Today I saw an interesting post from a buddy of mine (the inestimable KMA, and as soon as his revolutionary website ideas and hilarious fiction are available to the public I can’t wait to share them here), regarding this question and answer from Quora about why traditional publishers charge as much for an e-book as they do for a hardcover.
For a start, there’s a lot of variation in that. Sometimes, as the linked answer says, they only charge as much as a paperback. Sometimes they charge less, which (irrespective of this answer) is actually the approach that makes sense. Sometimes they charge more. I’ve seen it. And that fits pretty clearly with the other correct answer you might get to this question.
Now, as a member of Team Amazon and the Independent Authors network, I am contractually obligated to say that I think the whole traditional-publishing approach to e-books is bullshit. No way should you charge as much for a e-book as for a paperback. All the work is basically the same, the e-book requires conversion and the paperback requires formatting. If nothing else the paperback should cost more to offset its carbon footprint. It uses a bunch of paper, it has to be physically produced in a factory, and of course it needs to be shipped to the buyer. At least postage costs a ton, but I don’t know how much of that offsets the carbon price.
To me, though, the price of e-books is all down to traditional publishers panicking and going for the money while they still have their skeletonising hands wrapped around the cultural world. But the more they tighten their grip, the more star systems slip through their fingers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is how any old power structure has to react to new developments. Look at how oil and coal companies are fucking solar power in the arse at every opportunity. This is what happens when the old world sees itself being swept away, and digs in its feeble old heels.
Of course, I am by no means objective in this. I’m self-published, and that’s the core of the difference between my answer and the original one on Quora. My answer, and Veaux’s, are both accurate from inside our respective agendas. I don’t mean anything against his answer or his ideology, but it’s no more definitive or less biased than mine.
As a tangential mini-rant, I’m aware that there is a traditional publisher-created stigma on self-published / vanity press authors. It’s not as total as it once was, because … well, because reality. But it does exist. I tend to excuse it, partly because I just don’t care and partly because as far as I’m concerned it’s a reasonable stigma to perpetuate (even though it hurts me specifically). Considering traditional publishing’s threatened state it’s a safe prejudice for them to perpetuate, and considering the sheer amount of talentless dross self-publishing allows to crawl into the light of day it’s a nice low-maintenance method of crap control. Now if only traditional publishers would do a little filtering of their own. Like, fifty shades of it.
 By way of another example, I refer you to the ‘stigma’ against the middle-aged white man that is implied by the inclusion and pushing-forward of more authors of colour and authors of assorted other minority groups. It’s not a thing. Stop trying to make it a thing. And if it is even arguably a thing, it’s fine because if he doesn’t suck, the middle-aged white man should be able to handle a little competition.
This is why we prefer to call ourselves independent authors rather than self-published authors. It’s the same damn thing though. Edpool suggested bookmercs, and I like that.
Tish and pish to the stigma, I say. If you have a story you want to tell, you fucking tell it and don’t let some bank clerk pretending to be a literary authority tell you what to change. The stifling and shaming of human creativity is a symptom of capitalism, and I don’t care how extremist that sounds. It’s all about control. It’s the reason we see automation and mechanisation steadily reducing the amount of work we need to do, and yet our workloads perpetually increasing and our energy and free time evaporating. It’s the reason six-hour workdays and four-day workweeks are constantly shown to improve productivity and morale, and yet we go right back to the normal crippling levels. Because a workforce that has time to stop and think, a workforce that has time to pursue its own passions, is a workforce that much more likely to raise its eyes, look around, and realise what a mass of vile little useless parasites it has clinging to it.
And I’m not talking about immigrants, or the unemployed. I’m talking about the fucking billionaires.
Traditional publishers don’t sell e-books for ludicrously overblown prices because it costs them more and they have to make it back. They do it because the three or four billionaire owners of those publishing houses demand it. And Amazon doesn’t do it for the same reason – because they don’t need to, and because it benefits Amazon’s billionaire owner to sell a hundred books for a tenth of the price rather than ten books for the full price.
Am I equating social democracy and capitalism to self published vs. traditional publishing, KMA wanted to know during my original series of rants?
Not comparing at all, really. The independent / traditional publishing dichotomy is a microcosm of democratic socialism vs. late stage capitalism. They’re symptoms. Capitalism, and fewer than a thousand billionaires, is standing between us and a Star Trek future of green post-scarcity.
Oh, and as I believe I’ve also hinted at before, I believe traditional publishing and the “only if your work is good enough” mentality is a microcosm of Baby Boomer entitlement and self-delusion. The Golden Age authors’ trash got published because there were infinite publishers and zero competition. Now we’re rapidly approaching zero publishers and infinite competition, so those older traditional authors are defending their effortless publishing success by telling everyone they’re the better writers. Which … they’re not. They’re just not. They were just the first ones in the pool.
Again, this is nothing against the skill of modern traditionally-published authors. Shit, even the dinosaurs have had their amazing accomplishments and I’m not going to shit on them, I fucking love dinosaurs. And of course you have to take my rants with a huge grain of salt. As you can tell, I’m more than salty enough to spare some for you to grind up and take along with my words, and you can have a good squeezing of sour grapes as well if you want. But as those younger traditional authors will generally tell you themselves, they’re a tiny and fortunate exception to the rule and most of them don’t make a living off it. Become a tech writer instead.