Books: Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing

pound-banknotesThe most teeth-grindingly annoying comment that I heard from customers when I was a bookseller was ‘Books are so expensive, aren’t they.’ Obviously the answer is ‘No’ but let me explain quite why that is. Bear with me – I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for some time.

Let’s think about just how many people are involved in getting a book from its inception into our eager little hands. There’s the writer, of course – always at the bottom of the heap, sadly, but an advance has to be paid no matter how small, then with luck some royalties if the advance has been earned out; his or her agent – hard to get a book published without one of those and they need their cut; next the publisher who has to pay for editing, proof reading, copy editing, jacket design, marketing, printing and the costs of distribution– I’m sure that’s not all but you get the idea; finally the bookseller – premises, rent, light, heating, staff all have to be paid for. That’s quite a lot of bites out of the cover price of your average book, and most of us don’t pay that these days.

Then consider how much an evening at the cinema, a London exhibition, a theatre matinée or even a couple of lattes would cost. You can’t re-experience these or share them without paying more but you can re-read a book, pass it around your friends, even altruistically leave it on a bus for someone else to discover or give it to your favourite charity shop. That’s why books are not expensive. There, I feel much better now.

22 thoughts on “Books: Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”

  1. So true! There are lipsticks which cost more than a book, shampoos, even bread (OK, probably not the everyday kind, but still…). And books can provide so much more beauty and nourishment than any of these!

    1. Thanks, Anne, and you’re spot on about writers. I gather it’s the same, if not worse, in the film industry.

  2. For length and depth of enjoyment what compares? Look at it as an hourly rate, for example, and compare that against drinking a cup of coffee over half an hour or seeing a film for a couple. And then which are you more likely to remember next year? (Yes, it may be the film, but it’s less likely overall.) I like (even love) coffee and films, not to mention beer, wine and food, but not one of them has the same value.

  3. I think you’re right to compare the value gained from reading a book to a trip to the cinema. Most afternoon screenings seem to be £6-£8 these days, possibly more at weekends. I’m happy to pay this price for both types of experience.

  4. lonesomereadereric

    Very true! I was just discussing this with someone on Twitter. There is a break, I think, in the perceived value of the book and willingness to pay. Maybe it has to do with how some (non-book fanatics) think of reading as work or a kind of edification which requires hard work that going to see a blockbuster movie or lattes or lipstick doesn’t. It’s a shame there can’t be a shift in that view and with the advent of e-books at low prices I think the general feeling is that we should pay even less for books. We can only do what we can by going into bookshops and paying the price books deserve to hard-working well-informed booksellers!

    1. Absolutely right in your last point, Eric. Sadly, those comments often came from customers well able to pay the price of the book they were buying. I’d also agree that the price of ebooks and the degree of price-cutting on the internet has only made things worse, although I worked as a bookseller both before and after the Next Book Agreement was broken and the dreaded remark came up just as often. Oh dear, I’m switiching into rant mode again…

  5. Matthew (

    Books could be three times the price, and still a bargain. Though mass market paperbacks were a fantastic revolution in terms of who could read (plenty of) books, I’m still one for buying a book to keep, and treasure. Therefore, happy to pay full hardback price and more. Clearly, I’m a sucker (for books).

    1. Absolutely agree, Matthew, and some paperbacks are so beautifully produced that they can be treasured, too. Happy to be ranked alongside you as a sucker for books!

  6. Matthew (

    They can – I’m not precious about my paperbacks, but lay a finger on my hardbacks and I can’t be held responsible for my actions 😉

  7. Books in this country are unbelievably cheap — I never resent paying £5 to £10 for a book that will keep me entertained for a week or more. Try buying books in Australia, which has a protected market (no imports): the average paperback is the equivalent of £20!!! Hardcovers are at least twice that. It makes reading a very expensive business Down Under.

    1. Even I might quail at £20! Much sympathy to fellow readers Down Under who must have to choose their books carefully. We are very lucky here – it’s a shame more people don’t realise it.

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