Legendary SFF author C.J. Cherryh is involved with some others in an interesting e-publishing venture, and she outlines the numerous steps that have to be done by people to put out e-books. And that’s just for a personal, self-publishing operation. Doing it on a wider scale is much worse and requires hiring or diverting personnel or hiring consultants. Which is why wide-scale e-publishing is expensive, not yet profitable and still in the infant stages and slow to put out titles. Eventually, it will be a larger market, with more profit and become more international, and become less expensive accordingly. But to put out an e-book requires an investment in capital and people-power that is not required for print books, just as certain expenses for print books are not required for print books. But a lot of the print book costs are built in and can be done at bulk rates, requiring minimum personnel, and some of them only occur when a book is launched but aren’t a factor afterwards when the backlist brings in more profit. E-book conversion costs are front-list costs and can remain so if new formats are needed, require a lot of personnel, and can’t yet be done at bulk rates because the market isn’t big enough yet.
There is also still a lot of negotiation going on between authors and publishers over e-books, which slows titles coming out too. And no, the answer is not for all the authors to just do it themselves, because as Cherryh shows, that’s just as complicated. However, it may be very good for many authors’ backlists.