Monday, April 12, 2010

More on eBooks

Thanks everyone for participating in my technology poll from last week. I chose a name from a hat, and the winner of a Little, Brown book of her choice is...

Annemarie O'Brien. Congrats! Please email me your mailing address and choice of book at bluerosegirls at gmail dot com.

Check out the comments in the original post for a fuller view, but to summarize very roughly, although there are still some people who edit with the traditional paper and pen/pencil, for the most part it seems that most people have transitioned to editing electronically in some way, although perhaps not exclusively.

Of course, the million dollar question these days in publishing is: What is an eBook worth? (Question #5 in my poll) How much are consumers willing to spend? The answers varied, of course, but the general consensus is that the eBook should cost less than the physical book.

I don't disagree. But there's a reason why publishers are fighting against Amazon's $9.99 price point--because the price difference with the hardcover format is too high, and they feel it devalues the product. People believe the eBook should be priced lower because you don't have the costs associated with printing the book. So if the price of an eBook should equal the cost of creating and selling the book (editorial, design, copyediting, sales, marketing, overhead, etc.) minus the unit cost of the actual physical properties of the book (the paper, the printing, binding, etc.), as well as the physical warehouse rent and transportation of shipping a physical book, plus some profit for the publisher, of course... well, I don't know exactly how much this would add up to, but I know that the difference of costs between producing an eBook versus a physical book is negligible. I'd estimate less than 10% of the total cost.

Honestly, as a consumer, I get it. I love low prices! Especially when there's no physical "product" to hold. I'm a book lover, and yet I very very rarely purchase hardcover books because of the price, unless it's a gift (or on my expense account). Instead, I wait for the paperback edition or go to the library. But what I don't expect is to be able to purchase a book at a paperback price right away. And if I don't want to wait, then I pay the hardcover price. I know the concept of delaying editions is pretty much off the table now because of consumer push back and other reasons (although a year ago was becoming the norm), but the practical part of me always thought this made sense.

There are reasons why people buy different formats not always related to price. They buy a hardcover book because they don't want to wait, they want something to keep on the shelf that's lasting, something that they can share, they want to purchase a gift. People purchase an eBook because they invested in an eReader, they travel and don't want to carry a lot of books, they like the convenience of downloading books, they like keeping their bookshelf virtual. Consumers buy paperbacks because they don't want the weight and heft of a hardcover book, they want something they can share, they're purchasing a gift, and yes, the price.

It's too early to tell if eBook sales cannibalize hardcover sales--I think to a certain extent these sales are in addition to hardcover sales, because the people buying the eBooks are not the same people who would purchase the hardcover edition. If there are many others like commenter saramoohead...:

5) SUCH a tough question. I admit that I'm keep on the Amazon $10 ($9.99). I know there are a lot of issues surrounding that but as a customer, I don't want to pay more than $10. I'd buy lots more books if they were only $10. I barely ever buy in hardcover (and I'm a hardcore book lover) because they are so expensive. I would never pay $27 for an e-book, ever.
...then the lower profits for eBooks may be equalized by increased sales.

Stephen Roxburgh of namelos has said that books are simply "word buckets"--and whether you're buying a physical book or buying an eBook, the crucial component that you're buying is the particular combination of words that the author has written, not the physical "bucket." That's where the true value lies. I tend to agree. The same goes to music--I never bought CDs for the physical object, I bought them for the content.

I could go on and on, and pretty much every discussion point in this debate has been raised in the very detailed and excellent comments. This is an ongoing discussion, and one that will take a long time to sort out. A lot of the decisions people are making today will shape the industry for years to come. I just hope that authors and publishers are able to survive in the digital age, ten, twenty, one-hundred years from now. These are scary, exciting, pivotal times in publishing!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for such a helpful and informative post!