This is a myth, and it’s unfortunately perpetuated by a number of people.
Regardless of the end result of format, books cost to produce.
If you’re trying to create a marketable product (and books are products, people), then there are expenses related to doing it.
While every new author who comes along may not spend money out of their own pocket publishing their ebooks, there are many of us who do.
We pay for cover design, editing, formatting, ISBNs, and for distribution (all sites take a portion of the cover price each sale, in return for listing, storage, and delivery costs). Perhaps we don’t all pay for each of those things every time, but instead pay for a couple of them.
Those of us who treat our writing and ebook production as a business may also keep track of our hours spent on each project. Time is money, as it has been said, especially time spent working on something.
Our time is therefore also a
production developmental expense. Without the time to write a story, there would be no story, so nothing to have edited, or a cover made for. However, I doubt many of us figure in our time when determining cover pricing.
As both an author and a business owner, I find the myth that ‘ebooks cost nothing to produce’ insulting and harmful to my business.
Everyone who reiterates that myth is telling potential consumers that my products have no value whatsoever. They cost nothing. Things that cost nothing have no value.
Yes, someone can write a story, throw the resulting .doc up on Smashwords, etc. without a cover and do absolutely no marketing. In a sense, their ebook cost nothing to produce, because they didn’t spend any money getting it out, didn’t care enough to take the extra steps to polish it for public consumption, and don’t value their time spent creating the story.
They’re only interested in cashing in on the ebook ‘revolution’ and making a quick buck.
They’re not crafting with care.
My ebooks may not the most awesome, life-changing things in the universe. However, I care enough to craft them to the best of my ability, and to strive to continually improve upon that ability, as do many other authors & publishers, in order present something polished and worthwhile to readers.
Doing so costs money out of my pocket. Yes, I do a lot of the work myself, but there are still expenses because it’s a business. Electricity to run my computer, stock imagery licensing fees for covers, editing fees, the hours spent writing, revising, polishing – working.
The fact that the end result is a ‘bunch of electrons you can’t even resell after reading’ means one thing: You won’t be paying an outrageous price for a little entertainment from me.
Physical books cost more, so when one of my titles is offered as a paperback, then the price going to be higher to reflect that because a differently formatted file is required for printing plus material and printing expenses.
Ebooks can’t be created by traditional publishers without all of the steps taken to create the physical book. While creating an ebook as an afterthought doesn’t add much to the expenses of book production for a traditional publisher, it also doesn’t negate all of the work put into getting that book to a publishing ready state.
To be clear, I don’t think traditional publishers should price their ebooks so highly, nor give such a low royalty rate from them to the authors.
But this isn’t about ebook pricing. It’s about a myth: Ebooks cost nothing to produce.
Yes, they cost to produce.
Even backlist titles that some authors are now self-publishing cost to
produce develope and sometimes have additional costs added to prepare for digital release. It’s just that much of their production costs have already been paid because they were first produced as physical books.
Ebooks do cost to produce. They don’t cost as much as physical books, true. But they do cost to
produce create when the producer cares about giving readers something worthwhile in return for money.
My ebooks may have no value to some readers, because they’re not stories those readers enjoy. But for all of those who have spent money to purchase my ebooks, read and enjoyed them, they had some value.
They have value to me, because of the work and money I put into getting them out and into those readers’ hands.
So please stop perpetuating the myth that ebooks cost nothing to produce.
Nothing is free. You even have to pay your own body to keep it working, with food, water, clothing and shelter to protect it from the elements.
The only thing that is free is air and breathing. But your body’s not going to keep breathing without the ‘expenses’ of those other things, which all cost money.
Edited to add: I had a rather offensive gentleman take it upon himself to educate me in the differences between developmental expenses and production costs. Therefore, allow me to correct myself: Writing, revising, editing, cover design, and formatting are developmental expenses.
The fee distribution sites take out of each sale are for product storage, producing and delivering copies to purchasers, so should be production costs.
End result: It still doesn’t cost nothing to produce an ebook. You have developmental expenses AND production costs.
And one more addition: I’ve totally left out actual mention of ‘business overhead’. You know, the cost of software such as MS Word, equipment such as your computer or laptop, and things like pens and paper.
So add ‘business overhead’ to the costs of creating and producing an ebook. Bottom line: It STILL DOESN’T COST NOTHING to produce an ebook. ;0