Book Pricing and What’s Behind It

In all this debate over what e-books should cost, here’s an interesting look at what consumers think. Many people (understandably) can’t see why an e-book should cost almost as much as a hard copy of the same book.

But it’s not as simple as “there’s no paper so it should cost way less.” A publisher still needs to pay the author (hurray for writers getting money!) and pay the salaries of everyone working on the book (editors, marketers, graphic designers, etc.). Even though you’re not paying for physical assembly and shipping, there’s still a lot that goes into making a book. As someone who’s worked in publishing, I have to agree that making a book involves much more than putting pages together, and the people doing that work (which is necessary for both e-books and hard copies) deserve to be paid fairly.

Does that mean the debate about e-book pricing is over? Not even close. But I think it’s good to keep in mind that just because it’s digital doesn’t mean there was no effort in the creation process.

The E-Clause

The big news in publishing now is how to deal with e-readers. Along with that comes questions regarding publishing contracts, some of which are decades old. I’m guessing that’s the reason HarperCollins is suing Open Road Integrated Media over the latter’s e-book edition of Jean Craighead George’s children’s book classic Julie of the Wolves. HarperCollins originally published the book in 1972 ,and Open Road (founded by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman) came out with its e-book edition in October.

Although Open Road says they were granted rights by author George, HarperCollins counters:

Our contract with Jean Craighead George, the author of Julie of the Wolves, grants us the exclusive digital rights to the book, and Open Road’s e-book edition violates our rights. We intend to take all appropriate steps to protect our exclusive rights under copyright against infringement, in this case and in any instances that might occur in the future.”

It sounds like someone–the author, the agent, one of the publishers–really dropped the ball on this one, and I don’t think this will be a rare lawsuit in the years to come. Publishing contracts can be hard enough to understand without trying to update each one with regard to new technology. I’m curious to see how this will pan out.