book prices

why are books so expensive? surely paper itself doesn’t cost all THAT much more. Why does a paperback book cost $7-8 today when in the 70’s it might have cost 75 cents? What’s it cost to print a novel, anyway?

awldune, warrior from the future

A warrior from the future? I bet books are even MORE expensive there! :slight_smile:

Book prices are like everything else; publishers charge what they think people will pay. It’s what the traffic will bear.

In the past, publishing was more of a gentleman’s game than it is today; it was almost unseemly to make a profit, or at least publishing to make a buck was not the primary reason for being. The primary reason for being in business was to get books in people’s hands.

Today’s publishing companies are now mostly owned by Conglomcos of various stripes; the average publisher rubs elbows at the corporate table with dog food CEOs and the like. And like the dog food CEO, they had better show a profit every quarter.

Unlike the dog food guy, the publisher has more risk; people always buy dog food, there’s always a demand for it and it doesn’t change much. Not so for books; they compete with other forms of education and entertainment for that same dollar. And there’s also more than a little bit of gambling involved in publishing, you’re betting that people will buy what you’re printing. And not every book you put out is going to earn a profit – or even earn back its costs.

Also factor in not only the costs of physically producing a book – which is negligible – but the fees paid to author, author’s agent, editor, publicist, the cost of advertising, etc.

So a publisher will set as high a price as possible on a book they can sell a lot of . . . to recoup all of the above. Don’t forget, any profit earned must cover not only the book that sold well, but all the money expended on the ones that didn’t.

And probably the biggest thing of all: today’s dollar just doesn’t have the bang it used to; there’s not as much buying power in it. When you paid 75 cents for a paperback, that was when a dollar was a dollar. By comparison, a dollar today is . . .what? 40 cents? (Last estimate I got.)

your humble TubaDiva

Thanks for your input, Tubadiva.
It just seems like books are expensive because demand isn’t high enough. Why don’t people buy books? They’re too expensive. Sigh. BTW, I never bought a book for 75 cents. I’m only 19, but I have lots of old books that bear very low prices on the cover.

When I started buying books by myself, for myself, a paperback cost the same as a pack of cigarettes: 35 cents. Not sure how much a pack costs today ($2.50?), but I’m pretty sure it’s less then half the average cost of a paperback.

There are other factors, most noteably the Thor Power Tools ruling, which says that a company must pay tax on any unsold inventory held at the end of the year.

Publishers used to keep books in warehouses until they decided the book wasn’t going to sell. Thor Power Tools means that they had to dump books more quickly. While publishers now have ways to avoid the payments, the ruling caused them to realize that books in inventory were an expense and it was a good idea to get rid of them sooner. So to make their money, they had to raise the price to compensate for the shorter sales cycle.

It may also be a factor of the sell-through. If the percentage of paperbacks stripped (i.e. destroyed by the retailer*) is increasing – and I suspect it has – publishers have to increase the cover price to cover their expense. In other words, if you used to sell 35% of all copies of a book, and the percentage has dropped to 25%, you need to raise prices.

I can tell you one thing – the extra money doesn’t go to pay the authors. :frowning:

*Stripping – all books are sold on consignment, with full returns allowed. For paperbacks, the retailers tear off the cover of the book and send it back for credit. The rest of the book must be destroyed. You may start your indignation when ready. :slight_smile:

On other factor – you may notice that the various offer HUGE discounts on books (up to 40 or 50% off). Now think about this – they can do that and still make a bit of a profit. So how much of the price is markup for the booksellers, just so they can mark them down again?

Clive Cussler’s classic cars.
Tom Clancy’s guns.
Stephen King’s medical bills.

The authors get the big bucks from publishers who want to keep 'em or woo 'em away. The cost, as in all things, is passed on to the consumer.

Overly simplistic? Yeah. But I think pretty close to the mark.

This was a wrinkle I was not aware of – and thanks for the enlightenment – this also answers another fairly recent sight I was wondering about.

Used to be you didn’t see a lot of “stripped” books. . . when I was living in NYC, all of a sudden it seemed like every other homeless guy had a blanket on the sidewalk selling those things.

Probably scavenged the books from some dumpster, and took advantage of the opportunity.

It was about that same time the notice re stripped books began appearing on copyright pages, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence.

your humble TubaDiva
Do an act of kindness today: buy a book, feed a writer.

David B

At the risk of sounding like one of those nasty capitalists, you might consider what the cost of a bookstore’s overhead is. The web site has a few people answering phones and several more people putting orders in boxes and hauling them off to UPS (unless UPS picks them up) to cover the entire country. The bookstore has to pay a lot more people per city to receive shipped books, stock the shelves, run the registers, unstock the shelves for publisher returns, and answer customer questions. In the city all rents are high. In the suburbs, most stores are in malls where all rents are high. Throw in lights, property taxes, cleaning, etc. for each location and the cost to the bookseller for each book goes up quite a bit.

To further elaborate on some points that were made earlier, in passing: one of the things that retailers/marketers discovered years ago was that to sell a book, you had to make it visible. The way to make it visible on a shelf is to have multiple copies. Bookstores address the multiple copies issue by buying large numbers of books on consignment, as mentioned above. The overall result is that more books are actually sold, but the cost of production and shipment takes a large chunk out of the expected profit of those greater sales.

Large chains buy books at 45% to 50% of retail. (Our mode cost was 49% when I was stuck in retail.) They don’t make a lot of money with their “100%” mark-up. ($10.00 book nominally costs the bookstore $4.90). Assuming that the web sites are getting the same discount, a “50% off” book “earns” the web site $0.10 while it “earns” the bookstore $5.10. If the bookstore is a B. Dalton or a Waldenbooks, the $5.10 will still not cover expenses for 10 1/2 months each year. All but the largest stores make their only profit at Christmas. On the other hand, the last time I saw figures on web booksellers not one has had a year in the black, yet. (And that includes Amazon.) They are running with their current prices to build up consumer base with backers willing to accept 5 - 8 years of losses on the grounds that those losses will eventually turn around. When the on-line market has been established, it will be interesting to see whether those 50% discounts remain.

I like both the on-line and the walk-in booksellers and I hope that they all succeed. No one, however, should think that any bookseller is going to dwarf Bill Gates or Ted Turner for personal revenue any time soon.


Tom said:

Hey, don’t get me wrong – I own stock in one of those booksellers, and I want them to make as much money as possible! :slight_smile: I’m just saying that a lot of the “cost of the book” is not really the cost of the book itself, but rather cost added by the booksellers themselves.