Bookbaby – Reviewed

Bookbaby describes itself as ‘a team of authors, poets, bloggers, and artists’ providing an e-book distribution network and offering publishing services to authors not looking to  sell-out to ‘big publishing.’
Founded in 2011 and based in Oregon, USA, Bookbaby is a brand of the AVL Digital Group, which is a manufacturer and distributor of optical discs for independent artists, filmmakers, and businesses in the United States. Bookbaby is also a sister company of CD Baby, one of the original online distributors for independent musical started in a garage in 1998.
Over the past three years Bookbaby has become popular among independent authors for its layout and e-book conversion services and it has also added more distribution networks, including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and many other retailers in 170 countries.
Why should an author use Bookbaby over some of its rivals?
Like many self-publishing platforms, it depends a lot on how much of the pre-publication work you can do yourself, how much of a budget you have, and if you are an author who prefers to deal with one platform rather than two or more. Using Amazon’s KDP for Kindle e-books directly or Smashwords Meatgrinder and wide distribution network comes with some drawbacks. There may be no upfront fees, but you still need the smarts to produce a completed file for upload. Amazon KDP and Smashwords do not offer design, layout tools or any kind of support services for file creation and production. Both do offer pretty thorough guides and help pages for authors to learn the process, but this may not be every author’s bag, and what’s more, it takes some skills and time to prepare e-book files.
Indeed, I know many authors, who opt to use Bookbaby’s services to prepare, design, format, check and convert e-book files, and then take the finished files directly to Amazon KDP, Smashwords and Kobo.
Bookbaby offers three e-book publishing packages(Free, Standard and Premium) with a range of options and prices. To use any of them, you must first sign up for a Bookbaby account.
The basic entry-level package is free, but authors will be required to supply a retail-ready ePub file before the e-book can be made available to Bookbaby’s distribution partners.
Free Package:
Distribution to Bookbaby Partners, including: Apple iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, eSentral, Scribd and PagePusher
Inclusion in BookShop: a webpage to detail, promote your book, and include distribution buy links to Bookbaby’s retail partners
85% payout of net sales back to authors (after retail partner discounts)
$100 coupon off custom-printed books (minimum order required) 
BookPromo™: a promotional toolkit to drive reviews and exposure for your book. Included in this toolkit:
    • eBook discovery placements with Goodreads and Noise Trade
    • Guaranteed book reviews with Readers’ Favorite and Story Cartel
    • Promotion through PR Newswire, Author Marketing Club, and WriterCube
    • Discounts for PR and book trailers
    • Exclusive guide: Ultimate Social Media Marketing for Authors
Free email customer service support specific to this package is only supplied. (Bookbaby has an advertised phone line, but one can only assume this is for general inquiries.
The Standard packagecosts $99 and includes all the offers included in the basic free package, but with the addition of the following:
ePub formatting and file conversion to .mobi (from most source files including MS Word, PDF, Text, HTML, InDesign, Pages and Quark
14-point conversion pre-load checklist
Post-conversion quality check on major e-reader devices
Conversion of up to 5 graphic elements
ePub formatted proof prior to distribution
ePub and .mobi editions for direct sales use
Phone support in addition to email support supplied with basic package
The Standard package is designed for authors requiring some help and adds the benefit that the author does not have to worry about the creation and conversion of a professional retail-ready e-book file. Ultimately the author still has to go through the checklist and make any alterations necessary to create a finalised file. The proof is not sent to the author, but instead the author is directed to an online link where the proof is held. Bookbaby does warn that subsequent reconversions to correct editing or typo errors may incur additional charges.
The Premiumpackage costs $249 and means that Bookbaby will handle every aspect of your e-book from file submission, formatting, conversion and distribution. Bookbaby will not take a cut on net sales (Free and Standard packages allow Bookbaby to take a 15% cut on net sales). The Premium package additionally provides the following:
100% payment on net sales
$200 coupon on custom-print books
A technical team will review your file after conversion
Conversion of up to 50 graphic elements
An additional second conversion if necessary
A digital PDF for direct sales use
Optimisation of your BookShop webpage with book metadata
Priority processing and delivery time to retailers
A $30 coupon off e-book cover design service
60 days of website hosting at Hostbaby (Hostbaby is a sister brand of Bookbaby and already offers 30 days free on sign up, so you are simply getting an extra month!)
Bookbaby offers discounts if authors purchase multiple packages at once. You can find details on those discounts here.
I would advise all authors to be careful on making file amendments after the initial conversion (regardless of the chosen package) as corrections with Bookbaby can accrue additional fees and mount up quickly.
Author Payments, Pricing and Reports
Bookbaby pays authors dependent on the payment ceiling set by the author (minimum payment setting is $10), and on the Monday after that ceiling was reached. Payments are made direct deposit (US bank account only), cheque or via PayPal.
“Once your eBook is up for sale at the sites you have selected, it will take approximately 45 to 60 days after the end of the first fiscal month for any sales of your eBook to show up in your BookBaby account. This varies by store, and depends entirely on how quickly stores report their sales to BookBaby. As soon as we get sales reports from the retailers they are immediately imported into your account. Then, when your account has reached the payout amount that you have selected, we will automatically send out a payment to you via the method that you have selected on the following Monday.”
Bookbaby sales reports are available from the dashboard of the author’s account between 45-60 days after the month of the book sale. The author can also set the retail price of his/her book, as low as free, provided the retailer allows free e-books in their catalogue.
ISBNs
Bookbaby do supply ISBNs to authors at a cost of $19, but the ISBN will list Bookbaby as the publisher of original, while the author retains copyright and other subsidiary rights to the work. Authors can use their own ISBNs, but it is worth noting that this option is not available in the basic Free package. Free can mean lots of different things when it comes to choosing a self-publishing platform, but more often than not, the author is paying for ‘free’ somewhere—either through the overall cost of a package or by limitations on what can and can’t be done.
Bookbaby Printing
While most authors will associate the company with e-book services, Bookbaby also offers a printing and binding service to authors and small publishers. This service is also supported with additional cover and interior layout services (cover design from $299 and interior from $399). Alternatively, authors can supply print-ready files, so long as the files conform to Bookbaby’s specifications(templates available for download). Please note that Bookbaby do not distribute printed books to retail channels.
Printing and binding is available in various trim sizes (soft and hardback), but you really need to order at least 100 books to make this at all viable. For example, a 200 page softback, perfect bound, with colour cover and black and white interior will cost $79 for just 1 unit. Examples of printing cost were taken using Bookbaby’s online instant quote calculator. The least quantity that can be ordered is either 1 or 25 books. Ordering 25 of the same example book will cost a total of $219 + shipping. Again, that’s pretty pointless at nearly $9 a book. Ordering 100 books would cost $680 + shipping, with a unit cost of $6.80—about twice the price for the same specification book direct from Lightning Source or CreateSpace. I’d expected an order of 500 units to yield at least a unit price close to what LSI and CreateSpace would offer. Forget it—500 books = $6.62 unit cost: 1000 books = $5.09 unit cost. Now that’s just having a laugh!
I appreciate the printing services augment the e-book services and there are combined e-book and print combination discounts available, but now I can see why Bookbaby include that custom-print discount on the Standard and Premium e-book packages. Strangely, we then get this Low Price Promisethat Bookbaby will match any quote from a rival (reputable) US printer.
“Never fear about overpaying for your printed books again. BookBaby now guarantees its prices are the lowest around.”
Like hell they are!
“Here’s what our Low Price Promise means: We will match any written quote on an identical book from any reputable U.S. printer. It’s that simple.
“Our prices are super low already. But we’re rolling out the Low Price Promise to protect you. Every once in a while we hear from a customer who has bought from another company to save a few bucks, and ended up unhappy with their purchase. We don’t want that to happen to you! So now, thanks to our LPP, there’s absolutely no reason to ever have to compromise between price and quality. With BookBaby, you get both.”
It begs the question why it inflates print costs so much in the first place! I suspect not enough authors are challenging Bookbaby on their print quotes.
Bookbaby Website & Navigation
The Bookbaby website is smooth, clean and easy to navigate. I had little trouble finding answers to questions I had and the FAQ page is detailed and very transparent for information. The website also features a number of free guides, helpful blog articles and resource pages on everything from layout to marketing. I could find little fault with the Bookbaby website and many rival companies like Smashwords could take a leaf out of their book!
Additional Services
Bookbaby provides additional services including print and e-book cover design, editing services (via FirstEditing), a book scanning service; and I like that it offers a Fixed Layout package($199 + cost of Standard or Premium package) for iPad e-books.
Overall
Bookbaby has established itself as a major player in a relatively short space of time as an e-book self-publishing platform. In a highly competitive market, that is impressive and it offers the best of many worlds—all services in one place and a strong distribution network. I’d like to see better and real marketing services, but I suspect that is not where the company sees itself going. There is a good mix of hands-on and hands-off packages and services, and many of these can be purchased individually. However, I’m less convinced about Bookbaby’s print services and a claimed Low Price Promise on matching rival print quotes. Regarding author payments, yes, Bookbaby pay on a weekly basis if you constantly hit your payment ceiling set, but your cut is always going to fare better when you load an e-book file and distribute you book directly with a retail channel. Payments from Bookbaby are paid to authors from net sales they receive. It’s a case of balancing the time and effort you put in to prepare your e-book against what you have to pay upfront, and ultimately, how many books you need to sell to recoup any upfront cost.
PROS—All services in one place, major retail channels included (including Amazon Kindle), excellent website and transparency, regularly and quick author payments, growing reputation in self-publishing community, and technical quality checks on submitted files.
CONS—Payments made on net sales from distribution channels, no downloadable proof on some packages, only email support for entry level package, very limited marketing support (more guide and advice), print mark-up leading to non-competitive print costs (regardless of claimed Low Price Promise), no distribution on print books, author ISBN cannot be used on entry-level package, and file corrections/amendments can lead to mounting additional fees.
RATING: 7.4/10
My rating reflects Bookbaby as an e-book platform. Frankly, I’m not sure why it went into print broker services, and if I was to take this fully into account, I’d actually knock that rating back to 7.0 or 6.9, at least.
UPDATE: (December 2014)
UPDATE: (January 2015)
 

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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