The Mysterious Book Pricing Strategy

What happened to the price of books?

For the last few years, book prices were too low for many authors to make a living. This year, paperback book prices are suddenly too high for many readers to buy them.

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How did we get here?

Hundreds of years ago, books were precious treasures. They were so expensive, they were displayed as symbols of wealth and status. It’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it? The invention of the printing press changed all that. And more recently, the print on demand phenomenon reduced wastage to the point that paperback books became downright cheap.

This could have been seen by the publishing industry as an opportunity to maintain book prices. And pay authors a living wage. But paperback book prices continued to lag behind cost of living increases in recent years. Some indie authors gave up on paperbacks altogether and only offered their novels in ebook format.

So what changed?

Have publishers decided that books should once again be cherished belongings? That we should save up to own one of these precious items? That authors should be handsomely rewarded for their creative efforts? Unfortunately, no.

This year has seen a global paper shortage. The result is that the cost of printing on paper has gone up. A lot. Suddenly printed books are back to being luxury items, without any marketing hype at all. 

So has everyone switched to ebook or audiobook format? Well, despite these markets growing at a fast pace, the short answer is no. The longer answer is that many readers now use more than one book format. But we still tend to have our favourites. And in some circumstances – for example, gifting – we may still want a printed copy. Even if we would usually choose an ebook or audiobook for ourselves.

I prefer to read paperbacks. But this year, many of those I’m interested in are outside my budget. With independently-published books, ebooks are usually a more affordable alternative to paperbacks. And I’ve purchased a few books in this format instead. I just have to remember to read them now! 

With traditionally-published books, the ebook is often expensive too. So this year, I’ve taken advantage of another growing market. I’ve started buying used books.

And like most avid readers, I insured against the eventuality of running out of books. By keeping my to-be-read pile on the large side!

Have your book-buying habits changed this year?

What does this pricing change mean for authors?

As the price increase is due to production costs, it doesn’t help authors. At least not in the short term. But if we view this as a test of what readers are willing to pay for books, it could pave the way for better royalties in future.

For now, making books available in multiple formats seems to be a prudent decision for authors.

I just hope publishers don’t start printing books on plastic!

What do you think is a reasonable price for paperbacks?

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You might also like: What Digital Can’t Do.

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17 thoughts on “The Mysterious Book Pricing Strategy

  1. I would love to offer my backlist in paperback format, but after a painful experiment with one title, I decided to stick to eBooks only. I encountered unforeseen expenses, multiple delays in printing and shipping, and microscopic royalties.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For entertainment reading, I prefer ebooks, mostly because of space considerations. If I like a book enough that I will probably read it again, more than once, I will buy the paperback. Price isn’t a great consideration, because I buy so few.
    And there’s always the library, which offers both print and ebooks readable for free.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree about the cost of physical books. I, too, love to read a ‘real’ book, but,like you, have had to go for ebooks. However, even some of those are ridiculously expensive.
    As to buying second hand books: I used to buy them until I started writing, myself, but then I realized that the author got nothing from my purchase, so I stopped and now buy ebooks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It used to be that you could go to a bookstore and splurge on a few new releases for simple pleasure and be satisfied. Now, though, I won’t buy a book I haven’t already read and know I loved because there’s expensive.. and then there’s ridiculous.
    I’m all for authors making a good sum off their work, they earned it, but a 30$ book is way too much.
    Great post and thank you for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Great point about paying for books you already know you love. I think books in a series are a good option. You can try one in ebook format and splurge on the next when you are sure it will be worth it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a real bummer for me. I much prefer reading paperbacks. It’s an easier, more immersive reading experience that allows me to enjoy more books in more moods. And whether the type is small and the margins narrow doesn’t matter.

    In view of that, as an author, I’m trying to provide compact editions of most of my novels to make them easier to afford for as many people as possible.


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