Monday, August 06, 2007

What Would You Pay ...

While browsing in Borders the other day, I pulled a book by Terry Pratchett off the shelf. To my surprise, the book cost $7.99. Eight bucks for a paperback? Did I miss something?

I pulled other books off the shelf and saw the same price. I reached for the thinnest volumes which were slightly less at $6.99 each. This seemed much higher than before.

Back home, I looked at the Pratchett book I had bought last year: $7.50

Then the one from two years ago: $6.99

An increase of 14% over two years? Have gas prices pushed the cost of distribution that high?

In terms of a price point I'd have to say $8 is too high for me to try out a paperback book by an unknown author. It's borderline too high for any author. I could get a hardcover edition of the Pratchett book on eBay for $8 plus shipping.

Yet, new hardcover books don't seem to be that much higher in price than before. Perhaps this is because of deep discounts on release and the even deeper discount once the hardcover hits the remainder tables. Are paperbacks subsidizing the hardcover discounts?

What do you all think? Would you pay $8 for a paperback from your favorite author? For a lesser known one? For an unknown one?


Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I don't know where you're buying your fiction, but regular price even on non hard-covers these days is well over $10. Has been for a while. I haven't seen a $6.99 paperback for years, outside the deep-discount majors (certain romance imprints may go for less, I suppose). Used paperbacks cost five/six dollars in most cities (but are given away virtually free in smaller cities, though selection may be limited).

If I want to buy an off-the beaten path author, I have to expect to pay $12.99-$16.99 for a non-HC in even a major bookstore. Smaller shops get/can give even less of a break.

Still seems better than $10 for a movie, which is what a first-run costs in Portland (okay, okay: $9.75).

August 6, 2007 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Camille, are we talking about the same thing? Mass market PB, not trade. I know I bought Grey for $15 in the bigger trade format.

What I saw at Borders was the price printed on the spine by the publisher. Hard to imagine the pub/distributors are organized enough to do regional pricing (if that would even be legal).

I agree with you on the last point. I'll take an $8 book over most any $10 movie.

August 6, 2007 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I understand what you're saying about the trade pb format, but it's a bit of a moot point if that's the only available paperback size, isn't it?

From my couchified position, I reach one hand lazily down to sort through the 1...2...5...8...12 books within reach. Of these, Everything is Illuminated ($24, hardcover, bought for 25 cents at library benefit sale), Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (Hardcover, 1949, orig.price unknown), the Schott's Miscellany series (three tiny, beautiful hc books bought new for $14.95 each) and The Little Book of Bohemia (c. 1910, orig. price unkn.) don't qualify. I'll also discount the Sheckley paperback (The Robot Who Looked Like Me) as it's a 1982 printing, and the unpriced ARC.

The remaining five, listed in order of size from small to large (none of them as large as the larger PB size you mention, such as the Maledicte ARC I have here with no price at all, so I didn't count it):

MZ Bradley's Ancestors of Avalon (regular small-paperback size) purchased for $7.99 several years ago (2004?), and MT Anderson's feed bought last year for same. Those both fall into the 'major leagues' I clumsily referred to before, meaning they are huge award-winning books with multiple printings and massive sales records. Sure, they're printed in forms available for only $8.

Next, perhaps one centimeter wider but no taller than feed is Nick Sagan's Idlewild ($13.95 US, $19.95 Can.), then the modest but excellent The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Writlet (ARC, but listed $14.95 US/$21.00 Can), and finally The Battle for Spain (Antony Beevor, Penguin, $17.00).

I concede I never priced novels I wasn't interested in, so I didn't realize they could still be had for as little as $6 at regular price. I would be able to buy twice as many books if the ones I wanted were printed so.

August 8, 2007 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

I understand what you're saying about the trade pb format, but it's a bit of a moot point if that's the only available paperback size, isn't it?

Camille, yes, absolutely.

My response above came out of an even larger sense of naivete on my part about the price of books. I hope you didn't feel like I was challenging you to prove your numbers. If so, I'm sorry I wasn't clearer in what I wrote. I do appreciate what you've shared here.

I borrow from the library more than purchasing books outright. This year I'll buy more than usual as I try to support other writers I enjoy reading and catch up with a genre I hadn't been reading in years.

It's a reality check for me and apparently, as you say, something that has been an issue for a while. In terms of writing/publishing as a business, it seems counterproductive to steadily increase prices at a time when people are reading less or reading fewer authors. Perhaps it's just a downward spiral that feeds on itself.

August 8, 2007 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

Not at all on the challenging thing, friend. Take my socially-awkward comment post as simple nerdy enthusiasm to talk about books.

It's true we hear more and more about pricing spirals. Take postage stamps: "Fewer people are mailing letters, so we must raise the price of stamps--wait a minute, why are fewer people mailing letters? Must raise price of postage stamps. Wait a sec... We notice fewer people..." & so on.

New movies have definitely priced themselves out of my market, but Netflix has garnered my business.

O, and of course I meant 'Wristlet" above, though I find 'Writlet' rather intriguing.

August 8, 2007 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Nerdy book enthusiasts rule. And we're very polite.

August 8, 2007 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

...and we always have a dozen random novels within reach from our couch/bed/desk. Or is that just me?

August 8, 2007 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

At least a dozen. I believe Steve B. has boxes and boxes.

August 9, 2007 at 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Todd, as you'll note from summer reading contest, I go through 2-3 books per week. I buy most as paperbacks at the nearest B&N store. (I'll buy hard cover for something I've been waiting for or an author I'm in love with.)

At any rate I haven't spent less than $6-8 for a book in I don't know how long. How long has it been since you went to a bookstore?


August 9, 2007 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Nathan, not often enough. Should be a goal of mine, just to keep up on what is out there, where all the bookstores are in this area, and how much things cost.

August 9, 2007 at 5:10 PM  

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