Bound Books Or Ebooks: Price Or Sensation?

The expansion of sales and demand for eBooks, readable on e-readers such as the Kindle and others, has given rise to questions of cost. Why are eBooks so expensive in comparison with the cost of paper books, given the fact that no raw materials are involved (i.e. paper, ink and bindings)?


That will be answered shortly, but first, there is more to just cost when comparing the permanence of a genuine book with the transient pleasure of reading a digital file. The smell of fresh ink and the feel of genuine paper in your hands is, for many, worth more than the cost advantage to be gained by purchasing a PDF file – whether that file contains Dickens, Forsyth or pulp fiction.


Many consumers claim that publishers are ripping them off with the charges they are applying for digital texts, believing that they must be saving large amounts of money in paper, printing, equipment and physical distribution costs. A large printing press can cost upward of $ 2 million, so why are eBooks not priced at a fraction of those of paperbacks, let alone hardbacks?


Let’s look at this a bit closer, and consider the costs we are looking at. These are approximate, so taken to the nearest dollar or so, but let’s consider a hardback at $ 25 (in reality it would likely be $ 24.99). First, there are royalties to the writer; overhead costs in wages, printing materials, paper and so on, but first consider what the bookseller gets. On a $ 25 book that would be around $ 13. Around $ 4 will go on printing, shipping, typesetting, designing the cover and so on, and the average marketing cost for a book is $ 1. Royalties to the writer are normally 15% of the selling price, or $ 3.75. Do the math, and that leaves the publisher with $ 3.25. Then we have overhead costs: depreciation of presses, plant and office space, power costs, editors, staff and so on. Not a lot left as profit.


Compare that with an eBook. The retailers get around 30%, which on a $ 9.99 eBook is around $ 3. The digital conversion and marketing are around $ 1.50 each book and royalty calculations for eBooks vary, but you can take around 25% of the price as an average, or $ 2.50. That leaves about $ 3 for the publisher. That’s without the overheads and any other costs.


That means that there is little difference to the publisher whether the book is printed or electronic. So the argument that eBooks should sell at a lower price than they do now is untenable. However, there is a serious problem associated with inexpensive eBooks, and one that most of the public fail to grasp.


Should eBooks be priced too cheaply then that will spell the end of paper books as we know them. What will that mean apart from massive unemployment in the publishing industry? Well, first the paper-making industry will fail and so will forestry maintenance, leading to even more unemployment. Bookstores will close down and a valuable resource will be lost. Libraries will shut – they will become online digital libraries, and you can bet your life that they will not be free – likely run by Amazon, Apple and others.


Free digital libraries will give rise to free interchange of files, and hence reduced sales, so no books will be free. Schoolbooks and college texts will become digital and the whole publishing industry will be in turmoil. According to the review “Is There Hope For A Kindle Application In Universities”, many students are finding that they can control at least part of the money that is spent on their education by getting a handheld reading device like Kindle DX (Digital Book Readers). Even with the restriction on sales of eReaders and the Kindle application in Universities, over ten million students are using the applications.


For these reasons, the prices of digital publications should and shall be maintained – sure, lower than physical books, but not so low as render it impossible for people to resist turning to them as viable alternatives to real books. The paper book market will survive, and even now many are turning their backs on e-readers – even many who have purchased them still use lending libraries.


If publishers were restricted to digital formats at low prices, they would be less willing to take a chance on new writers, and would not publish books with low popularity as they do now. That means that new authors would die away and that the more esoteric titles would remain just that: esoteric and unpublished. What a loss to the nation that would be!


There will always be those for whom the look and feel of a good book is just as important as its contents, and a list of titles on a computer director cannot approach the beauty of a row of books on a library shelf. Yes, digital may predominate, but many will still enjoy the feel of their book as they turn the pages, and anybody who cannot appreciate that deserves their digital equivalent.


There is nothing to beat the smell of a new book, particularly if leather bound, and such works of art will never die for many. In fact, they shall never die, because the prices of eBooks will be maintained. Amazon’s insistence of a maximum price for the eBooks in its library is understandable, but even Amazon understands that that there is a level below which they would sell at a loss.


The future of eBooks and e-readers is secure, but so too is that of the physical book. There is a market for each, and they will continue to live happily side by side. For now!

Marco Gustafsson is author of articles about ebook readers, e-inc technology and e-books. For more information visit Digital Book Readers – eBook readers guide with reviews and secrets to choose a good portable e-Reader.

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