Mer-Made in the USA May 21, 2019 16:00
This is not going to be a fun post, but I think it’s a necessary one. We'll return to your regularly-scheduled happy Mer-May news soon.
In the past week, I have observed two American small businesses that I admire and support — a well-known mermaid tailmaker, as well as deluxe art book publisher Flesk Publications — struggling with the new 25% tariff being implemented on goods produced in and imported from China. These are smart people who are doing everything right, creating things of beauty to share with all of us at prices we can afford, and now they're being forced to question their companies' futures.
”Well,” the knee jerk response seems to be, “just stop doing business in China!”
Okay. Let me tell you a story — a story about a book.
Chris and I printed our novel “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in the United States. Right here in Glendale, California, in fact! Both the hardcover first edition and the paperback second edition were printed and bound in the USA.
There were a lot of advantages to this! We have a good relationship with our local printer and were happy to work with him again, we were able to drop in and see the books in progress, the entire process was really fast (we needed the first editions in time for San Diego Comic-Con 2015), and the books turned out beautifully both times. Chris and I like to support small businesses and to buy American when we can, and it was gratifying to know that the money we’d spent on printing the books was going back into our very own community.
But there’s one big disadvantage: with all the books we’ve sold since 2015, we have not profited ONE CENT.
”Well,” asks the same person who suggested not doing business with China, “why don’t you just charge more for your books?”
That’s an easy one: because people won’t pay what’s necessary for us to make money when printing in the United States.
Here are some numbers for you. I don’t normally discuss finances this openly, but it’s vital in this situation to drive home my point.
HARDCOVER FIRST EDITION:
Illustrator fee: $8,000
Colorist fee: $1150
Printing/binding fee: $19,924
Total cost: $29,074
PAPERBACK SECOND EDITION:
Printing fee: $16,442
Those were the costs for 1,000 books each time, which makes figuring out the unit price really simple: $29.07 per hardcover, and $16.44 per paperback.
We sell our books for $20 each.
See where this is going?
Every single copy of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” has been sold for a profit of about $3.56 (paperback), or for a loss of $9.07 (hardcover). Once we sell every copy of our novels, we will still be in the red. And that’s not even taking into account the inevitable damaged books, gift and personal copies, or books we’ve sold through Amazon subject to their FBA fees (compounding the loss). We're just trying to fill the hole as much as we can.
The thing is, Chris and I knew going in that we were going to lose money, but printing and selling these books was important to us and that was a sacrifice we were willing to make at that time. We figured we’d compensate for it in other ways. He and I are fortunate enough that we were able to take a loss in order to get the first “Rescue Sirens” book out there — but most people are not. If this was our livelihood, we would obviously be screwed.
Let’s take a look at what we would have to charge in order to make this financially feasible. Keep in mind, we’ve already received plenty of complaints for selling our books for twenty bucks apiece! If we had, instead, offered them at 250% of our cost — which 1) pays for production, 2) provides us the same funds to print the books again, should we need to, and 3) earns us some actual profit on top of that — then we’d be charging $41 for the paperback and $73 for the hardcover. Do you think people are going to pay that for an 8.5"x5.5", 192-page novel? Because I can tell you that they won’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t.
”Well, why don’t you just sell the books digitally?”
Yeah. We do that. You can purchase “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” on Amazon for your Kindle or tablet/smartphone for $2.99. It’s almost pure profit for us. And, over and over, the feedback from customers has been, “I just prefer a book that I can hold in my hands.” Digital sales have been negligible (around five hundred “copies,” last I checked).
So, tell me, what are Chris and I supposed to do when it comes time to print the next "Rescue Sirens" book and we don't want to (or can't) take another multi-thousand dollar hit? As I think this post has proven, keeping book production in the United States is unsustainable, and our current government is busy making it too expensive to work with overseas manufacturers, as well.
Is the US-China relationship and how it relates to the state of American manufacturing today a problem that has an easy solution? Of course not. I would never claim that. It's complicated, and has been for decades. But punishing small businesses by charging them money for having their goods produced overseas at a cost that allows them to actually make a living isn’t helping.
If these new duty taxes aren’t affecting you or someone you know now, they will be soon, even if it’s indirectly through the items you purchase. And if this keeps up, we’ll see a world in which products either cost a LOT more, or they simply cease to exist. I don’t want to lose beautiful fabric mermaid tails, or Flesk Publications’ gorgeous art books; I want to see these businesses (and the families behind them) thrive. That means something has to change... and these new tariffs need to go.
John Fleskes’ Facebook post about how the new tariffs are affecting Flesk Publications