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Does Digital Publishing Justify a Higher Price for Print?

Digital publishing is arguably more convenient and often cheaper than print, but the print market will continue to exist as there are people who value it.

By Edward Nawotka

book price

Whether to buy an e-book or a print book depends on the circumstances and type of book that you are buying. If you’re buying a book strictly to consume its content (a summer genre novel, for instance), then an e-book will do. But, if you’re buying a book as a keepsake — as an object to cherish — then only a print book will do.

The first question that arises is — provided there is a choice between low cost digital editions or higher cost print ones — whether customers will ever opt for the pricier physical specimen. To do so, they will need justification. Perhaps the book is hand made art object (the kind of handmade books Publication Studio produces) or perhaps the content is intended to be exclusive. Perhaps limited distribution to a smaller audience will entice customers to pay a higher price, thus earning the publisher a greater return on their effort.

Based on this reasoning, which is itself based on the concept of scarcity, will the mass introduction of digital publishing validate and justify the higher price point of print books?

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  1. JKD
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    As long as a physical product is bought, it would make sense that the price will be higher. This is explains why I can get news online for free but I must pay for the subscription of a newspaper. The use value of words remains the same, but the medium in which they are distributed to the consumer is dependent upon the value and cost of the physical product. It seems natural that the sign value of a book would cost more than a digital copy because a consumer can attach a symbolic meaning to a book, as you said they can value it as a “keepsake”. But what producers are concerned with is the exchange value for a book vs. a digital copy. And for now, that value remains higher for print.

  2. Posted June 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    You can be sure that as long as e-ink ereaders continue to be limited as to choice of colors, the printed book will always prevail. I can’t see an illuminated book like “The Book of Kells” going up as an ebook and retain the same value as the physical copy. It is not the perceived value of the content which drives a printed book price higher but the cost to print. As long as paper remains expensive and the printers’ fees high, the price will always reflect that. We also have to take the standard bookseller discount into account for the high price of a printed book as opposed to the cost to produce an ebook and its distribution, which is virtually nothing by a small percentage. It’s apples and oranges. I continue to make my books available because I recognize that there customers who want a physical copy. But I don’t have to.

  3. Carl
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    There will continue to be people who value the book as a physical object, at least for the foreseeable future, and they will be willing to pay more. The physical object will have to be worth it. If I’m purchasing a book as a keepsake, it had better be something that looks impressive on my bookshelf, that I can use as a conversation piece and show off to other lovers of the book as an object. Something like a Publication Studio book. Not something like a mass-market paperback, whose major feature has always been that it’s cheap (a feature that ebooks have blown to bits).

  4. RPJ
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Reading is an engaging experience, unlike listening to music. Books are usually read once (except the ones used as academic references) and then preserved for the future. There are people who value books as a treasure and love to flaunt their collection of physical books. This experience is lost with digitization.

    For a trade book, the costs of production (pre-press, paper, printing and binding)and distribution (trade discounts) put together would account for about 60-65% of its retail price. Thus, print books distributed through traditional channels will still cost high.

    In terms of cost, eBooks are far less cheap, but they fail to provide the reading experience and the object value that the print books offer. The demand for hardcovers may not be affected much by the introduction of eBooks. But, in the case of cheaper paperbacks, yes, eBooks are expected to eat into a large share of this segment, as many publishers fear.

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