Finally and most importantly, it’s about money. While it’s true that an independent publisher gets paid by an author up front for typesetting, as well as possibly for editing, design and marketing services, a self-publishing company also makes money on every book they sell. Here the publisher’s interests are exactly aligned with authors of quality, marketable books: The more a given book sells, the more the author AND the company both make. Self-publishing companies want to publish good books, and to have those books sell because the publisher makes money from these sales, creating revenue streams independent of acquiring new titles and all the work that involves.
The numbers can be significant. While royalties are similar across companies, I can speak specifically only for my publisher: iUniverse makes 75% of the cover price for print and audio sales from the iUniverse bookstore, and 90% of print and audio sales from any other channel; they make 50% from digital sales via any channel, and 70% from “other forms” such as bundles. At the current suggested retail price of $23.95 for the softcover version of A Perfect Blindness, iUniverse will gross $17.96 per copy sold from the their bookstore, and $21.56 from other channels. At the current suggested retail price of $9.95 for the digital version (a price cheaper than traditionally published titles, which average about $15.95 for a book this size, as well as high enough to be able to discount it advantageously) iUniverse will gross $4.99 per copy sold. Bundles’ values are contingent on the form and what portion A Perfect Blindness can claim, so I can’t speak to actual dollars on that, and I’m excluding any I sell directly—both because it’s not likely to be a great number, and that the discounted price authors get is determined on publication and increases as the number of books purchased increases: so, as of this time, it’s unknown.
Thus for each 100 physical copies of a book that sells, supposing 90% of those sales come from channels other than the iUniverse bookstore, they pick up $2120.00, less of course printing, paper, overhead and shipping costs, and for 100 digital they would gross $499.50, less much less. Numbers do of course depend on the actual selling prices, including discounts. For 500 physical copies, that’s $10,600, and for 500 digital that’s $2,497.50—all the money in addition to what I paid to have the book published and edited.
Thus, selling more copies of a book earns the company more as well as finally earning the author money. For me, the physical copies assuming the same breakdown would earn $275.43 per 100, and $499.50 per 100 for the digital. For 500 books sold: $1377.15 and for the digital $2,497.50. I.e. breaking even means it needs to sell a lot of copies, which would earn iUniverse more money than the initial fees I paid. Quite a bit more. In this, our goals are perfectly aligned.
Yet self-publishing companies have dual problems here: overcoming the stigma of self-publishing and how to signal the special quality of some titles without denigrating all their other books.