One of the fundamental problems with ebooks in my eyes is that it isn’t discounted when compared to a print edition. If I want to get the ebook edition of a best-selling book like, say, the wonderful The Da Vinci Code, the ebook will be priced identical to the hardback ($26) giving me zero incentive to take the plunge.
What’s worse, it’s a disservice to the author and a demonstration of the greed and fear publishers have about digital media…
Consider: on a print book there’s printing, binding, packaging, distribution, shelf space, and many other factors that eat into the profit of the book. Most importantly, there’s the profit percentage of the bookstore, so the $26 copy of The Da Vinci Code is likely to net $13 for Borders, say, and $13 for the publisher, of which perhaps 50% is eaten up by overhead and distribution costs. That leaves $6.50, if we’re lucky, to pay the author, the editorial team, and eke out a profit for the publishing firm. If the author has a 10% royalty, they’ll see $1.30 overall.
So if we can chop out the bookstore and the distribution costs, doesn’t it seem logical that an ebook should be around half the price of a printed book, if not less expensive yet? But it isn’t, which means that the publishers are hoping to see $24.70 in post-royalty revenues for the ebook. And, surprise, it doesn’t work.
Some publishers seem to see the idiocy of their position, grudgingly. Publisher’s Weekly today reports that St. Martin’s Press has changed their ebook pricing policy a bit:
“Until now, the publisher has been charging the going rate of the
cheapest print format. So a frontlist book like Running With Scissors
would take the hardback price, while a mass market Ludlum would go for
roughly six dollars. Now the company has added a new plan: it has
announced that it will knock 25% off the current price of its least
expensive print edition and use that as a sticker for the electronic
edition. So a book like The Nanny Diaries with hardcover and trade
paper editions, would go in e-book for about $11, three dollars off the
$14 trade-paper price.”
It’s still not enough, because discounters commonly offer up to 40% off the New York Times bestsellers, etc., but it’s a start.
But for electronic books to become any sort of meaningful alternative to dead tree editions, one issue that must be wrestled with further is pricing. Just like buying digital versus physical music CDs, if the profit for the press/label and the royalty for the artist are the same, why can’t the prices be different?