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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