The Great Physical/Electronic Media Disparity

By now, many people–people both smarter than I am and in better positions to speak on it–have made clear their thoughts and feelings regarding the Amazon-Macmillan tug-of-war.  As I checked in with the world before I sat down to write, I see that Macmillan titles are returning to Amazon now (at least the dead-tree versions).

What concerns me most at this point is the stance of the publishers: “printing and shipping costs are only a fraction of a book’s production costs,” they say.

I can agree with that.  What I don’t agree with is them using this stance to justify higher ebook pricing.  “We have to pay the author and editors and typesetters and artists and…” goes the list.

To which I say:  so?

They’re already doing that–for the print copy.

You might have to adjust artwork a bit for an electronic copy, but that’s not the same as having artwork commissioned from scratch.  That work has already been done.

Same with the editing.  Considerations might have to be made, but the vast majority of that work has also already be done for the print copy.

About the only major cost in producing ebook copies of a print book would be the conversion into a digital reader format and fixing any mistakes that arise from that process.  No small task, sure, but justified because it opens up an entire new market for the book.

The only time the publisher’s cry of “printing and shipping costs are only a fraction of a book’s production costs!” rings true is if they produce an ebook–and only an ebook–and all that above-mentioned work is done specifically and only for an ebook.  Then I’ll believe it.

I believe that ebooks should cost less to the consumer than the physical product.  I feel the same way about CDs and MP3s.  I recently bought physical CDs because the price of the physical product was only $3 more than the price of the MP3 album on Amazon.

Why would I spent that much money on a digital product when I can get the meatspace version for not much more?

The same goes for books.  To me as a consumer, $10 is way too high for an ebook.  I can perhaps see $10 as the hardcover new-release equivalent of a book, but that’s as far as it goes and even that’s as stretch. Above $10 is absurd.  The deep discounts often given to new-release bestsellers narrows the margin between print and electronic copies.  Why would I pay $15 for an ebook when I can get the new-release copy for $25 or less?  By pure math, yes, I’m paying much more as a percentage, but you have to look at the actual value provided, as well.  My print copy will always be around.  I can read it, lend it, take it with me, and never worry about someone coming to take it away and tell me I can’t read it anymore.  Nor do I need eyes surgically implanted because someone decided to change formats or “replace” the current batch of readers out there.

The advantages of ebook copies are:

  • lower price
  • searchability
  • you don’t have to carry boxes full of them when you move

But beyond that, for me as a consumer, there just isn’t anything else there. Remove the advantage of a price lower than the meatspace copy and I’m left with no reason to buy it at all.

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