options
If you’re traditionally published, bulk orders are something to discuss with your publisher.
If you’re self-published, you’ve got three main options:
- Find a regional print shop long in advance (best prices if you can find a good provider)
- Order author copies from your Amazon KDP account (great for small orders but limited for big ones)
- Use IngramSpark (my current preferred solution)
Read on for a brief explanation of the trade-offs of each.
A regional print shop was my solution for a long time, and once I found a good one, I loved it. But there’s massive variation on price, service, and quality, so expect to shop around. If possible, get a sample and check the quality (mainly whether the cover’s color scratches off under a fingernail and whether the pages fall out after repeated openings). The print shop I used was even willing to warehouse and ship my books for me, which allowed me to print 500 copies at a time (at lower per-copy costs) and send them out as needed.
Amazon author copies are easy but limited. (You add them to your cart through your KDP dashboard and then go back to the main site’s shopping cart to pay for them.) Amazon appears to put the lowest priority on author copies, so large orders often suffer major delays and get split into multiple deliveries that can arrive several days apart. To get around this, I suggest sending them to yourself (instead of the venue or client) long ahead of time, and then taking responsibility for doing the last-mile delivery yourself. Given that hassle, I now only use author copies when I want to send a few free books to some individual. For real bulk orders, the other two options have better trade-offs.
IngramSpark can be a little bit confusing, since it does a lot of stuff. (For example, you can combine it with Shopify to sell and ship physical books through your own website.) But what’s important is that they have high-quality printers in multiple countries, with consistent pricing and quality, and that you can order books to be printed and shipped from wherever is closest to the client. It costs a small setup fee per book (currently about $50), but you’ll make that back on the first order. If you’re feeling techy, you could even automate these bulk purchases through your own site.
Whenever possible, ship the books directly to the client/event with plenty of time to spare. It’s worth being organized on this.
I once got into a timeline squeeze where an order of 800 books wasn’t going to arrive on time, and I ended up needing to spend $3,000 (and lots of stress) to fix it — I had the books couriered to me across half of England, bought a last-minute flight to Moscow lugging four oversized suitcases that I bought specifically for the occasion. Not recommended.
My experiences & context
For context, I price bulk orders of 50+ copies at €10 ($12) apiece, which is a bit less than half of retail ($30). Printing and shipping costs $2-5 per book, depending on volume. If customers order more than 200 books, then I’ll optionally add their logo to the cover along with a custom foreword (written by them) to the innards.
The covid lockdowns have put a slight damper on bulk orders, but prior to that, they contributed an extra $10k or so per year for me.
And if you’re in the business of offering some sort of training or consulting, your services can be bundled with the books for significantly higher earnings.