Ebooks negate the most obvious costs of hardcover books: No dead trees, ink, warehouse or shelf storage, so of course they're cheaper. In fact, isn't $12.99 for an ebook just a little bit pricey? Wellll, the NYT breaks it down.
Here's a chart using the data Motoko Rich has dug up, reflecting the average cost and revenue model for a hardcover book and its ebook counterpart.
Right now, publishers do make a little bit more on ebooks, but there are a few things to consider before you bring out the pitchforks demanding $5 ebooks: 1) Ebooks are currently less than 5 percent of book sales. 2) Paper booksellers can't compete at these prices, especially indie booksellers. 3) There is no equivalent paperback market with lower costs to eke out more money later in a book's life (especially if the hardcover flops). 4) All of the publishers' other costs, like editorial and office space, came out of that $4 or so a book. 5) Most books don't make that much money.
The bottom line is, don't expect publishers to give up ground on pricing or digital rights management—they want to avoid the music industry's sad fate, since they already skate by on thin margins, and the last few years have been chaotic enough already, to say the least. [NYT]