I find it quite appropriate that, in the week we launch the AAUP e-publishing blog, there is more media coverage of ebook pricing. On Monday the New York Times included an article on the proposed $12.99 to $14.99 prices for ebooks within the iPad iBookstore and future Kindle agreements. Of most significance, it presents a simplified breakdown of the profit margin on both physical and electronic books.
This article includes something for everyone to dislike. Shelf Awareness takes issue (as do I) with the presumptive 50% discount. This skews all the resulting math, and precludes consideration of anything but trade releases. While at the other end of the spectrum The Atlantic chooses to present its own, tongue-in-cheek presentation of the same calculations.
While some of you may think this is a mild irritant, a mere diversion from our scholarly path, these mainstream portrayals of ebooks as so significantly cheaper to produce are likely to set the stage for much of the future development of pricing models. Most of us can easily see where our own corner of the industry diverges from this trade model, but I doubt much of our author or customer base is as well informed.
Copyediting and typesetting for 80 cents a copy? I don’t think I’ve seen those prices in 20 years. And why do these same tasks cost 50 cents for a digital copy? And if we were only to spend $1 per copy on marketing each new title, we wouldn’t be able to afford a single ad. I’m looking forward to negotiating 15% list price royalties, as well.
References to this article have already started to pop up in blogs and news sites everywhere. With the current focus on the business model for the iPad , and the public fracas between MacMillan and Amazon, this will spread for a few more weeks. And the “presumptions” will very soon be viewed as “truths”.
So let me contrast this with a few recent posts by Mike Shatzkin on his blog. Mike is unapologetic in his belief that the digital transition is here and that you will be left behind if you are not already managing it. But he is equally forthright in statements that publishers have good reason to try to slow things down. Mike always presents careful, and informed, analysis. His blog is well worth following.
You’ll see our blogroll on the left. As they come and go, we’ll update the list. We’ll also include direct links to articles of interest in posts such as this.
Posted by Alan Harvey, Stanford University Press