4 September 07 | Chad W. Post

Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading took up the recent AP-Ispos findings, comparing the finding that the average American reads 4 books a year to other countries (the U.S. comes out well in this, but there are reasons) and pointing to economics as one of the issues adding to this statistic.

If people who read 50 or more books per year are willing to cut consumption in response to prices, think what people who only read four books per year would do. Taking up this point, in an article at the Huffington Post, Alex Remington makes much of the rise of trade paperback prices, speculating of a growing gap in books for “the masses” and books for “intellectuals.” He says that trade paperbacks can increase in price because they’re targeted at better educated, more cultured readers who tend to buy books despite price increases, but that this practice leaves many readers behind.

He explains this in greater detail, and he’s partially right that prices for books are crazy. (Although people still could go to libraries, so cost can be overcome.)

As someone personally involved, I should point out that there are a lot of costs eating into the publisher’s revenue stream. 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.

This is why I love non-profits that can raise the necessary funds, and work on the appropriate scale, to publish great works of literature at a reasonable price despite sales expectations.

But hopefully as technology advances, a new model will arise that will allow publishers to reach even more readers at a lower cost. Because it is important that all readers—income aside—have access to literature. Regardless of how great their local library system is.

And as a sidenote, apparently Bulgaria Youth Hate Books. At least this isn’t just a local problem . . .


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