Oct 5, 2010

eBook eConomics: Alternate Approaches

Ignoring minor variations, the publishing model for popular fiction has been relatively stagnant for decades. A book comes out in hardcover at a price point of $20-30. About 9 months to a year later, that same book is reissued in paperback at a lowered price around $5-$10. Sometimes the hardcover is replaced by a TPB, sometimes the paperback is. Over the years, the cost of manufacturing and the slow burn of inflation has pushed the prices ever upward. But at it's core, the model remained the same. Hardcover than paperback. Book after book.

And then comes along the concept of the eBook. Immediate. Disposable. Low cost. Simple distribution. Infinite print run. Zero shelf space. Aside from the whole story thing, it's basically everything a physical book isn't.

So why do publishers insist on pricing it like it is?

The debate over the eBook price point rages on and on. Publisher vs. retailer vs. author vs. consumer. But it always seems to gravitate between a hardcover price point ($15-25) or a paperback one ($5-$15) give or take some form of DRM. Why do publishers insist on keeping things stagnant when so much around them is changing? Where are the alternate approaches?

More importantly, where are the game changers?

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to offer a few very simple alternate ideas.  They'll be high level thought experiments intended to inspire a little bit of discussion. They probably won't be feasible for one if not several reasons but who knows, maybe they will spark someone to try something different.


  1. My own two cents on eBook pricing.

    A PB is about 1/3 the price of a HB. An EB should be about 1/3 the price of a PB: 24/8/2.5

    I would consider purchasing an eBook for a couple of bucks. But I'll pass before I'll pay more than 3 bucks.

  2. The trick is, up until you get the point of printing and distribution, the production model is exactly the same for print and e-books. Editing, layout, design, copy editing, page proofs, and on and on (including things like maintaining a legal dept., paying everyone's salaries, etc. as well). Printing and distribution, depending on print run size and who you talk to, runs a little over or a little under 10% of the cost of production, and much of that is spent in other areas for e-books (DRM, paying the licensing for the software to convert a book into various formats, paying the guy who handles the conversion and checks the layout, etc.). Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of feeding the author's word document into a conversion program and getting an e-book.

    Over time, it may be come cheaper to produce an e-book, especially as the various formats shake out into a smaller pool and things like e-layout get more streamlined; but much of what makes a book a good book is still going to be needed for e-books, and those costs still take up a lion's share of the share of the cost of production.

  3. Unfortunately, the costs may be similar at a production level in the big bookseller market, but to me as a consumer, there is really no benefit for me to purchase an eBook over a pBook (paper Book).

    For an eBook, I save some shelf space at the house, but in return I have to purchas an expensive and fairly delicate electronic device and maintain it. I have to feed in batteries, firmware and software upgrades, licensing fees and deal with the limitations of owning and using such a device.

    With a pBook, as a trade off for a little space on my book shelf I have a one-time buy-in. It doesn't require any costs beyond that. I can take it anyway and the most I require is a bit of ambient light to use it. I'll never have to have is checked at an airport, If I lose it I'm out 9 bucks, and can give it away freely (without anyone's permission, I might add), don't need any special program or "key" to access the information in it. Heck, I can even drop it in a puddle of water and fix it with a little patience and a blow dryer. Try *that* with your eReader.

    And, If the truth were known (and I'm not doubting your veracity), I'm sure it has to be a good deal easier/cheaper for publishers to work with, otherwise they wouldn't be pushing it so hard.

    Looking around today, a good writer, with a decent editor, and a clue about today's software (much of it pretty much free) could produce his/her own eBooks of as good a quality or better as any I've seen from Amazon or BnN They could sell them for much cheaper than the current pricing and still probably bring home about what they'd make through a publishing house.

    (Heck, looking at your "Persons of Interests" side bar I'd be very, very surprised if a good half of those esteemed folks weren't already looking at it).

    I'd be surprised if we don't see another home-publishing boom very soon. And I think many of the publishing houses know this as well, and that's why their price points are like they are.

    Nope... I'm sorry. I'll stick with pBooks until eBooks/eReaders meet *my* price points, ent I'll buy from the Writers Bloc directly :)

  4. I'm with Nachtwulf on this. I think this sums it up nicely. here


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