The Price of a Book – Why Does $20 Feel Expensive for a Book but not a Shirt?

I was recently at a used book store. A delightful used book store, I should amend, with a Norwegian Forest cat on duty and a charming selection of familiar and off the beaten path titles. I plopped myself down in front of the YA selection and came away with two books – Poison Study (late to the game on this one – it came out in 2006!) and Dreams and Shadows (The cover is pretty and featured a blurb that likened it to The Magicians, a favorite among my favorite books) – for the princely sums of $6 and $13.


Pretty covers, amirite? They worked. I caved. I purchased them. …at a used bookstore, but it’s the thought that counts.

My dad was shocked. “$13 for a book?? Is it made of gold?” My dad is a book lover too, and not adverse to paying bank for hard to find or rare books. But I had to agree, $13 for paperback feels on the edge of ridiculous. I expect paperbacks to be $9.99 at their highest, with $5.99 being an acceptable price. I often won’t even consider a hardback, because a) I happen to just prefer paperbacks and b) with list prices between $15.95 and $24.95, not even counting crazily priced literary fiction that can be up to $34.99, I simply cannot pay that much for a book.

Of course, when you break these list prices down between the publisher’s cut, the distributor, DRM and the the author. The author’s cut is usually 10-15%, and that could even be considered generous. So in order to make money, the price remains pretty high. Even if this makes sense, paying more than $15 for one books still feels like highway robbery.

So I purchased my books, paying the $20 and feeling somewhat cheated, when I realized that I was wearing a shirt I’s bought at Forever21 for $22.80. Two book for the price of one poor quality sweatshop-made blouse, I shouldn’t feel cheated. This was the written word! The worlds a book could and would transport me to during the years of my owning it are surely worth the cover price. In fact, $20 for a book?? That seems downright cheap for the escapism and entertainment I’m getting! A book should DEFINITELY be worth more than my cheap shirt.

But do I believe this? Yes…in theory….but in practice? Absolutely not. If your average book was $20+, even for a paperback and with the requisite automatic 30% off book distributors give, I would buy maaaany fewer books. I already buy most of my books via thrift stores, where book prices top out around $1.75 and ebooks, where even $2.99 can feel steep. Even though my brain knows that thinking paying $25 for a dress that I’ll wear twice is a bargain is illogical, it doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly become a person who’ll pay $29.95 for a hardback.



Reading and Reading A Lot ~ AKA Keeping A List Helps

I started keeping a list of all the books I read at the beginning of January 2012. I included the book, the author, the year, a paragraph or so of my opinion of the book, and a star rating. I quickly found this to be a fun task (I love sharing my opinion, even with my self) if not one I’m consistent at (There’s a block of summer 2012 books that I still haven’t contributed my opinion towards).

I did this originally because while at college I felt like I read a lot less and not as well. There wasn’t a real reason for it, I had plenty of free time, but the change of scene affected my reading habits and I wanted a motivator to end it. The list has solved this, since starting it I typically read about 4 to 5 books a month – not a hugely impressive number I guess, but still more than one book a week.

I’d recommend doing this to anyone who enjoys not only reading, but thinking about books and writing and reading. I like approaching each book I read as required reading for the class of my life. I put more thought into the structural elements of each book and look at everything I read as not mere entertainment, but a valuable way to spend time. I always felt that way about books, but recording it makes it feel even more valid.

Mythbusters provides some handy advice.

Mythbusters provides some handy advice.

One interesting side effect of my listing is I see my reading trends better. I’ll go a few months reading largely Pride and Prejudice sequels (my equivalent of the beach read) or rereading familiar books and I’ll seek out something new to shake it up. Reading a brand new book, especially a good one, feels great after a string of very familiar narratives.

The most complicated part of this listing is the star rating. While my opinions of the books don’t really change, my feelings towards the star ratings do. My ratings are a mix between objective success – aka, good spelling and grammar, well plotted, original characters, etc – and my own personal opinion – aka, I liked it even though it’s terrible. There are books on my list that aren’t bad and that I may even recommend but that have 1 and a half star ratings because they didn’t make me think of anything interesting.

Making me think of interesting things – that’s the goal, at least for me. Some books make me think and I give them that credit even though it’s really my mind doing the work, not the book. Some books, whether they’re good, bad or repellent, compel and leave me with satisfying and new thoughts (*cough* The Magicians). Some books I merely devour without thought (*cough* The Hunger Games) and am left only with a shrug. This is what I weigh when I rank books.

For the first time ever, this past month (February) I completed not a single book. I attribute this to my annual midterm coma, and to the fact that I’m trying to make my way through several eye roll inducing books (*cough* Allegiant). But I feel shame. It’s March 11th and I still haven’t finished anything. I’ve been reading a lot, I swear; it’s just been a big jumble of stuff instead of one book.

What do you think? How much to you read, and are you satisfied with it?