The Case of the $0.49 Print Book

POSTED ON Dec 14, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Jill went down to the local pet store over the weekend to get some supplies.

When she came back, she showed me two small books, both with the “Dummies” branding, but small. They are actually little booklets, saddle stitched (stapled) rather than perfect bound, about 4″ x 6″.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I just got these on a half-price sale for 49 cents each.”

“49 cents? Are you serious?”

“Yes, they’re regularly 99 cents,” she said, looking happy with her shopping prowess.

Book pricing

I asked to take a look at them and sure enough, they are publications from the very large publisher Wiley. Each had its own ISBN and each was 60 pages.

Checking online, I found the products on e-retailers. For instance, on Amazon I found the same book in a Kindle edition, priced at $1.34 on sale for $0.89.

I also discovered the little booklet on Amazon, but only available in the Marketplace, not sold by Amazon. The price was $3.95.

But the price code on the back of the booklet implies it’s priced at $1.00. To be honest, it looks more like something you would give away at a trade show or as a sample to consumers to see what the Dummies books look like.

But just the fact that a major publisher would edit, assemble, produce, inventory, catalogue, ship and sell a print book at this price and still expect to make a profit is pretty interesting.

Pricing Conundrums

One subject we hear about all the time is the difficulty of figuring out e-book pricing. There are lots of strategies out there, and people are rightly experimenting with a new market.

Some authors complain that people won’t value “books” (e-books) they pay $0.99 for. Yet here is a major publisher selling print books (booklets) for $0.99.

There are lots of odd turns to book publishing, and many new oddities being produced all the time.

Maybe the elasticity of the e-book is prompting more experimentation with print books.

In an article Julie Bosman in The New York Times (E-Books, Shmee-Books: Readers Return to the Stores) reports that very high-priced, deluxe hardcover books are selling better than ever. Reports from booksellers say that coffee table books, from $50 and up, are selling well.

“One thing that we noticed a lot of this year is that there are a lot more big, beautiful coffee-table books,” she said. “Expensive, $50 and $75 books that we’re selling hand over fist,” (said Anne Holman, proprietor of King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City). At the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, a surprise seller has been “The Art Museum,” a $200 survey of world art organized in “rooms” and “galleries,” said Cathy Langer, the lead buyer, who has reordered from the publisher several times.

Perhaps it’s true that the market is experiencing some fracturing, with hardcover books a possible beneficiary of the displaced but still powerful desire to hold a beautiful book in your hands.

I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who grow up with print books continue to have this desire.

And if we end up reading most of our instructional books, work books, or disposable genre entertainment on e-readers of one kind or another, we may want even more luxurious hardcover books as a respite. These are two completely different reading experiences.

More than ever, self-publishers have to be nimble when they think about the books they are producing and the pricing that will allow them to make a profit.

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Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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