The popularity of digital eBooks cannot be overstated. They are portable, readable on a variety of devices, easy to publish, cheap to make, and they are immortal. Once a book is published digitally, there are no recurring costs, aside from marketing, so any incoming royalties are pure profit for the author and publisher. They also have an infinite shelf life and don’t depend on frequent, continuous sales for their survival, which means that unless a store closes completely, or an author/publisher makes the decision to manually remove them, books remain available and discoverable indefinitely. There is no “out of print” for eBooks.
Because of their low production costs and ease of distribution, eBooks also earn higher royalties than print books, both in publishing houses and through independent platforms. However, this also makes eBooks an extremely popular medium for everyone to use, and the sheer volume of new titles getting published every day is staggering.
As wonderful as ePublishing is, it also has its downsides. While eBooks don’t have a “shelf life,” they do have their own unique equivalent. Storefronts favor bestsellers and new releases, which means, over time, a mid-level book will continue to get pushed down in the search results until it becomes virtually lost in the chaos. Constant, vigorous marketing is required to keep an eBook visible to readers.
Another drawback is the prevalence of piracy. A physical book can only be stolen once. It can be given, and regiven, but it will always remain one copy, and only one person at a time will ever have it. eBooks, on the other hand, are very small, digital files, which can be stored, replicated, and shared indefinitely, and infinitely. One pirated copy of an ebook, uploaded to a public server, can be downloaded anywhere around the world and reshared millions of times within minutes.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) was created to stop this practice, but clever hackers have ways to strip it from eBooks. And while there are methods to contact domain admins and server admins and serve take down notices, not all countries recognize or obey copyright laws. The risk of piracy is something every author and publisher assumes the moment they make a book available online.
NOTE ABOUT PRICING:
Because of their low production cost, eBooks are often seen as having a lesser value than the print version. Many trends, including store algorithms and business practices, reader attitudes, even author practices have contributed to the devaluation of eBooks in recent years. With subscription services allowing consumers to read as many books as they can for a low monthly fee, paying full price for just one eBook can seem excessive and unfair to them, which can lead to resentment an animosity between readers and authors.
On the other hand, the recent changes in criteria for the New York Times Best Seller lists have forced publisher’s hands to go the other way. Because more ranking weight is placed on print book sales, rather than eBook sales, publishers have begun to price their eBooks higher than print copies to steer consumer buying habits where they are more likely to result in a higher ranking for the author.