Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Price of Books?

Recently I was pondering people's perceptions of books and their cost. A number of things came together to create this mental boxing match for me. But I was a little surprised to find this article on the Huffington Post site about the same time. I guess I thought it was a sign that I needed to do a blog post, so here we are!

I own an e-reader and I like my e-reader, but not because I want to buy books at 99¢, rather I like not adding to the mounds of print books that I don't have enough room for as it is. There are books I won't want to keep forever, and it's fantastic to have the option to have them on my reader instead. And I know that there's a whole school of argument that goes along with digital books -- you technically don't own the book, you're borrowing it; there's no physical entity to the book, etc., etc., etc. But this is all packaging and sales. The author's intellectual property is there no matter what format it takes. Their days, months, maybe even years of sweat and toil are there on the pages that we read and enjoy. In all of this hoopla, we can't forget that fact!

When a retailer like Amazon continually sells those books below cost (making up the loss somewhere else), they condition us to believe that's what a book is worth. And that in turn is a sad reflection of our society. How many of you have paid in excess of $40 for one ticket to a music concert recently? How about a professional sporting event? Play video games? Have you paid more than $25 for a video game recently? When we are willing to pay double for a video game what we would have paid for a book -- and then complain about the cost of the book, that says a lot about our society.

Even going to the movies. I figure the average movie is about 2 hours. It takes me on average 10 hours to read a book. So that would be the equivalent of 5 movies, right? That would be about $50 if I only went to the movies -- no snacks.

So by these standards, we value athletes', musicians' and actors' skills and abilities -- but writers' aren't so important? That's kind of sad.

O.k., now all that being said, I need to kind of, but not really, look at the other side of this coin...

I receive a lot of books for review purposes and still I buy more new books than the average American. I buy books for me, I buy books for gifts, etc. However, I also buy used books and I make use of my public library.  I firmly believe that there is a place for all of these things in our society and it makes me cringe to hear anyone suggest otherwise.

I once heard (or rather saw because this author posted it to the web) an author say, "don't think you're doing us any favors by buying a used book and saying you shared it with all your friends." This made me very sad -- it also made me decide I would never read that author's work. If you want to explain how used book sales don't earn money for the author, that's one thing, but to attack your readers with a statement like that is simply tacky.

But more to the point, what if someone legitimately can't afford a new book and to them it was a splurge to buy a used book? Second, I discovered Alafair Burke in a used book store. I read the book I bought there and have since bought every one of her books new -- often more than once because I'd buy another copy as a gift for someone else. And you all hear me rave about her here on a regular basis. I think she might consider it good fortune that I bought her book in a used book store -- I don't know this for sure, though, so don't let me speak for her. :-) The point is sometimes discovering an author at a used book store or a garage sale or a library sale or whatever leads to a lifelong love of an author's work. And then you don't want to wait to happen upon the next book, you want it as soon as possible, so you buy it new. And for the time being, I'll leave all of my environmental feelings and stances out of this post.

As for the library, well, I think Nina Badzin did a great job in the HuffPost article of speaking to that. I live in a city that has never recovered from the loss of manufacturing jobs. Unemployment is high and many families battle just to keep food on the table and clothes on their backs. Libraries may be the saving grace for them. If parents are borrowing books to read to their pre-school aged kids, I'm going to cheer, not ask them why they aren't buying the books new.

And you know who I discovered in the library? Gregg Hurwitz. THE CRIME WRITER sitting on the new releases shelf called out to me and I was hooked forever! I think I own three copies of that book now. :-)

So, where exactly do I stand on this issue? Exactly where I said at the beginning. I believe there is a place for new books, used books and library books in our world. But we need to remember that books are valuable, despite below-cost sales that some retailers may be able to finagle. And maybe if we respect the value of books more, a subtle change may take place in the attitude of our young people towards reading and learning. Who knows?


Eric Beetner December 5, 2012 at 3:12 AM  

Well put, Jen. I just went to a local dollar bookstore to shop for some new books for my kids, in addition to using the library for them AND recently purchasing books through the scholastic program that benefits their school.
At the dollar store I snapped up six books I already owned to use as giveaways to get other people hooked on writers I love like John Rector and Sean Doolittle. That $1 may not make it to the author's pocket, but I'll bet I make them a few new fans for my dollar spent.

rhapsodyinbooks December 5, 2012 at 7:06 AM  

I'm thinking that book bloggers aren't exactly an objective group to comment on this issue - I bet all of us feel we love books whether free from the publishers or "free" from libraries, or used, or full price! :--) And I do all of those things. Also, when I find a really good book, I feel compelled to share, and in those cases I will go buy more copies and give them out. And I am happy to pay for them to support those authors. I agree a little that we have been conditioned to associate "value" of a book with cost, but I personally don't make that association. I would hope (quixotically, probably) that people could understand enough about volume sales and the economics of supply and demand to "get" that cost and value don't make for equivalencies! But I know that hope is just wishful thinking! :--)

Kristopher December 5, 2012 at 8:22 AM  

Here Here Jen.

Like Rhapsody, I'm not sure we are the most objective when it comes to books and things associated with them. But our opinions still matter.

The real problem for me is that Amazon so discounts the print books that at times the e-book ends up costing more, and that is just not right. But rather than lower the e-book price, I say raise the print book cost to a more realistic amount, so that people realize that they are still getting a deal on the e-book. I agree that the intellectual property is the same, but I also work in the industry and know that if you don't have a physical product, the cost can still be somewhat lower. But again, value the print book at the right amount and the e-book price range will seem more realistic to the consumer. (The problem here is the Amazon has a vested interest is making sure the Kindle is successful, so they will do what they have to to make people think they should be getting things for 99 cents - until they have everyone hooked).

We forget that revenue is made on tv shows, movies, etc via commercials and product placement. Books don't have that outlet, so reader's should understand that cost will be a bit higher. And like you, a book typically takes me about 10 hours to read (if I read only one time), so really is the cost of the book so much if looked at that way?

And finally, any author that says they don't agree with people who buy used books, loan books, go to the library, is just crazy. That is how fans are made and if people are doing whatever they can to get your books, feel honored and know that if you did youe job right, they will be back for more.

Nigel Bird December 5, 2012 at 8:58 AM  

A really good piece of common sense.

There's a balance to be found in everything.

I enjoy any kind of a bargain and especially like charity shop purchases because there's a double benefit.

I enjoy the used book purchases from ebay and amazon, too. I can't help myself; this is especially handy if a book is out of print.

I also enjoy bookshops and buying new books.

One of the things that you do for an author is review their book - that's got to be worth a little to them no matter how you came to own it.

There's also the new beast of self-publishing, especially through e-books, where authors can earn a considerable amount more percentagewise per sale that they might have been able to a few years ago.

And libraries? I love them, but not as much as my children do, which makes me feel pretty lucky.

BLB December 5, 2012 at 10:04 AM  

I also buy books new, used and get them from the library (where I happen to work). I love a bargain but you have a good point about Amazon and the price of print books. I usually buy books that my library doesn't have so I can read them, then donate them to the library and hope other people enjoy them, too. This means I have to buy hardcovers or trade paperbacks to add to our collection. By donating authors we don't have already, I hope to get our patrons hooked on, er, that is, interested in, new authors. The greater the demand a library has for a particular author or title, the more copies are purchased. This benefits the author. Libraries are good for author sales as are used books. They promote the author.

Jen December 5, 2012 at 11:32 AM  

Oh, it makes my heart smile to see these comments!

And Jill, you're absolutely right. We are biased, but my dream is that in this country, the majority becomes bias toward books...maybe that will result in a lot of the changes we really need to see! A girl can dream.

And keep supporting those libraries, y'all. They need us and our voices more than ever before!

Thanks for making my day everyone. :-)

George December 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM  

Good post Jen. I've thought about this issue a lot, and we've talked about it, too.

With the rise of the eReader & Internet shopping, the publishing industry is changing, no question. But the changes shouldn't be taking the industry by surprise--it happened to the music industry and the movie industry. I understand the frustration of selling books below cost in hopes to make up for it other sales, but that sales technique isn't unique, either. It is time to accept the changes and adapt, not hold on to what used to be.

I buy eBooks and paper books regularly. I prefer paper books, but the convenience and easy storage of the eBook can't be beat. Publishers and booksellers can't take back an in-hand paper book that I buy, so why should they be able to do that with digital content? I want some ownership in what I pay for, I don't think that is unreasonable.

Publishers should consider selling paper books with an included digital copy. Disney has been doing this for several years with their movies. If Disney is doing it successfully, I'm sure it is profitable and a model that could be followed by publishers.

Authors, editors, publishers, and everyone else involved in bringing books to market are valuable within the industry and deserve to earn a living. But as times and technology change, so must business. Get on board or get left behind.

Shannon December 5, 2012 at 8:26 PM  

What a great post! As a wanna-be author, you make some excellent points that the reader in me never particularly thought about. I love buying books...though I wish hardcovers were a wee bit cheaper. Also, I can't believe an author would have the audacity to say something like that. If I truly loved and enjoyed a book and I borrowed it from someone or the library, I go out and buy my own copy.

Joe Barone December 6, 2012 at 10:28 AM  

Didn't I read that there is a major publisher putting out a line of e-book only books as a part of that publishing house's offerings? Leaving self-published books out of it all together, I suspect professionally-published e-book-only books will give us even more good authors to choose from.

Beth F December 7, 2012 at 7:15 AM  

I wrote a brief post about this. I'm in the industry so perhaps I have a different view from others.

Rhonda December 9, 2012 at 9:35 PM  

This is such a great post, Jen. I just wanted to tell you that Lauren recommended Don Winslow to me. She picked up one of his books at her library's book sale and sent it to me. I have now listened to or read every one of his books. I bought them all on audible and also have all of them either on my Kindle or on my shelf. So by her picking one up like that at the library, it led me to buy all of the rest (twice).

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