Pricing Your Handbound Books

pricing your handbound books and other handmade itemsOr any handmade item for that matter. Time and again, I’ve gotten on Etsy and seen people selling handbound books for what seems to me to be barely more than their materials cost. STOP IT! PAY YOURSELF A DECENT WAGE! I don’t care if you would’ve been making no money otherwise, but you are a (at least somewhat) skilled craftsman and you need to charge as much. What is a decent wage? Not minimum wage, that’s for sure. I’m going to be candid, which is something not a lot of online sellers are willing to do, and tell you that I pay myself $50/hour, and I fully intend to give myself a raise at the end of the year. Maybe all you do is pamphlets, coptics, and stab bindings and you want to pay yourself less. Go for it, but I would never pay myself less than $20/hour, and that might not be a fair wage where you live. If you couldn’t subsist on that wage working at it full time, pay yourself more.

When you are calculating price, you don’t just consider your time and materials; you consider the future, too. Reinvesting in your business, better equipment, continuing education, and advertising, if you choose. Here is my formula for calculating price:

(materials x 2) + (time x 2) = WHOLESALE PRICE
wholesale x 2= retail price

Maybe you think you can get away with just charging wholesale, but what happens when you’re approached by a retailer who wants to carry your products? They’re going to expect to buy a large quantity from you for half of what you charge. This is so they can make a profit and not be undersold by you. If you’re selling at wholesale, you either sell to this retailer for no profit at all, or forego the opportunity.

Maybe you’re charging so little because your materials cost very little? STOP THAT TOO! People do not buy handbound books so they can write in them and have the ink bleed, or have the paper deteriorate around their photos, or rip easily, or you know, just be generally wimpy paper. People come looking for a handbound book because they want an item of quality that did not come from a sweatshop. For bookbinders, your cost is going to paper, leather, cloth, thread, and glue. My paper comes from mills in Italy and the United States, my leather comes from Germany, my thread comes from the UK. I can spend $30-$50 on materials for a single album or book. So you can understand my skepticism when I see a leather book going for $35 on Etsy.

When I first started out, I did not charge enough to make it worth it.  I charged what I would be willing/able to pay if I were my own customer.  You are not your customer.  Use good materials, pay yourself a good wage, be honest about your time. You can sell a whole lot of books for very little profit or a few for a good profit. I know which I’d rather. You’re not competing with Amazon, or even other binders. Your books are as unique as you are; if people like your books, they will buy them from you.

I would love to hear about your experiences trying to price your books (etc.) in the comments!

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About sappling

When God created the world, he did it in six days and rested on the seventh. I always wished there was just one more day in the week, an eighth day just for me to pursue the thoughts in my head and translate them to the physical world. There are only seven days, however, so I steal my creative moments in between being a mom and my work binding books and making boxes for clients all over New York City. I love working with my hands, learning new things, and I'm here to share those lessons with you. There are only seven days in a week. Why not eight? Guess I'll ask when I get there.
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8 Responses to Pricing Your Handbound Books

  1. Liesbeth Molenberg says:

    you’re absolutely right!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    First of all I want to say that I agree with you, especially with the part regarding wholesale-retail prices. I do believe binders (and craftsmen in general) should charge what they feel their work is worth. I’ve written a post about “How much does a binding cost” (2nd homepage) in an effort to make people who are interested in buying a bound book or having one bound understand why a good bookbinding is “expensive”. It’s pretty much the same topic but communicated externally, to our clients.

    However, how much a craftsman Should charge and how much he/she actually Can charge are two different things. MHR of Bookbinder’s Chronicle had a nice post titled “Money is a mere object” (2nd page), and there was good commentary below it, with my 2 pennies thrown in as well. I invite to you to give it a read because I’d prefer to avoid copying my comment from there to make this one even larger!

    From my point of view pricing is dictated by internal and external factors. Internal such as the material cost, working hours (bench and misc), quality of craftsmanship and self-evaluation. The externals though are beyond us, things such as high or low demand of the product, how known the craftsman is, how wealthy his clients are, the nature of competition he/she is faced with.

    To give an example, I believe some of my bindings should be charged for 500 dollars. No one will pay for that in my country, for many reasons. (Another factor is that our IRS takes some 40% of that, leading to other implications – how much do I have to charge to have the profit I think of as acceptable and a final price that is plausible in the market…). How about on the web? Well, they might but usually no one will pay there as well since I don’t have the fame required to encourage someone to pay that sum to a craftsman he has never bought from in the past.
    Of course fame might be built slowly as time progresses, other factors don’t though. Unless living in a steady economy one usually charges only what he/she can afford to charge.

    In any case I must say that all that don’t mean one shouldn’t aim high and try to achieve the prices he thinks of as fitting to his work. Plus seeing leather books for 35 dollars on etsy make my eyes roll as well…!
    Sorry for the huge comment!

    • sappling says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that you need to have a good reputation to backup your prices. You do have a good reputation. You have an excellent blog with beautiful examples of design bindings and two positive reviews of your Etsy shop. I think you could get away with charging $500 for that Byron that you have in your Etsy shop. It’s amazing!

  3. joeckirby says:

    This is entirely timely, as well as a great bolster to my personal confidence! Thank you. The issue of price has been a huge problem for me….and when I have hit upon a price that was good for me, those around me have talked me down on it, saying things like: “I know they are worth that, but people don’t understand, and can buy a moleskine for a fraction!”
    Whew, thank you. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • sappling says:

      Price has always been hard for me, too. I’m a very frugal person, so it was very difficult for me to raise my prices to the point where it was worth doing what I do.

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  5. Anthony Lang says:

    I’m an artisan that made books for friends who were getting a high honor in our social club, and I started getting really good at making historically accurate classic books of antiquity. People starting asking me how much I would charge if I were to sale one, and I have to sit down and figure it out.
    A ¼ fold Gothic Binding, leather covered oak boards, and no furniture, no tooling (base model) , just material and $10/hr minimum is $60. At that point I understood why the books from other vendors were so high. I can not see taking a commission for less than $100.

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