‘e’ is not free — the real cost of e-books
Two publishing pros reveal the hidden costs of converting content from print to electronic
By Kate Dimock and Bryan Hayward Posted on 19 November 2012
As Manager of eBook Workflow, Bryan Hayward has contributed to multiple changes and ongoing improvements to Elsevier’s eBook style sheet in an effort to render Elsevier’s content on the multitude of e-reading devices and systems.They are based in Philadelphia.[divider]
Many publishers have had conversations with authors and customers about the cost of content delivered electronically compared with the cost of print products. We often get questions about the quality of the content, where it comes from, who is paid for producing it, and how much it costs. At Elsevier, these conversations are more frequent as we expand our offering of e-books, enhanced interactive e-books and online products.
Well, actually there are quite a few.
What are you paying for?
Manufacturing and distribution of print books accounts for only about 12 percent of the list price. There are other costs that affect both print and e-versions, including design, development, copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, marketing, selling and author royalties. All these costs are incurred whether the customer buys the book in its print format or as an e-book.
Consider that the e-book for any specific title is not a new product when compared to the print version, but an alternate format of the same product. They are the same customers who choose to read the content in the alternate e-book format. When more e-versions of a title are sold, the quantity of books printed is thus reduced, but all the fixed costs associated with creating and manufacturing a print product stay the same. Consequently, those fixed costs will be spread over fewer units, increasing the per-unit cost to create a print product.When publishing an e-book version, there generally are some additional costs such as conversion to an ePub format (plus a Mobi file for Amazon’s Kindle devices), vendor costs, and quality assurance costs.
What are these conversions costs? Can’t we just push a button and produce an e-book version, or a website, with content automatically formatted to display correctly on any given device?Unfortunately there’s not an app for that.As nice as it might be to simply “push a button” and generate an e-book from print book files, it’s not that simple:
- Various e-book sellers – Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kno, etc – do not all accept the same file type, and therefore the book content must be converted to more than one format. Elsevier has developed a style sheet that can render many elements acceptable across all types, but not all elements. Medical content is extremely complex, with elaborate landscaped tables and multi-part images, not to mention algorithms and equations. Rendering those elements properly requires manual work, and that work is done by an external vendor, incurring additional cost.
- The e-book files are housed by another vendor that is adept at distributing e-book files and its associated metadata to the various e-book suppliers, also incurring additional cost.
- Additional internal staffing is required to manage the delivery of data and assets to and from these vendors, and to perform quality assurance checks, and the creation of these positions incurs additional cost.
And these conversions are just for the e-reader devices out in the market that were basically designed for romance novels and spy thrillers. Converting complex, image-heavy, highly designed medical content for a better user experience on a much richer, interactive platform such as Inkling can cost thousands of dollars, with the price depending on the size, complexity and number of interactive enhancements and multimedia assets associated with the project.
Medical education and medical reference content often includes videos, animations, question banks and other ancillary resources. This access is provided to our customers whether they purchase the print or electronic version. Therefore, both versions incur multimedia costs for shooting and editing videos, developing Q&A banks, compiling image collections and creating other assets — all to ensure that our customers receive the full range of dynamic content they need in any format they wish to purchase.
It’s an exciting time to be a medical information provider. While authoritative, world-class content remains at the core of our business, we strive to provide our customers with the information they need in their desired format. To do this, we must constantly educate ourselves to keep pace with the technology. But we must also educate our authors and customers about the complicated process and the myriad content forms so that we can manage expectations as we progress in our journey from print to electronic products and services.