I’m only going to defend the print side here.
Dean Wesley Smith’s recent post gives me some working numbers. (It’s of a series he’s rewritten — I highly recommend the book, but if you’re still only thinking about it follow the series of blog posts as he puts them up.)
DWS’s notional publisher (well, not so notional as you’ll see if you read) outsources the actual printing and distribution. DWS’s less expensive hardback in his notional process will sell for $15.99, I’ll use $16 for rounding. Of this the printer/distributor gets $13 and he gets $3.
In other words printing and distribution takes up 81.25% of the costs.
Now part of that is profit for the printer and the delivery system. Publishers who own the presses can pocket a bit more profit from that stage, but the print/distribute costs are still there.
When the author whines about how publishers keep all the money, this should be kept in mind: they’re keeping money because they’re paying costs.
I want to repeat myself: this is only about the print side. E-printing is significantly less expensive. It is not free. And as a publisher (as I’ve noted once or twice before) you have, or better have, a lot of other costs for which you’re paying. But it shouldn’t be the same price as the book.
With one small exception, since I’m rambling. That’s when you’re trying to ‘spike sales’ as a marketing technique. This only really works for big sellers, but for them it’s a great profit-generating tool.
You start by releasing the most expensive version of your book; the hardback. After a short period of time, say one to three months, you release the trade paperback. A few short months after that you release the mass paperbacks. You do this because some people want immediate gratification. Even though it’s the same book they’ll buy the Big Book now rather than wait four to six months for the least expensive version. Pricing the ebooks at a ‘proper’ price destroys this mechanism.
Now the best way to handle it would be to drop the price of the ebook to each of the newly released print’s price as each comes out. Further, making a Big Deal of this is a marketing tool. In this most of the publishers are, well, stupid is the only way to describe it. But then they’re still trying to cover the costs of print which never go away — and they’re trying to do it THIS quarter.
That last is a national problem that shows up in oh so many ways. Nobody can afford to delay profit now for greater profit later; their stockholders will punish them if they do. It’s just one more place the publishers have to suck it up and pay the price.