Kassia Krozser and Lev Grossman talked to Jeffrey Brown on NewsHour recently about ‘the shifting world of book publishing’, and ‘how technology and readers are changing the industry’. I’ve only just got around to reading the transcript (thanks, Angelique). Most of what they say makes sense, apart from this statement by Lev Grossman:

And it sounds a little technical to say, also, but people have not really figured out how much an e-book should cost. Amazon tends to sell them for $9.99, but Amazon takes a loss on each book. And $9.99 is — it’s not enough for publishers to recoup the cost of producing an e-book. (My emphasis.)

I disagree. If publishers can make money on mass market paperback originals with a price point well below $9.99–many have and some still do–then they can make money on a book with no shipping, warehousing, printing or picking-and-packing costs. They just don’t make as much money. Publishers (by which I mean the Big Six) must adjust.

Books delivered electronically at low prices are already a huge part of the reader-writer landscape. (For example, around 30% of my royalties are now from sales of e-books.) If the publishers want to stay in business, they are going to have to figure out how to make money for the long terms at those prices. Those that don’t will fail and fade into the west. Newer publishers, writer-agent coops, and other strange agglomerations of stake holders, will take over. After all, the only two truly indispensable parts of the literary landscape are the writer and the reader. In my opinion.

What do you think?