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E-book Pricing and Publishing Reality

Prices of e-books are creeping, even jumping up. Bargains don’t last forever.

In some cases, e-books are more expensive than a paperback edition of the same title, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

Publishers are probably trying to make up for the income lost as sales decline of hardbound books, especially since even with the tremendous increase in sales of e-books (they could account for 35% of all book sales this year, and perhaps 70 percent in a couple of years), publishers aren’t making the money they used to make.

But they won’t make that kind of money in this new publishing landscape anyway. Bookstores continue to close, many authors are migrating to self-publishing, and publishers themselves face a lot of work in making books available for electronic readers.

This last means that much of the money saved on paying for paper and printing is often spent on back-office electronic configuring of books for different e-book formats. One publishing executive admitted that many e-books are riddled with errors in formatting – including dropped paragraphs – because of the amount of work involved and the speed with which publishers are called upon to release books (sometimes in a couple of months rather than a year, as in the past). In addition to editing books (which, as many readers today have noted, is often haphazard) publishers must devote time to formatting.

But although formatting is a new task for publishers, their publishing models remain basically the same: spend money on an advance, take the author through the editing process, whatever that involves, release the book to the public and hope to earn back that advance.

Pressure from Amazon, when it introduced its Kindle a few years ago, led to very competitive pricing, with many e-books costing $9.99. Now books in electronic form can cost $19 or $20 – more than hardcovers often cost at Amazon, which routinely offers discounts of 50% or more. Sure, portability is a big thing when it comes to e-books, but a lot of the sales increase was also tied to the ease with which someone could download a new title. That could change as prices increase.

Higher prices won’t ease publishing woes. And authors who continue to think that a book will make them rich need to reconsider their own approach to publishing. A book is a tool in building your business or your name, not the be-all and end-all of your career.

Pricing is a sensitive issue, and it took the music industry a while to adjust to the new realities. Publishing is still trying to figure the new, real, world of books.

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One Response to “E-book Pricing and Publishing Reality”

  1. Nine Andres December 19, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    I noticed this too when I went shopping for books a week ago. There are indeed book titles which are more pricey on Kindle / ebook format than in hardbound/softbound editions. It’s perfectly understandable given the convenience, I agree that it’s still something that may be temporary… I’m really wishing it changes though. 

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