17 February 09 | Chad W. Post

I agree with Scott, Bob Miller’s account of why e-books should be almost the same price as a print edition is a bit muddy (is there anything that Miller says that isn’t1? ):

There seems to be a common refrain in many discussions of e-books, the idea that publishers should charge next to nothing for e-books because it doesn’t cost publishers much to produce them. This reflects a lack of understanding of a publisher’s costs. The cost of manufacturing a book is only the final cost in an extensive process. Whether a book is printed on paper and bound or formatted for download as an e-book, publishers still have all the costs leading up to that stage. We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copyediting, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity, and the staff that needs to coordinate all of the details that make books possible in these stages. The costs are primarily in these previous stages; the difference between physical and electronic production is minimal. In fact, the paper/printing/binding of most books costs about $2.00…so if we were to follow the actual costs in establishing pricing, a $26.00 “physical” book would translate to a $24.00 e-book…and while I agree that e-books should be priced at a greater discount to hardcovers than $2.00, we need to move the conversation beyond the idea that e-books “don’t cost publishers anything to make.” (from the Harper Studio blog)

What strikes me about this bit is that most people who are critical of the commercial publishing model are critical of both huge advances, and the amount of redundancy and waste that goes into producing a book—all of which is still included in Miller’s model. So, rather than find a publishing model that’s sleek, efficient, keeps costs down, and makes ebooks available to readers everywhere, Harper Studio is trying to invent a new publishing model that’s a lot like the old publishing model, but replaces overpriced hardcovers with overpriced ebooks. Huh.

1 For instance, Miller’s been getting a lot of praise for his “innovative” new imprint, Harper Studio. One of the oft-cited innovations is his elimination of author advances. Granted, when you read this, it sounds intriguing—instead of paying big advances, authors split the profits 50-50. Well, by “no advances,” what Miller means is no advance over $100,000. Just one example of how you should be careful in interpreting his statements.


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