If you’re asking how much do book indexing services cost, it’s likely that you have a book that you want to get indexed and want to understand rates better. Or, maybe you’re an aspiring indexer who wants to understand how to price yourself. In either case, I want to help by telling you everything I know about index prices, including pricing structures, average rates, and factors to consider when choosing a rate.

Here’s what I want to cover.

  1. Pricing models
  2. Deciding on a rate
  3. What makes a rate fair

But, to start, let’s not overcomplicate things.

Indexers usually charge between USD $2.50-$6.00 per ‘indexable page’ (which is any page with text on it that needs to be indexed). If a 250 page book, for example, has 210 indexable pages, then it could cost between $500-$1200 to index the book. But in most cases, the cost will probably be closer to $500.

There are a lot of reasons why this range is so wide, and we’ll look at them all in a moment. But the biggest reason to keep in mind is the difficulty of the text. Obviously, a book on ‘Raising Your Cat’ is going to be easier to index than ‘Introduction to Cosmology.’

So, prices reflect that.

Before we look at other factors that influence this range, though, I want to do two things. One, I want to clarify what professional book indexers mean by indexable page. And two, I want to go over different ways that professional book index services price themselves.

Book Indexing Services Cost Models

An ‘indexable page’ refers to any page with text on it that can be indexed. This obviously excludes blank pages, page dividers and the table of contents. It can include tables and figures if those have text. Some pages only have a little text on them, but those are included too to offset some of the more dense pages.

But rate per ‘indexable page’ is not the only way that indexers charge. They also charge,

  • by the hour
  • per entry
  • a flat rate 

By the hour is what it sounds like. Indexers set an hourly rate and then charge based on how long an index takes them. This is uncommon and actually pretty expensive for the person paying, since freelance indexers, like most freelancers, tend to work long hours that are often unaccounted for. Instead, most professional indexers charge a flat rate or by the page and let their own pace of work determine their hourly pay.

Per entry is when book indexing services are charged per item. This is usually based on the average number of entries per page (somewhere around 4-7) since it’s tedious to calculate every single item .

A flat rate is also what it sounds like. An indexer looks over a manuscript, weighs the relevant factors and offers a quote to the author that makes sense for both people. Once they agree on some terms and expectations, the indexer is paid for the entire project.

Out of all four pricing models, charging by the ‘indexable page’ or ‘flat rate’ makes the most sense. And here’s why.

The ‘price’ of an index ultimately depends on what the author and indexer agree on. It’s a negotiation. And, like with any negotiation, the point is to come to an agreement that makes sense for both sides. The author wants a quality, professional index made efficiently. And the indexer wants a fair rate that takes into account their expenses, expertise and training.

Charging by the ‘indexable page’ or by a ‘flat rate’ gives indexers the peace of mind that they’ll receive a fair book indexing rate without having to think about how a certain number of entries will affect their pay. Instead, they can concentrate on using their expertise to index the book optimally. And, because they’re paid for the entire project, they’re incentivized to work efficiently, which is important for a freelancer. This arrangement gives the indexer peace of mind, allows them to concentrate on producing their best work and gives the author peace of mind that the job is being done efficiently. The best middle ground for all parties.

Once you decide on a pricing structure, though, you have to decide on a rate. And there are a lot of factors to consider.

What’s in a cost of book indexing?

The most important factor, like I mentioned, is the difficulty of the text. Probably the second most important is the density of the text, which is how many entries there should be per page.

Although every book is different, there are some general guidelines for different types of tests.

  • Popular science or business books might have between 3-7 entries per page and cost $2.50-$3.75 per
  • Academic books might have 5-10 entries per page and cost $3.00-$6.00 per
  • Textbooks might have 7-10 entries per page and cost $3.50-$5.00 per
  • Technical books might have 7-12 entries and cost $4-$6.00 per

(If you want to calculate how much book indexing services cost you you can do it here)

But these are just general guidelines. Ultimately, it’s up to the author and indexer to decide on how many entries and cost makes sense per page. But authors should expect the book indexing rates to follow the difficulty and density of the text.

There are a lot more factors to consider beyond difficulty and density when talking about book indexing fees. Here are just a few,

  • the requested format for the index
  • the depth of indexing required, or number of expected entries per page
  • the size of the page, font, and margins
  • the density of names that need to be indexed or foreign languages
  • any last-minute publisher changes like repagination
  • multiple indexes for different topics or novel orders
  • the amount of figures and tables that need to be indexed
  • any non-standard styles for the index
  • the time frame for the expected index

A professional book indexer can consider all of these factors and come up with a quote that reflects them. As a rule of thumb, though, you should expect an index to start around $3.00 per indexable page for easier material with fewer entries. As the difficulty of the material and density of the entries increases, however, you should expect the price to go up as well. The tighter the deadline and the more complex the formatting preferences, the more expensive the index.

What’s a Fair Book Indexing Services Cost? 

There’s one last thing to consider when deciding on a rate for a professional indexer. It may not be important for everybody to know. But it does add a little context to the reality of indexers lives’ and what makes a rate fair. This is important because, while many authors understand the importance of an index and the principle that you get what you pay for, others, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the industry, might balk at the $900 price tag for an index.

Is that cost really justified by the amount of work that an indexer does?

Well, let’s look at a few things. Because an indexer is a freelancer, they have to pay both a self-employment tax and an employer tax, meaning that they need to pay between 15-30% of their income in taxes. They also don’t receive insurance (depending on where they live), so they’ll have to pay that too. On top of this, they have to pay for their own time off, vacations, lunch-breaks, and sick days. They also have to market themselves and spend a considerable amount of time on client acquisition. And these are just work-related expenses.

So, before an indexer can make a profit to pay for their lives, their income has to pass through a number of filters. And so what? This is what they signed up for and the cost of their freedom.

And this is true. But let’s consider some rough numbers, and take a very general case. The average index for a 350 page book takes around 37 hours to make (at a fairly aggressive pace). And the average amount of work hours in a year for Americans (factoring in time off, lunch hours, etc.) is around 1,811 hours. If you divide the 1811 working hours available for an indexer in a year by the 37 hours it takes to index an average book, you learn that an indexer can do about 49 books per year. Let’s round that up to 50.

So, 50 books a year (which is pretty generous) times an average of $900 per book gives an average net income of $45,000. And most professional indexers will tell you that these are very high numbers. We also didn’t factor in any time for marketing, we assumed there would be consistent work, and we rounded up and gave a high average fee per book.

But even that generous $45,000 gets cut down by at least 20% to $36,000 (and up to 30% in other areas). And even if we just subtract average costs of health insurance for an individual ($6888 yearly), we’re down to $29,112. Or less than $2,500 per month. If we factor in other kinds of insurance, marketing costs, and realistic client bases, that number probably drops down considerably.

Again, the point of this exercise isn’t to garner any kind of sympathy for book indexers. They’re business people like anyone else and make their own choices. But it is to demonstrate that even $900 for a book index is a very fair and decent price for supporting an indexer at a modest income of $29,000 per year. When you consider that most indexers are highly educated (with a disproportionate amount of them holding PhDs) and how specialized their skill is, this wage seems even fairer.

Anyways, I hope this discussion gave you some awareness of freelance indexing rates, what prices to expect for what kind of texts and a little insight into the lives of indexers. And I hope it helps you reach a fair negotiation.

If you still wondering how much would book indexing services cost for your book, let’s calculate it.

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