It really isn’t that much cheaper to produce an ebook. The binding/printing costs are depending on the book and the binding and the numbers printed somewhere around 1 to 3 bucks a book, for a Robert Jordan Hardcover with foil. The costs up to the point a file is sent to an ebook producer or to a printer are identical—and that’s where most of the costs to make a book occur. Author’s advance is often the single largest item in terms of genre fiction. Then you’ve got designer, cover artist, editor, copy editor, proofer, typesetter—and there may be other costs, depending on the book (indexer, rights licensing, compositor). The ebook has to be formatted, and done properly, it’s not just a matter of running scripts. It needs to be created in multiple formats, usually, with administrative costs related to licensing images, cover art, DRM, and QA. There are additional production costs in terms of staff and software/hardware, and in terms of archiving. The initial costs up to the fork are shared. Honestly, for genre fiction, there’s reason to base the price ebooks pretty closely on the prices for the equivalent paperbacks.
Now, what I’m not sure of is how much angst there is from publishers about day-and-date release, and issues of libraries buying hardcover in preference to softcover. Book prices at the point of a printed codex book are of three sorts:
- Raw cost in labor/materials/costs to the publisher.
- Price the publisher sells the book to retailers/distributors/wholesaler (discounts of various sorts).
- Price the retailer sells the book to a customer.
Keep in mind that frequently the author is paid putative royalties on some version of 3, after the publisher has recouped the advance—at which point the publisher may still be trying to (and probably won’t have succeeded) recoup their costs and generate profit. If publishers don’t profit, they can’t pay advances, or make more books.