by Erin Mitchell
I’ll tell you right now: I don’t know the answer to the question above. But that’s never stopped me from having some opinions…
Way back in 2009. John Grisham talked about changing book prices on the TODAY Show (video at the end of this post). He said something that has stayed with me:
A book is worth $24. It’s a fair price.
I agree with him. I also remember a time not a million years ago when all the book I read came from libraries and thrift stores, with the occasional new paperback purchase. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to buy new hardcover releases, but I wasn’t prepared to forego paying the electricity bill to do so. Then came ebooks. I figured ebooks had two primary benefits: First, they would be cheaper, making new releases accessible to more people. Second, they meant that I would never have to run out of book on a bus or plane again.
Well, I was right about the second.
A couple of years back I heard about a young woman who loved to read (yay!). And she would only read books that she got for free on Kindle (boo!). Look, I’m as much a fan of deals as anyone. I love saving money. I always check for coupons before buying anything online. I wait for sales.
Except when it comes to books.
When I get a galley of a book that I read and enjoy, I preorder at least one copy—usually more. I’m tickled that I can afford to do so, and sharing a good book is one of my greatest joys. But I know there are still a lot of people out there who can’t afford to pay $24 for a book, even though, yes, a book is worth that much. Definitely.
At the same time, I think we can all agree that publishing is not the single most efficient industry in the world. As such, the price of books is probably inflated somewhat, regardless of their form.
Back in 2009, Mr. Grisham was talking about the phenomenon of online retailers selling physical books as loss-leaders. Unfortunately, this seems to have become the norm. We, as a society, now seem to think that a book is worth $2.99.
Think about that for a second. That’s a fraction of a movie ticket—even if you get the Senior Citizen rate at the cheap show. And a movie only lasts 2 hours. People always compare stuff to the price of a cup of coffee…I have no idea whether Starbuck’s sells anything that costs $2.99. People Magazine has a cover price of $4.99. John Connolly recently got right to the point on Twitter:
Something has gone very wrong if we'll pay $5 for a greeting card, $3 for gift wrap, but resent paying more than $2.99 for a book.— John Connolly (@jconnollybooks) July 4, 2014
So to get back to the original question: I think a hardcover book should cost about $15 and a paperback or ebook should be in the neighborhood of $10 (see…told you I’m cheap). I also think libraries should be properly funded and supported and books should never, ever be destroyed because there are plenty of thrift shops that would take them and make them available to people who want to read.
What do you think?
Here's the video I mentioned back at the start: