Digital publishing should be leading a revolution in publishing bringing great books to the masses – but this is stalling due to price.

Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, introduced paperback novels in 1935 with the intention that books should cost no more than a packet of cigarettes.

I don’t buy cigarettes, but my friend Google tells me in the UK they cost a bit less than £6.50 for a pack of 20.

Second on the Amazon best selling book as I write is by Bradley Wiggins, the paperback costs £7.19 from Amazon (RRP £7.99)  while the Kindle edition costs £6.29 (and the reason I have selected 2nd on the best seller list is because first doesnt appear to have a Kindle edition thanks Jamie Oliver)

So the paperback costs more than the cigarettes, while the digital edition costs marginally less than they do.

Let’s think about this for a minute – the difference between a paperback and the Kindle edition is 90p.

That 90p must account for the cost of printing, the cost of paper, the cost of shipping, the cost of storage and possibly other costs I am not factoring in. And bearing in mind publishers sell to retailers at least 50% discount for paper books, then we should be looking at 45p as being the cost of each of those things.

While the Kindle edition is some data uploaded to Amazon who then download it after the customer purchases. Quite often the data is a couple of megabits which if it costs anything at all to store and transmit, cannot be more than a few pence.

So why does a couple of MBs of data cost not much less than a paperback (with all the costs of printing, transporting and storing) ????

I don’t know what is going on in the offices of big publishing houses across the planet, so I hesitate to say this is all about profiteering – they may have a legitimate reason – which I would really like to hear (feel free to comment to explain yourself if you work at a big publishing house).

However, what I do know is I have four books available on Amazon* – three are almost out of print as paperbacks (and the publisher doesn’t plan to print anymore as they will be available forever on Kindle) – but all are available in Kindle.

The paperback prices are in the range you would expect as compared to books from other publishing houses. But, the Kindle editions all retail at £1.92 (which is based on the US price of $2.99 which I understand is the minimum price you can put on a Kindle book). 

I mention the prices of my books primarily to make the point I am practicing what I am preaching (and if Amazon removes their minimum price I think they would go down again – publishing to a literate world should be about volume of sales not price per unit – the industry values best sellers (not highest priced sellers) after all.

Market forces will win out and the big publishing houses will flourish or not in the digital era. But keeping prices more or less the same for paper objects compared to couple of MBs downloads is probably not sustainable – look at what Apple has done to CDs with iTunes at 79p a track. Look at what Netflix and others are doing to movie and box set DVD sales.

The digital revolution is here and if the old publishers cannot change the price then new ones who will change the cost and the business model to compete will rise up and take their place – it is how the market works.

 

*My books available on Kindle:

The Joy of Ex

Fragments

UHF Shadow

The Great Wide Open

This news feature discusses the movement towards digital text books and learning in the developing world and the United States.

Cost could be a major driver here – when it is cheaper to give a child a tablet /laptop (whatever) than it is to provide them with text books, exercise books, pens, then the move willl become widespread and the days of paper’s dominance in schools will go the way of the blackboard and chalk…

The Chief Exec of Bloomsbury (big publishing house) says ebooks “will change the publishing business model” in an article here.

(Been saying that in this blog for a while now)

He also goes on to say the “publishing world is handling its own revolution” – which is interesting to hear, and makes me wonder if the industry has taken heed of the cluster f**k way in which the music industry handled the transition to a digital world. Time will tell.

 

I mentioned the Blair book a while ago.

The publisher is well respected in the industry and was interviewed by Media Guardian earlier this week:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/13/gail-rebuck-tony-blair-random-house

This is an interesting article for lots of reasons – Tony Blair was PM for a long time and there is a lot of controversy around him. But my interest here is in digital publishing.

So , from where I’m coming from, one of the more interesting aspects of the interview is where Gail Rebuck says in 10 years time digital will make up “25-30% of revenue” for Random House.

I respect her a lot – she is head of Random House and you don’t get there by accident, but I think she is wrong on this one.

But hey, time will tell.

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