Money talks – book design.

I was recently approached to design a 100+pages book for a non-profit organisation.

On the understanding that they have a limited budget for such projects, and that it is a text-only, smaller than A5 size black and white book, I asked for a budget of RM3500. The main reason besides doing it for a good cause is to fulfil my interests in exploring good typography with a well-planned grid system – the two very basic design elements preached in book design.

I got an email reply telling me that my quoted price is way too high. In the prospective client’s words – “That works out to more than RM30 per page -– that’s very, very high for us.”

Money talks in the business of graphic design are completely vague. There are no guidelines on how designers should price our work.

For instance, book design.

I have a particular fondness for book design. If the project is very interesting, I always have a tendency to undervalue ourselves and forget that we still have to make a living and pay our bills at the end of every month.

I am not sure how others do it. In general, I would look at the design process itself – how complicated the book is, how thick the book will be, and estimate how many hours will be required and how many people would have to be involved in the project. I also have to look at the project management issues – For example, how much coordination work is required between the sourcing of content, proof-reading, printer/colour separator, delivery, etc. When a 36-page book involves an approval process with 12 editors (and 12 sets of mock-ups) and delivery requirements to 12 locations across the country, it will no longer be a simple book project.

I have often being advised to price our design fees as per page count. Others advised doing so on hourly rates. Some other useful tips include charging for every round of edits, or billing extra for every mock-up, or billing extra if the project extends beyond a pre-negotiated deadline (i.e. the client can’t get the source materials ready or issue a final approval by a pre-determined date).

But really, how does a graphic designer quantify his services?

We typically bill RM15,000 for a 100+ pages book projects. I am not sure whether it’s high or low (since designers are usually secretive about how much they charge). I don’t set a page count quota, or a maximum hours cap. My conditions for accepting a book project at that price are –

  • There’s not more than 3 decision-makers in the project – not a 12 human sub-committee, with a big boss on top, and an even bigger boss who says yes or no at the final stage.
  • That the project shouldn’t take the studio more than 2 months to complete (could be 2 to 3 people on the job – the key is to be certain that the project won’t tie us down forever. The worst-case scenario is to start a book project and one year later, it is still labelled as “in progress”.
  • That the co-ordination work is manageable – i.e. no driving to KL three times a day, and 2 committee meetings a week, and full printed color mock-ups per every edit.
  • That the subject matter should be interesting.
  • That the deadline should be reasonable.
  • That I’m very sure the client will pay at the end of everything.

So far most of our book projects have met the conditions I set. I have to admit that there are occasions when we bill less than our usual rates – if I know the client is pleasant (and easy) to deal with, or the project itself is really interesting. Sometimes I think we put in extremely long and unjustifiable hours, just because we simply love book projects.

Pricing what we do is dependent on so many factors – even “for the love of it” counts as one.

I wish it could be simpler.