Dear Editors at Financial Times:
I am pleased to see the attention David Gelles and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson focus on the unsettled but exciting waters publishers now navigate (“A Page is Turned….” February 9).
While much of the article informed readers greatly about the challenges and opportunities publishers face, I am disappointed that no one from a university press was quoted. University presses have been publishing ebooks and managing digital technology for quite some time. And, speaking only for University Press of Mississippi, where I am assistant director / marketing director, we find the waters liberating and opening rather than the inevitably destructive whirlpool of doom Gelles and Edgecliffe-Johnson have identified.
Most disappointing was this, however. And it is our responsibility as publishers to counter this myth whenever it is propagated. Gelles and Edgecliffe-Johnson claim publishers risk appearing greedy when pricing ebooks because ebooks “have zero marginal costs.” Maybe it is the scale of small publishing that makes that statement about cost false from my perspective. But ebooks share many if not all the costs associated with editing and designing a traditionally printed book. And soon some very specialized books will be “born digitally,” meaning no print edition will share the cost of editing, producing, marketing, delivering, and warehousing the content. What price then? All versions of a book’s content have marketing costs. And then an ebook at our press bears extra production and distribution overhead, conversion fees, and distribution management and storage fees to bring it to market and keep it available through the growing number of channels Gelles and Edgecliffe-Johnson identify. Each of those channels demands special conversion attention. While there are Universal PDFs, they are not acceped universally at the same cost.
Placing e before a product does not by magic eliminate cost. It costs something for publishers to place that e there! It is a shame that two sharp minds writing on this did not suss that out and instead propagated a favorite (and costly) emyth, one that, if uncorrected, will probably do more damage to publishing than any content conveyance humankind will ever invent.