Still Debating The Cost Of Ebooks
from the marginal-cost-people... dept
Creating an individual ebook format -- one of the current suite of them -- costs roughly as much as creating a print-on-paper edition; the costs of the actual paper and ink are vanishingly small in this equation. Some ebook formats, such as the currently fashionable one, have a baroque process of creation that involves multiple transformations and iterations of quality control, which drives up costs further. And the cost per unit is massively higher for ebooks than for printed books -- infinitely so in some cases, since there are plenty of ebook editions that have never sold a single copy.Now, the issue here, of course, is a fundamental misunderstanding the difference between total cost (or average cost) and marginal cost. This happens a lot -- especially among non-economists. But it misses the point. Total cost is important in figuring out an overall business model, because obviously you want to be able to make more than it cost overall, but it's a terrible way of picking a price. That's because the driving force in pricing is the marginal cost. Meanwhile, CHT also points us to a good rebuttal to Wheeler from Paul Raven, where Raven basically says that Wheeler is doing things wrong:
I'm not going to refute the claim that ebooks currently cost a lot of money to make. I am, however, going to say that they shouldn't cost a lot of money to make, that they don't have to, and that the longer they do, the smaller the chances of them ever becoming a viable industry in their own right...He goes on to note that part of the problem is with the publishers themselves, and their inability to come to terms on a standard (and open) format.
But there are other problems in the ebook publishing world as well -- where it appears that some publishers are less focused on figuring out how to use the technology to improve the experience for readers, and more about how to screw them over. Charlotte Payan-Salcedo discusses her her recent attempt to buy some ebooks, where she discovers that the ebooks she bought require special software to read, including DRM that limits where the books can be read... and then discovers that the books "expire" after 180 days. She doesn't say it, but I'm guessing these are actually textbooks (both from the price -- $180 for two ebooks) and from the claim that they expire. When textbook companies first started offering ebooks, many of them were designed to "expire" after the course was over. I hadn't looked at the etextbook market in a while, and had sorta expected (hoped?) this silly concept was gone -- but apparently not. It looks like in this case, the publishers have figured out how to provide none of the benefits of ebooks, but added all sorts of additional negatives.