Finally, someone else has come right out and said it–the general expectation that e-books should only cost “a dollar or two” is unrealistic, and will be a major barrier to their adoption. Bob Miller from Harper Studio weighs in here:

“Whether a book is printed on paper and bound or formatted for download as an e-book, publishers still have all the costs leading up to that stage. We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copyediting, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity, and the staff that needs to coordinate all of the details that make books possible in these stages. The costs are primarily in these previous stages; the difference between physical and electronic production is minimal. In fact, the paper/printing/binding of most books costs about $2.00…so if we were to follow the actual costs in establishing pricing, a $26.00 “physical” book would translate to a $24.00 e-book”

And in the comments, he discusses Amazon’s pricing scheme (currently selling e-books at a loss), and the actual costs of shipping:

“the cost of shipping a physical book is usually about 20-25 cents per copy”

The common mistake appears to be, at least in my experience, that people start with the assumption that an e-book costs nothing to make–you’ve already paid for everything with the print version, and converting those files to an e-book costs nothing or very little. But every e-book copy you sell means one less print copy you’re going to sell, so the total cost of production has to be amortized out over both the e-book and the print version. It’s a big mistake John Siracusa makes here, which puts a big hole in his argument.

The book-buying public does not seem willing to accept that e-books cost a few dollars less than a regular book to produce, and does not seem willing to buy them at that price. Which is yet another reason we’re seeing slow uptake of this type of technology.