Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Price of Books

People like us who buy a few dozen books every year are very aware that book prices continue to rise at a steady clip. I noticed just the other day, in fact, that those new mass market books that are being produced in a slightly taller size than the standard "paperback" are being sold for $9.99, a full $2.00 more than the old size. I judge the new size to be slightly less than an inch taller than the old standard, and I suspect that the large print font used in the new books has added a few pages to each book, but a $2.00 jump in price does seem a little much.

While agreeing that the price of books today is "crazy," the folks over at Three Percent (University of Rochester) offer a look at book pricing from the publisher's point-of-view.
In brief, a bookstore gets an average discount of about 45% off the retail price of a book. Of the remaining amount, 20%+ goes to the publisher’s distributors—more if you figure in charges for returns. Authors get 7.5%, or more, of the retail price on all sales, and most translators get 1.0%. That leaves approx. 35% of the retail price to cover salaries, production, marketing expenses, operating costs, etc. So, if a trade paperback lists for $15, the publisher gets about $5.25 per unit sold. And if a book sells about 3,000 copies (which is solid for a work of literature), that comes out to $15,750. And printing costs alone run about $6,000.
I haven't quite figured out how to make the math in this example work out, but the important point to take away from all of this is that the publisher, on average, nets about 35% of the retail price of each book and has to cover all costs from that margin.

It's also interesting to note that bookstores like Barnes & Noble receive a discount of approximately 45% on each book that they place on their shelves. That tells me that they don't make much of a profit on bestsellers since they sell those at a minimum of 30% off to all customers and at 40% off to those customers who hold one of their membership cards. On top of that, Barnes & Noble sends out occasional special discounts to club members for an extra 15% off of any one book in the store. I have often used one of those coupons to pay less than 50% of the retail price of a bestseller, meaning that Barnes & Noble must have sold the book to me at something below their own cost.

Bottom line: those of us addicted to reading dozens of books a year will always find a way to get our hands on them despite the fact that they are getting more and more expensive every month. We just have to be a bit creative by taking advantage of all the good deals offered by bookstores and by using all the book-trading services offered on the internet. It is highly unlikely that the price of books will ever cause us to read less.


  1. You know...I noticed the other day when I saw that Lisey's Story was out in paperback that it was bigger than the normal mass markets. What's up with that? I actually prefer the trade sized paperbacks myself, but I don't think I like the new mass markets!!

  2. From what I understand, Stephanie, it's another baby boom idea. The print is larger in the new size book without having to say so on the cover. Publishers have apparently decided that they will sell more books to boomers this way as their collective eyesight gets worse and worse in the coming years. And it's not so noticeable to younger readers that they will find it uncomfortable to read in the new font size.

    We'll see if it becomes the norm, but I'm already seeing more and more new books that size.

  3. I've noticed that the paperbacks are all going for $15 lately. I'm not super crazy about the bigger sizes but I can live with it - especially since my eyes are going....

    Honestly, I read more books from the library now than I purchase. I don't have the space or budget to buy all the books I'd want.

  4. I save my coupon every month and use it to purchase a book I can't get any other way(either through the library, ILL, or paperbackswap) but I recently found a good local independent so I would like to give them my business.

    I hate to make it all about the bottom line but sometimes that's all I can do. :/

  5. I have to say that I really don't like those larger mass market sized paperbacks. I think I will go out of my way to not buy one of those. I'm not sure what it is--the funky shape doesn't fit as nicely in the hand? But they don't appeal to me. When I bought books at the library sale last weekend two were mass market books published in the 70s--the cover prices were $1.95!!! Now I know the cost of living was completely different, but everything these days feels so very inflated. I've been trying hard not to buy new books (partially cost and partially I've just run out of space!). I use the public library lots these days and buy books used. Still, there is nothing like a nice new book!

  6. I agree with Carrie. The higher prices won't make me read less- they'll just make me buy less. Hello libraries and book trading!

  7. It's a crazy business. The price of paper goes up every few months, postage, shipping, etc., go up constantly. And all of this is affected by rising gas prices (yes, that affects the price of books too).

    Books have to sell in volume to make any money. As a novelist, I know I receive an average of $1.00 in royalties for each of my novels sold (trade paperbacks), which retail for $12.95 each. However, some distributors (not mentioning any names here...grin), don't pay the publisher for 8 months after the sale (hard to believe, but legal). So I'll get my $1.00 about 11 months after the book is sold. Like I said, it is a crazy business! You've got to love books to be in it for sure!

  8. Oh Sam...don't mean to highjack the thread, but who else's shoulder can I cry on, literary-style? It sucks, it's so horrible that that little piece of crappy reeking humanity, Floral Tebbs just up and murdered in cold blood the cool, intellectual and totally crushworthy Nathan Dreyfoos. I had a sinking feeling when Kantor didn't reveal the victim for quite a few pages, but it was like an unexpected blow when he said, and in the manner it was done so abruptly. But it was fitting. Some things are just unspeakable.

    OK, I'm done. I guess everyone's confused now.

  9. Carrie - "Price creep" has really gotten out of hand, lately. I'm constantly shocked by the full retail price that I see on new books. It's reached a point that I don't try as many new authors by buying their stuff at the bookstore anymore. Libraries serve that purpose for me now.

    Amy - for people who read as much as most of us do, it has to become about the bottom line sooner or later. I wish I could afford to buy books by the dozen, but at those prices it's just not possible.

    Danielle - I can't get used to that new size either, but they do seem to be more flexible than the slightly smaller versions. Maybe they'll hold up better?

    I hate to admit it, but I can clearly remember when I could ride my bicycle to the local grocery store and buy paperbacks for less than a dollar each. That seemed like a fortune at the time, of course.

  10. I don't like those new mass market books either. We even had to get new displays to hold them at the store.

    As for book price, that's the best thing about working at a bookstore - the discount! And I love bargain books! I also went to a book fair of sorts a few weeks ago and got some great deals (details on my blog). I often find the books I want cheap, but sometimes I have to wait longer than I'd prefer. Sometimes I just have the bite the bullet and pay top-dollar.

  11. As you know, Annie, not all of us are lucky enough to work in a bookstore...as much as we'd like to. :-)

  12. Yeah, I know; I'm sorry I brought that up. :( And to think I'm trying to get out of there and into a new job. But, there are somedays when the discount just doesn't seem worth it - like when you're dusting a shelf and end up with your hand in someone's chewed gum, or you have to clean up the vomit in the aisle and on the books in self improvement, or when a mother chews you out because the book her son has to read by the next day (because they were too lazy to buy it ant other time in the 3 months of summer) is over 300 pages and "that's just too long," or....