The Switch from Print to Digital Isn't Happening Solely to Benefit the Customer

Since 2009, nearly 1 million books have vanished from libraries in historical places such as Washington, D.C. and Fairfax, Virginia. In the last two years, e-books have outsold print books. In addition, e-book spending has risen from 1 percent of library budgets to 7 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Library Journal. Yet, while it is true that libraries across America are adapting to the times by moving from print to digital, both e-books and print publishing are currently about equal on the consumers’ market. A bigger shock than the rapidly changing libraries throughout the United States, however, has been the cost of e-books versus print books.

Many consumers don’t understand why the price of a digital book is so high, since it is not physically materialized in their hands. In printing traditional books, publishers have quite a bit of overhead: utilities, benefits, and salaries. Through editing, printing, and distributing, the cost begins to add up even more. This cost is made even greater by the fact that any author that a publishing company takes on, poses the risk that his or her work will be entirely unsuccessful. However, studies have shown that despite these costs, if we eliminated the physical “printing aspect,” a book would only cost 3.25 cents less. This cost is the part that is cut out digitally, and which makes consumers believe they are paying too much for their e-book.

 Why aren’t all digital books 3.25 cents less than print books? Because a lot of money still goes into publishing an e-book, even if its cost is slightly less than a printing house. Contrary to what many readers think, e-books are almost strictly for consumer convenience, and not for the profit of publishing companies. Digital printing houses have five different kinds of editors, and a graphic designer, (who is crucial to digital publishing), marketing departments, and a large range of technicians to create multiple formats for all of the digital content. These all hold significant salaries. Finally, digital publishers need to give as much as 50% of the cover price of their book to the outlets that sell the e-books, such as Amazon, for example, which takes away a drastic amount of profit publishers would make.

So, the next time you complain that the only cheap e- books for sale are novels that you’ve never heard of, don’t be quick to chastise the producer. Since the shift from print to digital is happening so rapidly, some prices are a bit off, but in general, the benefit is for the readers. For the casual reader, it is left up to them to decide whether they want a physical copy of the book, or one at their disposal at any given time. Regardless of their own choice, what happens behind the scenes is a lot of work, and the prices are easily justified.