One issue that constantly crops up in the ebook discussion is pricing. Common sense tells us that ebooks cost less to make and distribute than paper books. According to an indepent epublisher, Sony charges $200 to have a book converted from a PDF to a digital BBeB (Sony’s proprietary content). In order for an epublisher to break even on this, assuming that the publisher gets 60% of the retail price, 56 units would need to sell. This seems to be quite a low cost for a self published book.
Let’s take it one step further. Samhain Publishing sells its books through its own bookstore. Let’s assume that overhead is approximately $1.00 per book. This would include website maintenance, formatting, marketing/promotion/conference fees, contract negotiation fees (read: lawyers ;), hosting, design, customer support, admin, etc.). Let’s also include costs for art, editing and formatting at approximately $5,000.00. (This number is half the cost of the art, editing, and typesetting for a NY Published book). Assuming an average cost of $5.99 per book and 40% royalty rate, Samhain needs to sell 2506 units to break even. For a new epublisher this may be pretty good hence the need for a $5.99 price.
Going one step further, Meljean Brook’s book, Demon Angel, has a print run of 44,500 according to publishers weekly. In order for the publisher to break even, the book would need to sell 19,522 copies in print format, assuming a $1.40 per unit cost. If the ebook was available and the publisher put some advertising dollars into ebooks in general, the book would need to sell only 17,727 books overall. (12000 print and 5727 in ebook format).
The real savings comes if you reduce the print run. A book with a print run of 30,000 needs only sell 13,962 books (12000 print and 1962 ebook) or 12,782 copies (7055 print and 5727 ebook) to break even or any variable in between recognizing that the total books necessary to break even are inversely proportional to the ebooks sold. I.e., the more ebooks sold, the lower the break even point.
Any book sold above that number is a profit for the publisher and royalty for the author. If the ebook is sold at the publisher website for greater than 40% off the retail price, the ebook savings are even greater. Harper Collins, for example, sells books at 20% off. I used the 40% off figure by Simon&Schuster as it shows that the publisher can still make money and lower the cost to the consumer. A lower cost to the consumer, of course, encourages the consumer to buy more. :)
Essentially, with ebooks, a lower number of books need to be sold in companion with the print copy in order for the publisher to break even. By utilizing ebook economies, publishers would be able to take greater risks. Ebook sales are up 45% from last year and six times what the sales numbers were in 2002. The ebook market is obviously a growth industry. It makes sense for traditional print publishers to move toward ebooks in addition to the traditional print publishing format. Ebooks can be a win, win situation for the reader, the publisher and the author.
(For this example, I used numbers extracted from articles here and here on profit and loss for a mass market book. In this example, we assumed a $.55 cost per unit to print; $.40 for corrugation and shipping; $2000 for publicity and marketing; $10,000 for an advance; and $8000 for copyediting, proofing, typesetting and design, and art; and $1.00 per book for overhead. We also assumed $6.99 as the retail price. You can see the math in the attached PDF).