Made in China

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the Hilton Hotel near Seoul Station to have lunch with the two people who employed my editing services last month. I was urged to try the veal, and so I had the five-course veal special, three courses of which were veal-based. I’m not one for gourmet cuisine or idle chatter, so I kept quiet and worked on all the copious amounts of immature beef set before me. Poor calf. It probably wasn’t old enough for its balls to drop, and now its tender flesh was on a plate in a stuffy hotel restaurant. The conversation eventually turned toward me out of etiquette, and Client #1 told me that she had recommended the book to her friends and that they would be buying the book from Kyobo.

“That’s too bad. The book’s sold out at Kyobo.”

“Oh, well, when are they going to be re-stocked?”

Damn it. I guess there was no avoiding conversation. I tried to explain the situation without going into too much detail, but the questions kept coming.

“I tried to find someone to print the books in Korea, but I haven’t had any luck.” The statement was an attempt at fishing for an offer of help. If I had to join in the conversation, I might as well go fishing. Client #1 has a connection with a publisher although it seems the publisher focuses on big, glossy books on art.

“Have you looked into Chinese printers?” Client #2 asked.


“I’ve heard that people look into printing in China because it’s cheap.”

“Oh. I’ll look into it.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I wanted to end the line of conversation so I could finish my last veal course in peace. There’s not much to say after someone says that they’ll look into something.

At the beginning of the book, I ask myself why anyone would go to Korea to teach English. Things got bleak and desperate, and I eventually made the decision that resulted in my forced conscription. Two weeks ago, I asked myself why anyone would bother to choose to print their books in China. How much cheaper could it be? I mean, I practically live in a mini-Chinatown, and the best quote I got from a printer around here was 11,000 per book.

Sales have been awful this month. More than awful. I haven’t sold a single book in the past two weeks. I sold a book on July 31st, and that was it. Some people, rational people, might think that it is a sign that interest is waning and it’s time to focus on the next book. Me? I started looking into Chinese printers.

I contacted a couple of printing services and I was shocked first by how promptly I received responses and then by the quotes they gave. Even with hefty shipping costs, it’ll come out to less than 4,000 won per book. The problem is that the minimum order is 500 copies.

When I was looking for a printing service here, I was thinking 100 copies was a hopeful amount and that I would most likely be left with 80 copies gathering dust in my apartment. With an order of 500 copies, I’ll probably have several big boxes of books taking up space that I’ll have to lug around every time I move. Even if I become the guy who gives out his book for every birthday present and housewarming/wedding/thank you gift for the rest of his life, I probably will have enough left over to stoke the oil drum fires when I’m old and living on the streets.

“But is it what you really want?” my bartender friend Tae asked me as I agonized while having a beer.

That’s the real question. Is it really important enough to me to blow close to two grand on, fully knowing that I’m probably going to have to eat most of the costs? Even if I mark up the books for sale, I’d have to sell 334 copies to make back the investment. And even if I sell all 500 copies, I’d only be making a grand in profit. Not exactly a sound investment. But I realize that I’m being a chickenshit. It’s not about the money, I keep telling myself.

Anyway, I have the weekend to mull it over, but if I go ahead with the order, the book may be in Kyobo again before the end of the year. I’ll also have a hefty inventory at home so I can probably handle orders in Korea for a discounted cost.

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3 Responses to Made in China

  1. bighominid says:

    Okay, let’s run the numbers.

    Paperback cost for your book on Amazon is $9.99. Let’s translate that to an even W10,000 in Korean terms—which is actually less than $9.99. If we conservatively estimate that it’ll cost you exactly W4,000 per book to print (you’re essentially moving from publish-on-demand to vanity publishing, which is how I did Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms), then a W6,000 markup means you’re earning W6,000 per book—a W2,000-per-book profit, given that you paid W4,000 to print each book. Sell 500 books, and W2,000 profit x 500 books = W1,000,000 profit. This is, I think, what you meant by “making a grand in profit.”

    So what happens if you boost the markup by W2,000? Your book now costs W12,000, which means a W4,000-per-book profit, i.e., W2,000,000 for selling 500. So by bumping the markup 20% you get double the profit. Interesting, no?

    And what if we tempt fate and add a mere W500 to that, so that the book now costs the customer W12,500? A W4,500-per-book profit translates to W2,250,000. I’d say that’s not bad.

    Of course, it’s not great, either, especially if you don’t sell out instantly. If the profits are spread over, say, three months, then you’re only earning roughly W700,000 a month. That’s good enough to supplement your main income, but not nearly enough to think about quitting your day job.

    Now if we shot for the moon and priced your book at an even W15,000, that’d be a W7,000-per-book profit, i.e., W3,500,000 for 500 copies. Assuming steady sales over three months, that’s over a million won per month, which means we’re just beginning to creep toward “quit your day job and write full-time” territory. Imagine if you had two or three titles on the market, all at the same time.

    [NB: At $9.99, your book currently costs almost exactly W12,000 in Korean terms, so moving the price up to W15,000 isn’t really that unreasonable.]

    Anyway, true, it’s not for the money, but a man’s got to earn his daily crust. Good luck.


    • Young says:

      Well, that’s a lot of math. But your calculations are based on the assumption that I’m selling the books on my own. I’m ordering the books so I can get them back in the bookstores (plural, because I’ll try to see if I can get any other bookstores to pick it up), and the bookstores need their cut, too. Anyway, I don’t care about the money unless I’m losing it, which is a big possibility at this point.


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