When paperbacks were the publishing industry’s enemy

Via Teleread:

By Dan Eldridge:

From mental_floss: Half a century before e-books turned publishing upside down, a different format threatened to destroy the industry.

The next time you find yourself tangled up in one of those endlessly frustrating conversations about how e-books and e-readers and the digital culture in general are threatening to destroy the publishing industry as we know it, you’d better believe you’re going to wish you had a photocopied version of Andrew Shaffer’s latestmental_floss feature on hand.

Why? Simple: Because instead of huffing and puffing and arguing yourself hoarse, you could instead simply hand the photocopied article to whomever you happen to be engaged in conversation with, and then, without saying so much as a single word, simply turn around and walk away. (With a knowing grin on your face and an intellectually superior spirit in your heart, of course.)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Shaffer’s article, “How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read,” is a near-perfect example of the old chestnut that “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.” To be a bit more specific, you could probably even say that “those who know nothing whatsoever about the history of the publishing business probably shouldn’t go around prognosticating about it’s forthcoming demise, lest they make complete asses of themselves.”

But regardless of all that, Shaffer’s article does a wonderful job of reminding us that as recently as 1939,  the American paperback book was a newfangled invention that many publishing industry insiders assumed would destroy the business as they knew it. At the very least, it was widely assumed that readers everywhere would abandon the hardcover book in favor of the significantly cheaper paperback. (Sound familiar?)

Some seven decades on, of course, we all know what happened: Hardcover books are still very much being produced today, although most readers regard them as something of a luxury or niche item. American companies that once produced nothing but hardcovers eventually branched out into paperbacks, and all was well with the world.

In fact, the history of the hardcover book is not entirely unlike that of the vinyl record. The cassette tape, after all, didn’t destroy the record, nor did the CD, and nor will the MP3 or whatever might arrive next. The vinyl record has simply become an enthusiast’s item, and indeed, the music industry somehow manages to march on. Today, musicians make money primarily by touring and selling merchandise. And in another 50 years, the model will almost certainly have reinvented itself once again.

If you happen to have a spare 30 minutes, click over to Shaffer’s article and give it a good, slow read. (And don’t forget to forget to print out a few extra copies. I suspect they’ll come in handy before you know it.)

Hachette UK loves its DRM

As found on The Digital Reader:

In case you thought that Tor’s enlightened stance on DRM might be a sign that the ice might be starting to melt around the Big Six publishers, think again. Today in Publishers Weekly, Cory Doctorow writes he has obtained a letter that the UK arm of Hachette sent to authors publishing with it asking that they demand Tor return DRM to their titles, and advising them it will be adding language to its standard boilerplate contract requiring that any titles Hachette UK licenses for its region must be locked down with DRM elsewhere in the world.

Doctorow is, of course, appalled at this, pointing out that DRM hasn’t stopped Hachette’s works from being available from peer-to-peer networks now, and all it does is hinder consumers’ legitimate uses of the e-books. However, The Bookseller is carryingstatements Hachette UK execs have made in response, pointing out that the boilerplate language is as negotiable as any other part of the contract and that a lot of publishers include language insisting licensees use DRM in their contracts already.

Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of Hachette UK imprint Little, Brown and president of the Publishers Association, criticized Doctorow for trotting out the same tired old anti-DRM arguments and said the purpose of the DRM was not to block pirates or DRM-crackers, but to “[inhibit] file-sharing between the mainstream readers who are so valuable to us and our authors.” She says that the DRM “model is working very well” and sees no reason to change at this point.

Is “file-sharing between […] mainstream readers” really that much of a threat? Going DRM-free has seemed to do well by Baen, and that was obvious even as far back as 2001 when the New York Times wrote that Baen was expanding its business by selling DRM-free and even giving away e-books payment-free. Baen shows no sign of changing its position now. In fact, it sells pricier early e-book versions DRM-free as well.

Of course, Baen is a bit of a niche SF publisher, and Tor is a good bit larger. It remains to be seen exactly how well going DRM-free will do for Tor, though I expect a lot of people to be watching closely, including Hachette.

The really funny thing in all of this is that the “good guy” here is Tor, an imprint of Macmillan who not only is fighting the government’s decree against agency pricing, it was the first to implement it in the first place. And the “bad guy” is Hachette, who is meekly settling and presumably allowing Amazon to lower its prices. Just goes to show that publishers are really complex entities, I guess.

 

When going gets tough, publishers turn to celebrity books and Tumblr blogs

By Chris Meadows from Teleread.

new_back2It’s certainly a great age of uncertainty for publishers. These are the days when publishers, scared silly by Amazon’s price-chopping tactics, (allegedly) band together to try to put an end to them—and then get told that’s a big no-no and the Department of Justice will see them in court. Falling margins, the uncertain future of bookstores, changing public tastes, piracy, scanning, self-publishing…sometimes I think it’s a wonder there’s any Pepto-Bismol left in New York City.

These are the days when you would think that publishers would be desperate to smarten up—to develop some better judgment about the kinds of things readers want, and figure out how to sell it to them as economically and with as little waste as possible. But it turns out that these are also the days when a publisher decides to make a book out of a Tumblr blog of made-up text message conversations between a man and his dog.

On TechCrunch, John Biggs writes an open letter to publishers in general, taking them to task for what he sees as only the latest in a long chain of bad publishing decisions.

You’re about to be flattened. Book piracy is about to smash your top shelf revenue while books like Text From Dog are going to kill any respect we once had for the big six. You guys clearly have no idea what you’re doing and you’re depending on your recent Yale-grad philosophy major Assistant Editor to bring you some hot, hot web trendz to capitalize on. Real fiction and non-fiction? Blah, that’s for old people and nerds. What the kids want to do these days is go into a book store and buy a book based on a Tumblr blog. Because kids are stupid. Also vampires. And sex.

(To be fair, I’m not sure whether Headline, the publisher mentioned as putting out the Texts from Dog book, is even part of a big six company. But why let that get in the way of a good rant?)

Biggs suggests that rather than this funny-for-a-few-moments humor stuff, publishers should be looking for quality writing on the web, be it fiction or nonfiction. It should focus on championing good authors, putting them on book tours, building their audience. More of that stuff, less of Text from Dog and ghost-written celebrity tell-alls.

But while Biggs accuses publishers of going for low-hanging fruit in publishing books like this, I have to wonder whether Biggs himself is going for low-hanging fruit in making fun of books like this. It’s definitely an easy book to send up, but there will always be books like that. As many books as are published in a year, some of them are always going to seem ridiculous to someone.

But by the same token, these books continue to get published because they make the publishers money. If they didn’t, then publishers would stop publishing them. So perhaps if Biggs doesn’t want to see publishers publish more of this kind of book, he should be scolding the public, not the publishers.

Authors sue Harlequin over e-book royalties

By Chris Meadows from Teleread (original article).

The public may now be developing a love affair with e-books, but they may have lost their romance for some of Harlequin’s authors. Three such authors are suing Harlequin over a matter of miscalculated e-book royalties.

Barbara Keiler, Mona Kay Thomas and Linda Barrett allege (PDF) that Harlequin used a tax-purposes subsidiary, Harlequin Swiss, to cheat them out of e-book royalties between 1994 by basing their “50% of receipts” rate on the money Swiss received from Harlequin, rather than the money Harlequin received from selling the books. Authors thus ended up getting between 24 and 32 cents per copy, rather than the $2 they should by rights have received.

Harlequin has claimed (PDF) that, since e-books were such a niche market before 2005, low royalties were not unreasonable—since nobody even knew if e-books were ever going to take off, they hadn’t bothered to come up with specific royalty terms for them, and lumped them under a low-paying “All Other Rights” provision. Now that e-books are a big deal, of course, they’re paying more.

The plaintiffs in the suit don’t seem to find this argument terribly reasonable. They are seeking a jury trial and class-action status on behalf of all qualifying authors who signed contracts with Harlequin between 1990 and 2004. Harlequin states it will defend itself vigorously.

I don’t know how much money e-book royalties prior to 2005 account for, but no matter how much or little, the principle of making sure authors get all the money that’s coming to them seems like an important one to see honored.

(Found via PaidContent and GalleyCat.)

Publishing will survive through innovation

By Chris Meadows from Teleread

Is publishing “dying”? On FutureBook, Vicky Hartley expresses doubt. She points to a number of great new multimedia apps on tablets that demonstrate some publishers are finding ways to use the new capabilities of tablets to reach out to readers better than ever before. Heuristic Media’s London – A City Through Time is one example, and the works of children’s book-based-app publisher Nosy Crow are another.

I’ll admit to being rather impressed by the trailer on London’s website, but I think it might be a bit premature to generalize from just a few book-related apps like this to the entire publishing industry. While interactivity might be great for non-fiction works that seek to cover a particular subject in extremely detailed scope, or for illustrated children’s works that also serve as learning tools, it’s not going to do anything for the fiction market.

But on the other hand, perhaps I’m being too specific. Hartley’s overall thesis seems to be that there are plenty of opportunities for publishing to adapt and survive to the new technological world in general. There’s no reason the opportunities for fiction publishers should necessarily look anything at all like those for non-fiction or children’s books.

Of course, the question remains whether publishers actually will take advantage of those opportunities. The bigger houses haven’t seemed that eager to do so so far. On the other hand, smaller operations like Baen and O’Reilly have been innovating for years.

Booksellers say they are dying, but refuse to sell books

By Paul Biba from Teleread:

Images

 

How dumb is this!  When your market is diminishing, and your revenues are diminishing, just go ahead and refuse opportunities to make money.  The booksellers won’t hurt Amazon, they will only hurt themselves.

From Publishers Weekly:

Earlier this year when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a licensing agreement with Amazon to publish and distribute all adult titles from Amazon Publishing’s New York office under the newly created New Harvest imprint, independent bricks-and-mortar booksellers as well as the nation’s two largest chains, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, said that they would not carry them in their stores. Among other reasons for the ban, they cited the fact that Amazon would retain exclusive rights to the e-book edition. With the first two books about to ship—Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine’s Outside In (shipping Aug. 1) and Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?(Aug. 8)—PW got back in touch with booksellers to see if they have changed their minds about stocking their competitor’s titles and found little has changed. In fact over the past five months booksellers have become more entrenched about their decision.

One contributing factor is the growing awareness of the lack of transparency in the way Houghton sold previous one-off titles licensed from Amazon. This helped to account for strong bricks-and-mortar sales for novels like Oliver Potzsch’s The Hangman’s Daughter, which had been originally published by Amazon as an e-book before being sold by Houghton in print. For book two in the series, Dark Monk, a full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review in June made no mention of either Houghton or Amazon, another irritant to booksellers. The fact that indies said that Houghton sales reps have been up front that New Harvest titles—that are in the fall HMH catalogue– have been licensed from Amazon hasn’t made them anymore likely to carry the books.

Publishing industry faces paradoxes, challenges

By Chris Meadows – Via Teleread

IPA-Cape-TownPublishing Perspectives is carrying a keynote speech delivered in absentia to the International Publishers Association Congress in South Africa in which Chad Post, publisher of small nonprofit translation press Open Letter Booksdiscusses the paradoxes that shape the current publishing market, the opportunities for a small press, and what various people in publishing should do in the longer term.

The paradoxes Post cites are remarkably apt. Speaking from the viewpoint of publishers (the “we” he refers to), Post points out:

  • We rely on readers, but we want to keep them at arm’s length.
  • We champion small independent stores, although our business model favors Amazon.
  • We hate Amazon because it’s so successful it broke our power structure.
  • We also hate Amazon because they’re good at the thing we turned our back on: relating to readers.

The publishing industry has essentially handed Amazon its market on a silver platter, then complained about Amazon gobbling that platter clean. Publishers have always left market research and getting to know readers to the bookstores that made up their interface to those readers—because, after all, there wasn’t any efficient way for a bookstore to reach beyond its local community, or for publishers to reach all communities at once. But then came the Internet, and Amazon to leverage it.

Unlike many publishers, Post’s Open Letter Books was founded from the start as a nonprofit—Post recognized he was never going to get rich publishing books, and preferred to treat the publisher as a sort of service organization to make the world a little better place by getting books into the hands of people who would benefit by reading them. But because of its small size, the press finds it is a challenge even getting noticed.

And that’s a problem common to all small publishers (not to mention self-publishers and even full-sized publishers) in the 21st century:

We have entered a confusing age in the evolution of books and publishing. After ages of conglomerations conglomerating and other inward mingling trends (e.g., B&N making the same books available everywhere in the country, like McDonalds hamburgers), the world has suddenly fragmented. Certain books are only available on Amazon, there are 10,000 for every sub-genre of a sub-genre, and readers live everywhere, accessing it all in a plethora of ways.

This is daunting to some, exciting to others. For a small press looking to do books that fit a particular niche (a la Open Letter), this is a fantastic situation. Unlike years past when we fought for space in the same five review outlets and tried to convince the same booksellers to handsell our books, we can now go directly to our customers, and can cultivate an audience in ways that never existed before.

Post has advice for all branches of publishing, as well. Agents, he says, need to stop “screwing around with e-book rights”—withholding the e-book license from print publishers so they can’t use the print and e-book formats to promote each other. Translators should try to cultivate a community of readers interested in their books, to promote greater sales. Publishers should “grow a personality” to build better word of mouth.

Authors should try to find a niche who will buy their books instead of crossing their fingers and hoping for mass appeal in an era of decreased reading and increased market fragmentation. And everyone should keep in mind that the increasingly fragmented nature of the book market means that fads are going to be less and less effective as people go find what they want to read instead of buying into whatever the publishing industry want to push next.

Publishers – Writer Beware

Publishers are just middlemen. That’s all. If artists could remember that more often, they’d save themselves a lot of aggravation.
– Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

Ah, the lure of the publisher, the allure of the printed book sitting there in your hands, beckoning to you. Isn’t that the stuff of every author’s dreams? An e-book is great but don’t we all long to hold a book in our hands with our name below the title? I know I did. There’s also the sense of security and the idea that maybe we won’t have to work quite as hard, that they’ll pick up some of the load of marketing.

It also seems as if there are so many new choices these days – not just the Big Six, independent, e-presses and small presses, but all kinds of hybrids, include publishing groups and co-ops (where the responsibility for creating a book is shared). And not all of them are truly looking out for your best interests. A number of writers have found themselves contracted to a publisher with no easy way out. I did.

So how do you avoid the pitfalls?

(For our purposes, we’ll leave out the Big Six, the pros and cons there are known – advances (now much smaller), a huge pool of talent in which your book can get lost, gatekeepers with a narrow eye, six months to respond, a year to two years to reach print.)

First, do your homework. Google the company name. If you find that they’re listed on Preditors and Editors or Writers Write, run away. Are there complaints against/about them? Do they sound valid, consistent? Go to their website, find a book that looks and sounds interesting to you. Does the cover look professional? Are there spelling and grammar errors in the blurb (the back cover information)? Where can you buy it? Only from their website? Those are huge red flags. You want your book to look as good as possible and to be available to a wide audience through established booksellers like Amazon.com, B&N and iTunes. If there’s a feature like Amazon’s “Look Inside the Book”, use it. Are there a bunch of basic grammar errors? Is that the kind of book with which you want to be associated?
So, it all sounds good and looks good. Too good to be true? Then it probably is. How’s your gut? Getting some trippy vibes? It’s time to start asking questions…

  1.  There’s a standard rule in publishing that money flows from the publisher to the writer, NOT the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is blowing smoke. I don’t care what name they call it. If you’re paying them a percentage of your book that percentage is supposed to cover what they’re supposed to do for you – editing, cover art and marketing at the very least. By its very definition in a co-operative environment each writer donates their time and skills to the group as a whole, each contributing to the success of all. But the first rule still applies. If you’re paying any percentage to the publisher, those ‘fees’ should come out of their pocket, not yours. Otherwise, what are you paying them for? Their name? Make up your own.
  2.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for your galley or proof copies. No reputable publisher will ask you to do this. That’s the cost of doing business. You’re providing them with their commodity, books. Without you, they wouldn’t exist. To ask you to pay for your own proof copies, even at a discount, is wrong. If they don’t believe enough in your book to invest in it, they shouldn’t have bought it. No reputable publisher will insist that you buy your books in bulk, either, even for a book signing. On those occasions they should provide them – unsold books should then be returned to the publisher or used for subsequent book signings.
  3.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for services you can do yourself. See below.
  4. Editing. Read the excerpts. Is that your style? Is it overly simplistic, too Dick and Jane? Or too dark? (I submitted one book to a publisher like that but I had a pretty good idea it would be rejected. And it was.) Are the stories remarkably similar, too generic? Is the quality good? Are you seeing those grammar errors? In a recent post I commented on a reader who was surprised to find an erotica book so literate. (I don’t just write erotica, I’m actually more of a fantasy writer, but that is where I’m published traditionally.) Is most of their work adult, but you write YA? Make sure that publisher is a good fit for you.
  5. Are they making a huge fuss about numbers, rankings and so on? Is the fuss legitimate? If you’re #4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Kitchen Appliances, is that a valid ranking for your contemporary romance, Cooking Class? Not really. Outside of the kitchen appliances listing, notice that it says Nonfiction. Yes, you want to market where people share the same interests as your book but if your book is the only fiction book in ten listings… being #4 isn’t all that great.
  6. If they’re offering to put your book in print, who is doing the printing? I honestly never considered asking that question. I didn’t think I had to, after all, they were a publisher, right? So therefore they had a printer. To my surprise, one company was using CreateSpace to do their printing. (See Rule 3) I already had two books in print through CreateSpace on my own but that publisher made it sound as if he had a local printing company. Never assume. You know what happens when you do.
  7. Ask what their pay schedule is and what your percentage is for e-books or print. Is it different if you do book signings? WHEN do you get paid? Smashwords pays quarterly, most regular publishers pay monthly, but both will provide you with a regular accounting of how much money you can expect to receive. The same should be true of any publisher. You have a right to know when your first paycheck will arrive. After all, you have bills just like they do. If they can’t give you that information, if they waffle about how they can’t give you accurate figures, that they have to account for returns, etc., RUN. At absolute worse they could simply deduct a return from your next check but a reputable publisher wouldn’t – returns should be few and they accept that as a loss, as the cost of doing business. (If returns are excessive, someone needs to look at the book.)
  8. What is their marketing plan? How do they market their authors? (Again, see Rule 3) Is it largely through Facebook, Twitter and blogs? What else do they do? You want a concrete marketing plan that will take you beyond what you can do yourself. Does it mainly consist of book signings which you have to arrange, not them? Then you’re in the wrong place.
    And if you hear pie in the sky promises – I can get you on Leno, for example – ask yourself how many authors Jay Leno has on his program? None. It’s all smoke. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
  9. Check out their Facebook pages. Is there chaos and drama around them? Do you want chaos and drama in your life? If not, then walk away.

 

Indie publishing is hard enough without people making it more difficult, or outright ripping you off. I have yet to see the money from my book and I have a pretty good guess I never will. Despite it being a legitimate Amazon best seller. It regularly floats in the Amazon Top 100. I haven’t given up entirely but that’s the price you pay for not doing your ‘due diligence’ – your research.

There are people out there more than willing to prey on our hopes and dreams and many authors will pay almost anything to realize those dreams. I know one writer who put thousands of dollars of his own money into a print version of his books. I don’t know how many are still in boxes. Print books are much more difficult to sell. Getting bookstores to take a chance on giving precious shelf space to an unknown, independent writer is difficult. So many authors do that and their garages are filled with broken dreams. Many walk away, their hopes dashed.
For a while I struggled, trying to fit myself into a round hole when I was a square peg. I put my hopes of seeing my books in print under a publisher’s name…until I learned all the lessons above. Now I’m experiencing the delicious freedom of being able to write my books the way I want to write them. If I’m going to do print, I’ll do them myself. And I won’t have to share a penny. No one will make money from them besides me…in tandem with Amazon and CreateSpace, or B&N, Smashwords, etc., of course.

That’s not to say that the traditional way is wrong, but unless what a publisher offers you makes your life easier, what do you need a middleman for?


This post originally appeared on the weblog of Valerie Douglas, member of the Alexandria Publishing Group.

Createspace is good for independent authors

Logo csp no tmFrom the press release:

CreateSpace, an Amazon.com company, today announced that authors and publishers around the world can now use its independent publishing platform to distribute their books in Europe for free on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es and Amazon.it. By using CreateSpace to distribute directly to Amazon, authors and publishers ensure that their titles are always in stock for customers to purchase. Books will be available for same-day shipping, and are also eligible for free shipping and Amazon Prime. CreateSpace authors and publishers will earn industry-leading royalties on each sale while continuing to own the rights and have creative control over their work. Additionally, CreateSpace authors and publishers can now receive their royalty payments by direct deposit in US dollars, British pounds or Euro.

Along with great distribution, CreateSpace provides manufacturing-on-demand technology, which means books are printed when a customer orders it so the author doesn’t have to make an up-front investment in inventory. If they need help at any point in the independent publishing process, they can also take advantage of CreateSpace’s English-language professional services and 24/7 member support.

Gayle Laakmann McDowell is the author of the best seller “Cracking the Coding Interview,” which is independently published through CreateSpace. “When I launched my book on Amazon via CreateSpace two years ago, I saw my sales increase by 10 times, eventually becoming Amazon’s best-selling interview book,” said McDowell. “Europe has always proven difficult for me to enter though–how do I print, distribute, and ship my book in the multitude of countries there? I’m so excited to see that CreateSpace is launching European distribution. In 30 seconds and just a few clicks, this has enabled me to tap a whole new market and resolve a problem I’d been laboring over for months. This is huge for me–huge.”

“We are very excited to offer our members the option to distribute their books on Amazon sites in Europe. By doing so, they will make their books available and in stock to millions of European readers,” said Libby Johnson McKee, Managing Director, CreateSpace. “We are continually working to deliver exceptional value and world-class customer service to our CreateSpace members worldwide, and European distribution is yet another great example of our commitment to helping our authors succeed.”

CreateSpace authors can visit www.createspace.com/international today to enable distribution in Europe for their books. To start a new title or to learn more about CreateSpace, independent publishing and manufacturing on-demand, visit www.createspace.com.

Authors can also make their books available digitally in Europe and around the globe using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), while earning up to 70% royalties and continuing to own the rights to their books. To get started authors can visit http://kdp.amazon.com.

E-books do not ‘cost nothing to produce’

Via Teleread, By Chris Meadows

We’ve all heard the argument that e-books should be cheaper because they don’t have printing, shipping, and warehousing costs. Blogger Deanna McFadden, who works in digital publishing, takes exception to writer Michael Chabon’s recent statement that it’s unfair publishers should get the same royalty as paper books for “an e-book that costs them nothing to produce.”

McFadden attributes this sort of statement to ignorance of all the costs and hard work that go into readying a book for digital publication, and grumbles that “Chabon essentially thinks my role, that of e-book person, is essentially worthless”.

Let’s take again the idea that for those two earlier books that essentially cost a publisher “nothing” to produce and actually look at what’s involved. Because the books are older, and let’s assume they are a fair bit older, no digital files exist. That means a gross, labour-intensive few days of scanning the text into a file. Then there’s the time it takes to clean up that file, to strip out all the gunk that scanning creates and make sure the e-text is as accurate as it can be to the p-text, again, more time. And sure, there are companies all over the developing world that will do this terrible work for a low cost (and my thoughts on that are, well, far too long to include in this already too long post). In the end, you’ve got the work into a digital format and it’s ready to be converted to epub, more buttons are pushed, coders come in and clean everything up, and you’ve got an ebook that’s ready to go. It’s proofed and checked and proofed again. Metadata is built, ONIX is created, files are FTP’d to the vendors, Amazon’s mobis are created, various different formatting things are checked, and then the book is for sale — but, hey, apparently, this costs all of us nothing to produce, right? There’s no time or energy or effort or anything put into pushing a button and magically having an ebook show up around the world, naw, it’s nothing compared to boxes and gasoline and shipping and warehouses, right? And I’m even simplifying things here for the sake of making a point — not a week goes by where all of our books end up in the right place, where none of them have some sort of technical issue, where there’s not a problem with data that needs to be solved — it’s complex, time consuming, and, at times, really frustrating.

McFadden does admit she may not be putting Chabon’s words into the right context. And I think that’s right. She’s kind of comparing apples and oranges. Yes, e-books have fixed costs of production, of the sort she describes. So do paper books. And they share many of the same costs, and (as McFadden notes) since e-book publishing and print publishing are often treated as two separate things instead of one thing with two separate products, they often duplicate those costs.

But what Chabon is talking about when he says they “cost nothing to produce” is the marginalcost. It costs a certain amount of money to run off each paper book, to ship it, to store it, and possibly to ship it back and destroy it. But e-books have such a miniscule production cost per unit—a few watts of electricity, a few kilobytes of bandwidth—that they effectively cost nothing to run off each digital copy. So if we assume that fixed costs are equal, e-books will earn those costs out much faster while not adding any marginal ones.

That doesn’t mean that the work of someone preparing those e-books doesn’t have value. It just means that when you start selling a lot of them, there’s a lot more room to cut price and/or raise royalty payments on the electronic version. Or so the perception goes, at least. There’s still considerable argument over whether that is actually true.