Really? Let’s look at that. Publishing houses are quick to tell us that the only difference between an ebook and a print book is the actual cost of printing, that all of the other overhead and costs associated with the book remain the same. But an individual publishing a book does not have this overhead, right?
An individual doesn’t have office space and utilities and that sort of expense because they are already paying those as part of their living expenses, but computer and internet and printers and those sort of expenses would qualify as overhead.
The publisher has to provide levels of editing. Most books, no matter how good a person is at writing and editing really does need a third party to put an objective eye on a project and give it at least a good copy edit if not a substantive edit to be a publishable project. Too many self-published books do not do this which contributes to a reputation of lower quality books. Getting this edit done can be a substantial expense and that is definitely overhead.
The publisher involves people in titling and cover production. A good cover is vital in getting a book considered whether it is sitting on a shelf in B & N or in an online bookstore. If the author also happens to be good in graphic arts they may can reduce this overhead (if they already have the appropriate software) otherwise it has to be contracted out. That is a production cost and more overhead.
The big advantage of a publisher is sales and distribution. They pay significant amounts for good distribution channels and have people working in sales to get the book out. This is pure overhead for the self-publisher who has to try and replicate this activity by getting their name out, getting exposure, advertising if they can afford to do so. The publisher is spending money on staff to do this. The author is spending money as well if they consider their time worth anything. That is significant overhead and there are a lot of other things I’m not going into.
I’m not arguing against self publishing or doing ebooks, I’m doing some of that myself. I am cautioning those involved to recognize that they are not free to produce, however. Just as the big publishers have overhead to produce either print books or ebooks so does the individual doing it. We should identify that overhead and factor it in when we are considering doing it and as we proceed with such projects.