In this day and age, we generally refer interested buyers to our online catalogues, either on our publisher sites or our reader sites. Some potential buyers, however, still want paper catalogues, and we need to learn to accommodate them. They also make nice additions to your table at a book fair, or to have stashed away in case you spawn a commercial opportunity with a distributor or other professional.
Now, if you're trying to contact dozens or hundreds of such outlets — perhaps you're trying to reach every music shop in America — it can make sense to use a commercial service, where for quantities of a few hundred, you can pay a dollar or two for each catalogue (depending on page counts, etc).
For example, the high-quality printers I use for business cards offer catalogues, designed for all kinds of retail needs, not just books. Play around with the pricing options here to get some ideas about the costs for an 5.5×8.5 inch catalogue, on the sort of paper stock that you typically receive from quality clothing retailers.
I don't find this helpful for my needs, myself. For one thing, I haven't got a mass distribution list that I can use for my fiction titles (unless I want to do a mailing directly to indie bookstores). More importantly, my catalogue:
- Adds new titles frequently, multiple times/year
- Never closes backlist titles
- May need to address foreign languages
This means that I can't benefit from the economies of scale inherent in a professional mass print job.
What I need is something for occasional use, for specific requests for paper catalogues on an ad hoc basis. This could be something that people request from my wholesale pricing page, or something I send proactively to a distributor whom I hope will carry my books.
So, how can I produce a high-quality, low volume, paper catalogue at a reasonable price?
Well, I could print my own directly. If I'm going to do that, I'd like it to be more like a soft booklet than a flimsy magazine — after all, at my quantities, the cost of the paper is the least of the issue.
Do it yourself
Let's list the requirements:
- High quality matte or gloss cover paper (50lb weight or higher)*. Printable on both sides, if possible.
- High quality interior paper (26-50lb weight), printable on both sides
- Photographic printer & inks
- Scoring tool (to make clean folds)
- Saddle-stitch stapler (for binding)
- Envelopes for mailing (printable, with the publisher logo)
- Software for layout and design (e.g., Photoshop)
I'm a semi-pro photographer, so I have some of these tools already (notably, a photographic printer and Photoshop).
Let's see what some of these things cost in 11×8.5 for a 5.5×8.5 inch booklet:
Cover paper: 60lb Polar Matte (double-sided) (50 sheets of 11×8.5 for $19) or 60lb Pecos Rover Gloss (single-sided) (50 sheets of 11×8.5 for $29) or 86lb Pecos River Gloss Duo (double-sided) (50 sheets of 11×8.5 for $56) from Red River Paper. That's a range of circa $0.36 to $1.12 for one cover, depending on how fancy you want to be.
Interior paper: 32lb Red River Premium Matte (double sided) (100 sheets of 11×8.5 for $21), or $0.21 per sheet. My current book catalogue would require 24 pages, or 6 sheets, so $1.26 per catalogue.
Inks: hard to quantify, but since this is all full-color, it would not be negligible. Perhaps $1-2 per catalogue?
Envelopes: See for example. For the 5.5×8.5 inch booklet: $40-$60 for boxes of 500. $0.10 to $0.30 each.
Total for consumables: booklets are about $3.72. (Initial investment in inventory $80-$117 for paper.)
My printer is a few years old, but I'll lay out my costs to give you a baseline.
Printer: Canon Pro9000 Mark II. $640 ($275 used). This is now 9 years old and there are less expensive printers — be sure they have the capacity for the width of paper you want to use and can print to the very edge of the paper.
Saddle stitch stapler: Rayson SH-03. $140.
You can either address the layouts yourself, using other book catalogues as guides and a tool like Photoshop, or you could treat this as a freelance job for someone else (but then you would need to pay every time you had to update the catalogue).
A lot depends on your circumstances. I'll use my situation as an example,
I already have the photographic printer and related expertise, as well as enough Photoshop skills to do the design. Once I lay out the first catalogue, updating it with fresh information should take little time.
Investment needed for inventory & tools: $80 paper, $80 for scoring, $140 for stapler = $300. That (plus consumed inks) lets me print 16 catalogues before I need more paper (for multi-page interiors) or 50, before I need more paper for covers. I only expect to print a few of these per year, so this holds me for a year or two before I spend another dime, and then runs on per-catalogue additional costs of about $3.36 until I have to buy more cover paper, and then $3.72. I retain maximum flexibility for catalogue contents and frequency of updates.
Professional printing costs a fraction of this per unit in large enough quantities, but the quality is a bit more flimsy and can't address tiny quantities. A minimum quantity of 25 catalogues of 24 pages would be $270 for a 5.5×8.5 catalogue (you might do better shopping around).
From my perspective, I'd always rather have control. In this case, my initial investment isn't that much greater than a one time professional run of 25 units. If I ever needed a second professional run (such as when I add new titles), the total cost would exceed my investment in doing it myself. Sounds like doing it myself is an obvious choice for me, as long as the volumes are low.
* Paper weight is a multi-scale concept — it depends on what you're measuring. For example, “80#” is the equivalent of “40 pounds”. See here and here for examples. There are at least 5 separate scales. It's always best to query your supplier about the best weights in his scale for your uses.