A Question About Book Prices?

So I am packing. Specifically I am packing books, today. My husband and I both began our careers in book publishing. In fact, that is how we met. We both have a love for the printed word and for the book as an object…so we have a lot of books. New. Old. Rare. Common. Illustrated. Fiction (mine).  Non-fiction (his). Children’s. Lots and lots.

Both my husband and I like to cook, so we have a lot of cookery books as well. Including one of my all-time favorites: Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook. I received this as a complimentary copy when I was working at my first post-college job at Workman Publishing. That Blackout Cake is my (grown up) go-to birthday cake recipe. My salary was $18,500 per year (which I was thrilled to get!) and I was sharing the top floor of a brownstone with two friends in Park Slope, Brooklyn (before it became what it is today).

The year was 1992 and even then, I needed to work weekends at the local bookstore, Community Bookstore on 7th Avenue, just to make my rent and meet my meager living expenses.

So, why the nostalgia?  Well, I was packing up my cookbooks and as I placed my well-used copy of New York Cookbook into a box, I stopped to reflect for a few minutes upon the apartments and houses this cookbook has resided in and the number of times I have packed this book (it has crossed the country and the Atlantic numerous times) and what this book has actually ‘cost me’ in moves alone.  In the year I acquired this book, it was worth $17.95. And I’ve come a long way, baby! But why haven’t you, New York Cookbook?

Today, this book is selling new on Amazon for…

$18.95 retail but $12.70 at Amazon’s discounted price. One dollar more 20 years later.

Part of what I do in my current job, is help decide on retail prices for our books, and as I pack up this book again to move for a wonderful opportunity to further my 20 year book publishing career, I paused before I put this New York Cookbook in the box. While this particular copy is worth a lot to me for reasons both practical and sentimental, I just cannot believe that today, this book is only worth one dollar more than it was 20 years ago.

Now, I am no finance expert, but I don’t think you would find any college graduate willing to work for $18,500 per year these days. I also don’t know a whole lot about the consumer price index, but I do know that over the past 20 years the cost of living has gone up a whole lot more that the 6ish% increase this book has seen reflected in its retail price.

What’s up with that?

While the book industry is experiencing enormous flux with exciting digital innovations and advancements being announced almost daily, I have to admit that my stomach sinks a little bit to see the stagnation (possibly even the erosion) of the value of the content (whether you read digitally on a Kindle, Nook, iPad etc. or read a physical book). Because content consists of ideas and ideas are important. They are invaluable. They have the power to change one moment, one life, one family, one community and more! And authors should be rewarded for that. Financially and otherwise.

I am sure that there are a lot of items that haven’t seen a huge increase in retail price over the years (certainly not gas, food, clothes and a bunch of other things that I have been buying weekly over the past 20 years…), but I just don’t get it.

Any retail price asks their consumer: How important is this to you compared to how much it cost to produce weighted against how many people might want it? Production costs for books have certainly gone up, so why not the price? Consumer resistance, industry reluctance to change, too many choices? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure.

But as I sealed the top of the box with tape and moved that box of much loved cookery books into my ‘ship’ pile, my answer has a lot to do with the quality of ideas this book holds within its pages. And as I go through all the objects in my house and decide whether they are ‘shipping worthy’ whether I want to pay again to ship this item or that, when I look at my bookshelves there is very little questioning.

Ideas are worth a lot to me. So is inspiration. Physical books make these ideas and inspirations tangible, as if the physical presence of them means that you are one step closer to the secrets, solace, and the power they hold within their pages. And you are. If you surround yourself with physical books, I think that you subconsciously surround yourself with possibility, you remind yourself of your potential to learn in a way that accessing digital information just cannot do. It is too easy to ignore and to forget and to disengage. Can’t you tell?

I literally, do not think I could live without them. Call me a dinosaur, but for me, my kids, my family I will gladly pay the price again and again to take those ideas and that inspiration with me wherever I go..so that I can see them every day and remind myself, my kids, my family of the ideas and inspirations I/they/we were exposed to from reading those tangible…beautiful…valuable things.

About Susanne

I am a small business owner, a mother, a crafter and the Editorial Director at a craft book publisher. Opinions and thoughts are mine alone. If you would like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you at susannewoods at hotmail dot com.
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3 Responses to A Question About Book Prices?

  1. Lisa LK says:

    i’ve been missing you then remembered your blog, and here i sit with the past before me, longing for a sunday a.m. lounge at 377 with you. remembering spending money i didn’t have at 7th avenue books or lemongrass grill or california taqueria or, hurrah just recalled it, the quilt store on 7th. oh my goodness the fabric i bought there that i couldn’t afford. remember our sewing saturdays in the living room nook? we inspired david and he’s put me to shame, but not you. i am so happy that i read your lovely words about words. we have come a long way, baby.

  2. Teresa says:

    There are some things just have to stay with me–like you, it’s my books. Priceless.

    Best of luck with the move!

  3. Gailen says:

    Love this post!!! Great thoughts. Hmmmm… Prepping to move myself. The books will DEFINITELY be making the move.

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