Ebook Pricing vs Print Pricing

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.

Public Library Ebooks and Overdrive

Michael Cohen, over at Tidbits, has written a piece about downloading a DRM protected ebook via his local public library. His library like mine uses technology and books provided by Overdrive, Inc. The books in question are DRM epub books, using Adobe Digital Editions technology for DRM. Cohen writes:

So, when I discovered that my local public library had dipped its toes into the ebook waters and had begun to offer ebooks on loan, I was more than intrigued. After all, I’d read books on a Kindle (loved it), read books using iBooks on my iPad (loved it, too), and was looking forward to making even more use of my local library than I already did.

It’s a good piece, and thanks to Cohen, I discovered Bluefire Reader.

Cohen’s experience was, on the whole better than mine; I’ve been using Adobe’s digital DRM protected books since about 2000. I’m on my fourth computer now though, and when I attempted to get Adobe’s authorization to use the book I downloaded from my public library, not having accessed any of my Adobe DRM protected books on this new computer, Adobe borked my books, and told me I had to call for permission to authorize a fourth computer.

I did. Adobe told me I was SOL, because you know, they only authorize three computers. Mind, I don’t even have two of the computers; they’re dead, defunct, and long past pining for the fjords. But I did pay for about fifteen ebooks using Adobe’s tech, and now, I can’t read any of them, at all.

Moreover, they told me that one of the books–a scholarly edition of a medieval ms. that was a few hundred dollars–won’t work at all on any Adobe reading platform. (Fortunately, I have an old computer with an old OS, which I’ll be sure to keep for reading this one book).

I am not a happy camper.

The lesson here, boys and girls, is that DRM doesn’t stop piracy (pirates’ve already figured out how to crack Adobe’s Digital Editions DRM) but it does stop paying, legal, law-abiding readers.

Am I going to buy more Adobe using ebooks? No. Not ever. Nor will I crack them or pirate them, but I will let authors and publishers know why I’m not buying their books.

Why Technology Fails to Stop Book Theft

Various forms of technology intended to control who could read books have failed.

All of them have failed, and largely, for the same reasons.

We have first the book curse, sometime called a fiat. Then we have chained libraries.

DRM doesn’t work because it is as easily broken as the medieval chains were broken—which is why so many medieval book collections were ravaged for their valuable covers and the contents between the covers casually disposed of, which is exactly what happened to The Book of Kells in 1006.

DRM doesn’t stop thieves. It just stops honest people from buying and reading DRM books.

On the other hand, giving away books without DRM encourages people to buy more books. It works. And while I absolutely don’t think giving away books for free is a tactic for everyone, it’s awfully interesting that Cory Doctorow and Baen’s books seem to be less frequently pirated not because they’re free (not all of either entity’s books are free) but because good reasonably priced DRMless content does seem to drive out cracked illegal content on the basis of ease of use, and production quality/readability.

Thieves are thieves; they’re not new. Talk to a librarian or to someone who works in a bookstore. Thieves will steal.

Technological anti-theft methods fail because the genuine paying customer is alienated, annoyed and frustrated and so doesn’t buy or read the protected book. We buy and read another book—it’s not like there’s a shortage of books readers want to read.

The remedy is to concentrate on appealing to the majority customer–the honest people who want to pay for their books–and making them available without DRM. People like me who love books will buy multiple copies of the same book—we did this before ebooks, and we do it now. We’re the real customer‚we actually read our books as well as pay for them.

MacWorld on DVD Ripping: Is It Legal?

One of the smartest, most thoughtful discussions I’ve seen about ripping backups of DVDs you own, from MacWorld Staff:

Is DVD ripping illegal?

The MPAA and most media companies argue that you can’t legally copy or convert commercial DVDs for any reason. We (and others) think that, if you own a DVD, you should be able to override its copy protection to make a backup copy or to convert its content for viewing on other devices. Currently, the law isn’t entirely clear one way or the other—Fair Use proponents claim you have the right to make a back-up copy of the media you own whereas those who support the Digital Millennium Copyright Act say that the DMCA overrides Fair Use.

Go read the rest here.

Two Graphic Explanations of why DRM doesn’t work

DRM really doesn’t work; it doesn’t even slow down pirates, but it frustrates honest users, and programmers. Here are two clear explanations of why it doesn’t work to protect artists, creators and publishers.

First, from Brad Colbow “Why DRM Doesn’t Work or How to Download an Audio Book From the Cleaveland Public Library.”

Second, from Geeklogie  a PowerPoint that compares what happens when a honest, legal, paying customer, puts a DVD in a drive, compared to what happens when a pirate puts the same DVD in a drive:


See also Matt Neuberg of TidBits on his attempts to download an audio book form his public library.