I frequently counsel clients not to worry excessively about book sales. For coaches, consultants, and speakers, the ROI on a nonfiction book often comes from gaining additional clients and/or raising professional fees more than it does from individual book sales. This is especially true if they have not yet achieved a broad base of potential readers.
However, this position does not mean you shouldn’t pursue book sales at all. Rather than working hard for the marginal profit from individual book sales, consider bulk book sales. For comparable effort, the payoff can be much bigger.
How Bulk Book Sales Work
When you publish independently using print-on-demand (POD) technology, you have control over pricing, which facilitates bulk book sales.
Let’s say you publish your book on CreateSpace, the Amazon print-on-demand provider. (This approach to managing bulk sales works on other POD platforms as well.) You price your book at $20. (We’ll use round numbers to keep this easy.) Each time someone orders a copy of your book, it gets printed and shipped. CreateSpace keeps the cost to print ($3) and Amazon keeps its share of the sale ($7), so you make $10 profit.
As the author, however, you can purchase copies of your book directly from CreateSpace. You pay only the print cost ($3 apiece) plus shipping (say $1 per book), so $4 total. If you were to sell that book at its retail price of $20, you make $16 in profit.
For bulk sales, rather than purchase via Amazon, the buyer purchases directly from you. You order from CreateSpace and have the books shipped to the buyer. The $16 in profit noted above gives you room to play with different price levels.
In this situation, you might offer the following tiers:
- Up to 9 copies = $20, regular retail price (no discount)
- 10 to 24 copies = $18 each (minus $4 means a profit of $14 each)
- 25 to 49 copies = $16 each (minus $4 means a profit of $12 each)
- 50 to 99 copies = $14 each (minus $4 means a profit of $10 each, the same as an individual sale)
- 100 to 499 copies = $12 each (minus $4 means a profit of $8 each)
- 500+ copies = $10 each (minus $4 means a profit of $6 each)
Even at the volume where you earn less per-unit profit than you would on an individual retail sale, you still make a reasonable amount, especially when you compare to traditional publishing from which you might earn $1-2 per book sold. At 500 copies, you make a total profit of $3000. Is the work to get 300 individual sales ($3000/$10=300) more or less than the work to get one bulk sale of 500 copies? Your answer depends on your existing reach and your pricing.
Strategies for Creating Bulk Book Sales
Now that we’ve got the basic logistics covered, let’s look at three ways to create bulk book sales.
Strategy 1: Corporate Bulk Book Sales
In a past corporate life, during a time of fruit-basket upset, every manager in my company received a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? (I really wish it had come with a gift receipt—decent concept, horrible writing.) In a company of several thousand employees, we must have had several hundred managers. That’s quite a few books for one sale.
If you train or consult for businesses, corporate sales may be a good approach for you. Especially if you have a topic that is timely (such as change management for a company in upheaval), you may easily identify specific target clients.
Strategy 2: Sponsorship for Nonprofits
Nonprofit organizations are notoriously budget constrained, so a straight bulk sale like you might do with a corporation may not fly. However, it’s possible to sell to a nonprofit by finding someone else to pay the bill.
Nonprofits commonly acquire funding through grants, so they could include copies of your book as a line item in a grant proposal. However, the grant application and review process can take a long time.
Another tack is finding businesses that support nonprofits through their marketing budgets, in other words, through sponsorships. In this case, you’ll want to recognize the business for their contribution. Thanks again to print-on-demand publishing, you can create a customized cover with the organization’s logo on it. You can even customize the interior of the book if you want.
To make a nonprofit approach work, look for natural alignment. For example, if you have a book about financial literacy for women, maybe a bank would sponsor the purchase of copies for a nonprofit that serves women rebuilding their lives after rehab. The nonprofit gets another resource to use with its clients, the clients benefit from useful information, the bank can claim corporate social responsibility credentials (if not potential future clients). And, of course, you sell books, so it is a win-win-win-win.
Strategy 3: Mix-and-Match Speaking Fees and Book Sales
Professional speakers benefit from the credibility a book brings, but they also benefit from the flexibility it allows them in developing their proposals.
Without a book, you are basically limited to saying “Here’s my speaking fee.” Having a book lets you say, “I charge $Z for speaking and include 50 books in the price.” Or, “I charge $Y and you can purchase books at just over cost.” Or, “I charge X and you can purchase books at a slight discount from the retail price.”
And if the conference planner has already exceeded the budget for speaking fees? Or doesn’t have a budget for speaking fees? Then you can say, “I will speak for free if you purchase 100 books.” The conference planner gets to spend money from the materials budget line rather than from the speaker fee budget line, and you still get paid what you want.
Ready to Ramp Up Your Bulk Book Sales?
You can probably dream up many variations on these three concepts. Make sure the pricing you come up with works, then be creative.
Bulk book sales give you visibility as well as dollars in the bank. And back to my initial comment: if your ROI comes from additional client engagements and increased professional fees, the more visible you are, the better.