Publishing Economics I: The real costs come before you print

Over the past few years I’ve come across statements that show a misunderstanding of the basic costs and economics that book publishers and producers face. For example, there are regular complaints about the cost of ebooks in comparison to print books, generally suggesting that publishers have priced ebooks unreasonably high. Other statements imply that traditional publishers keep 90% of the profits of book sales, while giving the author just a small part. Still others assume that since the cost of producing each additional ebook is nothing, that ebooks will soon overtake print book sales and publishers will disappear.

As I considered these claims, I realized that they are often based on little or no knowledge of publishing economics. So I thought it might be useful to give a basic overview of the costs and economics of book publishing–something that might help those considering publishing their own ebooks, and that might help consumers decide if prices really are too high and authors understand why publishers don’t give them more money. I’m sure for some readers this is obvious–if so, then you likely agree with me about many of the complaints about publishers aren’t justified, or you will be able to tell me why I’m wrong.

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The Cost of Free

Last week I got back from a three week trip to South Africa, Mozambique and (briefly) Swaziland. I bought books (of course), and tried to get a sense for these countries and cultures. As you might expect, crossing the border from South Africa into Mozambique we saw quite a stark economic contrast. Where South Africa appears very western, despite its significant problems, Mozambique faces significant economic challenges and is sixth to last on the Human Development Index.

These economic issues are, of course, a major problem for the expansion of Mormon culture. Mormonism continues to expand quickly in less developed countries, but our culture isn’t keeping up with that expansion. LDS books, films, music and other cultural elements are largely not available outside the US and Canada, leading many to suggest a radical solution:

Just give these products away for free!

Unfortunately, I don’t think this will work in the long run. Its not sustainable, it doesn’t help local members grow, and it often cheats authors and producers of any way to make a living from their work.

Continue reading “The Cost of Free”