Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness
Of course, publishing a high-quality book has never been cheap. Once Gutenberg gave the Europe movable type in the 15th century, the first mass-published books were religious texts, including the Bible (in many cases in the local language and not Latin for the first time), costing 30 Florins—the equivalent of three years of wages for a clerk—and then the Greek and Roman classics: Important books for important and wealthy people. The literate wealthy could fund their works of science, poetry, and fiction, but these were for their peers—these works were fantastically expensive, and most of the public was illiterate anyway.
It wasn’t until after significant portions of European populations had the leisure time to learn to read, as well as the excess capital to put that new skill to use reading books, and a dramatic fall in the costs for printed matter that anything resembling publishing as we know it came into existence. (The Bubonic Plague plays a key role here, killing so many laborers that wages went up and all the extra clothes from the victims helped drop the cost of good rag paper enough to make books an attainable luxury.)
By the time reading became a fairly common pastime in the Nineteenth Century, there was a market for inexpensive books, some of dubious quality: the Penny Dreadful is a well-known example of a cheap, garish book full of sensationalistic writing, that provided for this need. Plus, many of the novelists of the time, some of whom are still read and taught today, didn’t publish whole novels directly: they published serials in far less expensive periodicals; once a story had proven it could generate an audience, all these episodes were collected, bound together and published: think Dickens and Dumas. These bound books were for the well-off; periodicals remained the means to reach most of the readers.
While the economy of publishing has changed dramatically, and books are downright cheap compared to when publishing was young, they are not necessarily inexpensive. Many works by the German specialty publisher Taschen cost $49.99 and upwards of $2,500.00. Still, average prices for adult fiction in 2016 dipped slightly from 2015, with hardbacks coming in at $27.08, and trade paperbacks $16.45. Of course, less expensive new fiction is available such as the mass-market paperbacks found in spinner racks in all sorts of different kinds of stores, which frequently run from $2.99 to $7.99. These paperbacks can be far better written than the Penny Dreadfuls of old, though they now occupy a similar slot in the publishing ecosystem.
E-books are relatively modern, and are usually cheaper than print versions, needing no paper, nor shelf space. While many can be found as cheap as 99¢, new releases by big publishing houses do run north of $14.00, which is still less expensive than either trade paperbacks or hardbound versions of the same volumes. The Internet has given birth to many channels that offer books for free, or for deeply discounted prices, mostly the electronic versions, but some in physical form.
These discounted sources offer self-published ebooks, but they usually can’t offer POD versions of titles. Unless the writer gets some at a discount and then arranges that personally, becoming his or her own discount warehouse. Fact is that Print On Demand books cost more as each book is printed individually giving little way to take advantage of scale: the average cost per book of 1000 books printed en mass is always going to be cheaper than the cost of a book printed one at a time—the mass printed book has only to set the type once, and they get discounts on paper volume; the POD book needs to be typeset 1000 times, once per copy sold, in between other books being printed.
Simply getting any well written, fully edited book with a well-designed cover into print or onto a reader is never cheap, nor is guiding a manuscript through the whole, multi-step process of document to print easy. The primary difference between high quality Self-published and a Traditionally Published book is who shoulders the initial financial investment, including the concomitant risks.
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