What’s in a book? Well, some words, written on some pages, sandwiched between some covers, and with some text on the front and back. Only now that eBooks proliferate, all that’s changed to a small file of ones and zeroes. Electronic books can’t possibly be worth as much as paper books: there’s no paper, there’s no printing to do, no shipping, no postage. They have no weight. We’re probably all well versed in the arguments for eBooks being cheaper.
But this makes the foolish assumption that cost is the same as price. Cost is not price. Cost is how much it costs you to make a thing – like the writing, paying the advance, editing, proofreading, and production. Price in contrast is entirely to do with the value to the customer. So if a customer gets more out of an eBook, the eBook is worth more, and should sell for more.
What do we get out of an eBook? Well, it’s light, so we can carry lots of them around wherever we go. They’re small, so we can get lots of them in our handbag, and we don’t need to set aside space in our house to store them. They don’t decay, so there’s no depreciation in the physical value of an eBook, no yellowing of pages or pages getting torn. They’re robust, incapable of being destroyed by rain or even eaten by the dog. Ebooks have full colour photos and diagrams where paper books are usually just black and white. In terms of value, the eBook is worth much more than the paper book.
So why don’t eBooks sell for more than paper books?
I once knew a very shrewd business man. He showed me one of his most popular product lines, a metal washer. This plain metal washer, he said, sold at two pence a piece. It had a nice burnished colour to it due to the heat of the manufacturing process. Then he held up another washer, exactly the same shape and size as the previous one, except that it was black.
“This matte black washer sells at just one pence, half the price of the shiny one” he said.
“What’s the difference?” I said.
“It’s the same washer” he said with a smile, “except that I paid extra for it to be painted.”