smoking shredded cardboard, eating sawdust baked with lime

Perhaps I’m missing the point entirely here, in which case I welcome being crushed by people with more practical knowledge of the field; I just take what they feed me, season with what I know and chew on it a bit. The more I learn about publishing, the more I fear that certain friends are right and the industry is utterly doomed.

No matter where consumers buy books, their belief that electronic media should cost less—that something you can’t hold simply isn’t worth as much money—will exert a powerful force.

Pardon? Am I missing the bit where that isn’t a perfectly rational and justified belief? The production and distribution costs of e-books, by comparison to dead trees, are zero (and if they’re not you’re doing something completely wrong.) The author’s daily bread, and the costs of editing and marketing, still exist (they’re pretty important, you know?). But the cost of printing infrastructure and supplies (even when most of it’s been outsourced to China), cost of shipping the clunky physical copies to booksellers all over the world, and above all the profit percentage that goes to the bookseller, all this is why digital is the future. (These, and the cheapness of bulk ordering, is how Amazon is leaving your arse in ruins, bookshop fans!)

Straight from the horse’s mouth: On a twenty-six-dollar book, the publisher receives thirteen dollars, out of which it pays all the costs of making the book. The author gets $3.90 in royalties. Bookstores return about forty per cent of the hardcovers they buy; this accounts for $5.20 per book. Another $3 goes to overhead costs and the price of producing and shipping the book—leaving, in the best case, about a dollar of profit per book. A $10 ebook, with that same royalty (except that they’re offering ebook authors a 25% royalty, in actuality less but proportionally more) cuts out all other. Being quite ridiculously generous, say the costs of hosting and website maintenance somehow equal production and shipping costs. That leaves 45% as straight profit. Four and a half times the profitability of traditional books, which publishers are mass-murdering their own employees to keep afloat. And they want the consumer to be paying more. More pure profit for them.

It’s not about supporting high street booksellers, except to the most unrealistic. High street booksellers are fucked, because whether it’s from cheaper mail order or direct download, they just can’t compete with the internet. Sure, this kills the printing industry and especially kills the lovely little bookshops I used to know, but capitalist efficiency has always done that. (And when the majority of bookshops and printers go the way of the livery stable, coal mine and opium den, I’m sure their ex-employees, with every other part of our defunct, unprofitable and mostly-long-outsourced-to-azns physical industries, will lead rich, full lives of meaningless paperwork under Mrs Thatcher’s casino-capitalism service economy until nobody wants our services any more and this country’s borrowed time runs out.)

Of course people will expect to pay less for digital. They’re already paying a premium to the tech companies for the hardware, and their ISPs for distribution. These have replaced the costs that make books expensive in the first place. They don’t expect to pay the maintenance of the redundant brick-and-mortar shops that mark an inefficient and outdated delivery system, they don’t expect to pay shipping charges for things that aren’t being shipped or the production costs incurred by stamping things flat on dead trees. They’re paying the writer’s wages and the editor’s dues – if anything, paying more for less in the latter – and when you cut out the massive inefficiencies in a system, not passing the savings on to the customer is exploitation bordering on theft, and your competitors who can afford to will justly destroy you. $10 a pop is unbelievably generous.

The furore over prices seems to me naked exploitation from corps who don’t even offer their advertising and editing services any more, who are murdering the only things that keep them long-term competitive in a bid to keep their short-term margins up. Free market capitalism will rape them out of existence. Nobody remotely net-literate will pay high street prices, and us net-literate ones are the ever-increasing majority. Answer? Rather than start swimming, you try to fight Amazon. Rather than compete properly, you’re begging Jobs to help you rip off the customer, to increase already stunning margins.

Q fucking Q, you rent-seeking bitches.


8 thoughts on “smoking shredded cardboard, eating sawdust baked with lime

  1. huntersglenn says:

    I seem to remember reading something about how Amazon had negotiated a deal with the publishing companies for its kindle product, and that Apple was either unable to negotiate a deal as good or didn’t bother – can’t remember which now. But the main thing was that the cost isn’t something being inflated by Apple – it’s mostly coming from the publishing companies. Over the years, I’ve seen the type size in books shrink (to help cut costs, since that’s less pages that have to be printed), and the prices keep going up. And they wonder why people don’t rush out to buy books? I’m a big library user, and when I do purchase books, it’s either through Amazon, my local Barnes & Noble (in store prices are usually better than their on-line prices), or Science Fiction Book Club where I can buy a set of books for the price of one (granted, all three books are bound into one volume, but I can live with that). But, if SFBC can print books for those prices, AND still make money, then why can’t the publishers do it?

    Capitalism isn’t a bad thing, but greed will never lead to good things, and far too many companies (and countries) around the world are more into the greed.

  2. hobben says:

    Your point is certianly valid that there are fewer costs in the distribution of an ebook, though it’s not far to say they are zero. The cost of implementing and supporting an infrastructure to reliably host probably quite a few gigs of ebooks isn’t just buying some storage from cheapwebhost.cheapcrappytld, as there’s registration, ensuring people can only access ‘their’ books, the bandwidth costs (instead of viewing a 70k amazon page, you now visit that *and* need the book delivering which is orders of magnitude higher. However you’re already subsidising that by paying for your own net connection, which is like paying royal mail to deliver your mail so the sender can just put something in a box and send it to you.

    Tl;dr (I love putting these at the end of a post ;-) costs for ebooks are lower than dead tree. ebook retailers are profiteering bastards. Project Gutenberg is amazing.

    • brosencrantz says:

      Certainly they’re not actually zero, but relatively speaking they’re not even on the same scale. While the initial overheads of website could be higher, the per-unit cost of a download is measured in pennies, rather than the surprising numbers of pounds NYT quotes. And once the digital infrastructure is in place, the costs of adding to it are just bandwidth and hosting, which for files as small as ebooks are negligible (Gravity’s Rainbow .rar’d up is 730kb. Complete works of Iain Banks plus images, under 6mb.)

      Also undernet #bookz.

  3. fireboy4plai says:

    Well, all that *but* some of us just really like having a book in our hands.
    Though personally, the ability that the Kindle and iPad offer is for the already extremely small number of companies in charge of publishing to diminish even further. That worries me more than any one particular glorified cellphone.

  4. niohherto says:


    Si sbaglia. Scrivere a me in PM.

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