FORTUNE — Whenever I write about the e-book business — especially in the context of the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against Apple (AAPL) and five book publishers — someone in the comment stream invariably suggests that e-books are vastly overpriced because the publishers who sell them incur none of the usual costs of printing and distribution.
E-books don’t write or edit themselves, of course, but I’ve never seen a good accounting of what it actually costs to publish one. So I was gratified to find, high up in “Paper Trail,” Ken Auletta’s smart piece about the e-book business in the current issue of the New Yorker, this paragraph:
Twenty percent doesn’t seem like much of a savings, especially considering that Amazon (AMZN) has been selling electronic versions of books that cost $30 in hardback for anywhere from $14.99 to $4.99 to $0.00
The accounting gets even more complicated when you consider that most books cost publishers more than they earn. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos argues that traditional publishing is infuriatingly wasteful, and that his model is far more efficient and better for both readers (by lowering prices) and would-be authors (by eliminating the “gatekeepers” that prevent them from reaching readers).
As Auletta points out …
As someone who has worked in print and electronic publishing, I thought Auletta’s piece offered a pretty even-handed account of both sides of the e-book wars. If you have a subscription to the New Yorker, it’s available as a pdf here.