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What's the real price of an e-book?

Posted by Delia Cabe  April 12, 2012 09:45 AM

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Woman reading a book

A book is worth more than the cost of the paper it's printed on.

So says Nathan Bransford, social media manager for CNET who spent eight years in publishing. In a blog post yesterday, Bransford reminds us of what we're paying for when we buy a book and does the math:

There's a perception among consumers that an e-book should cost very little or next to nothing because there is no paper, printing, and shipping involved.

But in fact, for a new best-selling hardcover, all of the costs associated with print, from the printing to the shipping to the distribution to the warehousing to returns, amount to a mere few dollars per copy, depending on the size of the print run.

The vast majority of a publisher's costs come from expenses that still exist in an e-book world: Author advances, design, marketing, publicity, office space, and staff.

You can therefore imagine the fear that e-book prices instill in publishing executives' hearts. They're only saving a few dollars per copy in the switch to the e-book world, but the prices of books were slashed more than half: from $24.99 to $9.99 and even lower.

That begins to explain why publishers are trying to keep e-book prices high. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

And here's the rub, according to Branford: "Publishers have a massive problem with perception of value. When you can't hold it in your hands and easily pass it along to a friend, $10-plus just feels too expensive to many people."

J. B. Dickey, the owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, told the New York Times:

My fear is that the major publishers won’t be able to stay in business just selling e-books. You can’t bring in enough money to support the infrastructure. If that happens, there goes the marketing, the editorial, the author tours, the expertise of the book industry.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Delia Cabe's work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Self, Prevention, Scientific American Presents, and other publications. In between posts, you can read Cabe's tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/DeliaCabe, More »

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