The Case of the $0.49 Print Book

by | Dec 14, 2011

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.

Photo by LifeSupercharger

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  1. katherine

    Joel, from your experience how is a book priced. How would I price a book? For example if I pay someone to print a book, then I do the selling either on line or direct to book stores. Is there some sort of formula?

    Example, cost of printing + profit margin = wholesale price to book store?
    Should I print on the back of the book RRP or leave this out?
    What sort of mark-up is normal for book stores?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Katherine, good question. There is no formula, although we used to use one in the past. But book distribution has changed and the old forumulas don’t work for online sellers. You don’t have to print RRP or MSRP on your book, it’s understood. Retailers have the final say on how much they charge for your book. Retail bookstores usually receive a minimum 40% discount.

      Check this out for more information:
      Self-Publishing Basics: Understanding Book Discounts

  2. Levi Montgomery

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty certain that if you laid one of these “booklets” in someone’s left hand and a seven-hundred-page hardback in their right hand, and said “This one is a buck — that one is thirty,” they’d go “Okay. So?”

    But if you give the same person two ebooks and say “This one is a buck, that one is thirty,” they’re going to have a different reaction.

    If I walk into a physical store, pick up a physical object, weigh it in my hands, estimate its durability, etc, then I am going to perceive the probable causes behind any price difference as being qualitative rather than arbitrary. (Whether they are or not is irrelevant.) But the sensory event of purchasing an ebook is pretty much the same, whether it’s sixty pages or seven hundred. Read the description. Look at the cover. Click the button. Done. All that was the same, why is the price different?

    I have to say that I feel very strongly that as the price of the bottom end of the curve drops, the support for the top end is going to drop, too, and as the ends go so goes the middle.

    • Joel Friedlander

      There’s tremendous resistance from publishers, of course, who are trying to keep the e-book prices somewhat on a par with print book prices, but one wonders how long that will work.

      And how about those e-books you see around the web selling for $27, $47 or $97? Completely different idea of what a book is, just selling pure information. Heck, I’ve bought a few of those myself.

      Going to be a while before this all shakes out, I suspect. Thanks for your thoughts, Levi.

  3. Scath

    I’ve purchased a lot of paperbacks at our local Dollar General. Major publishers, and every one of them was $1.

    Hardbacks are usually $5 there. The selection’s usually not fantastic, but I seldom leave with less than 5 paperbacks I want to read.

    I always wondered how they made a profit on those.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Scath, I wonder if those are remainders, books the publisher no longer wants.

      • Scath

        You may be right. I never considered that.

    • Julia

      I very seldom find books I’d want to read in the dollar section, and I probably buy a hundred books a year, plus check another hundred out of the library, so I don’t think I’m THAT picky. Often the extra cheap books are either religious-themed, so perhaps profit isn’t the motive, or they just are not very good, i.e., the remainders that couldn’t be sold.

      • Scath

        I’ve found scifi, paranormal, thrillers, and horror, as well as fantasy. It’s sometimes by authors I’ve read before, but mostly introduces me to ones I haven’t.

        Can be pretty hit or miss in being ‘good’ (as in, to my preference) but then, that’s on me for not taking a little more time to browse them before buying. :)



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