I recently did an eBook giveaway for one of the books in the Camelot, West Virginia series that I’ve co-written with Emma Jameson. As of now, those books are only available as eBooks and I got some very angry feedback from a reader who prefers her books in hard copy form. I’ve received similar responses to my Windows guide, which was offered only as a digital download.
So, I thought I’d go over some reasons why books are sometimes only offered in the eBook format.
One reason why you see fewer books offered as hard copies these days is printing costs. Publishers have to pay to print each copy of a book that is stocked in a book store. If those books don’t sell well, stores can get stuck with a bunch of them. So, unless they’re dealing with already well-known author, stores can be hesitant to order the book and sell them.
Printing can also be cost-prohibitive for things like tech guides. Since the Windows guide featured a lot of color illustrations, it would be quite expensive to print. Especially if you’re an independent publisher that doesn’t get a deep discount on publishing costs. That could mean that a paperback Windows guide would have to cost $45 before you could even hope to earn as much as a $1 a copy from it. Plus, there are the shipping costs to figure in.
That’s one reason college textbooks were notoriously expensive. For some of the paperback mysteries I’ve published, I actually earn less than .25 for every $14 paperback that is sold. Less money than I make on a $2.99 eBook. But the only other alternative was to boost the cost over $20.
Formatting physical books for publication is far more challenging than formatting an eBook. With an eBook, what you see on the screen is what you get. With physical books, you often have to get a look at the printed proof before you can see formatting error or problems with covers. It often requires hiring a separate formatter who specializes in proofing physical books. If you add illustrations into the mix, you’re probably looking at needing an additional graphics specialist. And you have to pay for each proof you order. It takes far longer to get and check proofs for paperbacks than it does to instantly make corrections to an eBook. So, it’s not surprising that some authors skip the process entirely.
Length is often a factor as well. It’s simpler to sell shorter stories in an eBook format. Someone who pays $13 for a paperback might be pretty disappointed to find it about as thick a pamphlet. That’s why sometimes authors will wait until they can combine several smaller volumes into one before issuing a paperback or hardback edition.
eBook consumers tend to buy a lot more books. (No wonder, they’re spending a lot less per book.) But remember, authors pretty much make the same amount per book whether you spend $5 or $50 on the copy. So, it’s more cost-effective sometimes to cater to the audience that purchases more books.
Most writers do make an effort to cater to folks who still like physical books. You might have to jump through an extra hoop like making a special request for a bookstore to order a paperback copy of a book that you don’t see on the shelves and waiting a week or two for it to arrive. Or being patient while the writer gets the physical version of the book ready to go.
That being said, I certainly understand why some readers prefer a physical copy of a book. I love them myself and when I particularly enjoy a book, I like having a hard copy. Heck, I still buy vinyl albums.