The PJ Tatler

BOTALI: The Megaton Tanker Rule


If it’s hard to turn, it tends to keep going in the same direction.

There are a million examples of this, from actual giant oil tankers to the Department of Defense. One that has been interesting me for years is the business of publishing, whether newspapers, books, or music. Here’s a lovely example: Mapping the Galaxy and other Galaxies [Kindle Edition].

As you can see in the screenshot, the Kindle price is $148.00 — a whole $37 discount over the hardcover, which lists for $185.

(That turns out to be in the neighborhood of 46¢ a page, but that’s a rant for another time, except to note that it’s about 10 times what it would cost to just photocopy the damn book.)

It’s also a conference proceedings, which means

  • the individual authors were likely required to either submit camera-ready copy, or submit their papers in a standard format
  • the authors receive no royalties
  • the conference organizers receive no royalties
  • the intention of the conference attendees is to disseminate the information, not restrict it.

Now, you can make the case that with the number of copies likely to be sold, they must amortize the cost of printing and binding, and that accounts for the high individual cost. (I doubt it, since print on demand companies can produce a book for only hundreds of dollars, but okay.) But the cost of producing the ebook is literally pennies, even including the cost of transmitting the book to a Kindle.

The only obvious reason for the book to sell for $148 is that if the price were a lot less, it would start to cannibalize the sales of the physical book. Springer Verlag, being an established company with massive printing operations, can’t afford to stop running the presses, especially in Germany where it’s damn near impossible to lay people off.

As soon as someone develops a reputation for producing scholarly texts as ebooks, though, Springer will be in trouble.

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