RLovatt,  Thoughts

The Cost of Books

At one point or another, we’ve all heard someone say “Books are too expensive” no matter what the price is. Whether you’re going out to Chapters, Barnes and Nobles, or some other bookstore, you’ll be going out and spending anywhere between $20 and $40 for a hardcover book. If you’re on Amazon buying an e-book, you’ll be spending anywhere between 99c and $20. That cost doesn’t really matter though, because no matter the cost, someone will complain.

But what do books really cost? When you think about it,  hundreds upon hundreds of hours go into the making of a book; from the first idea scrawled onto a napkin, or typed into Microsoft Word, to a reader going out to a store and buying a copy. There’s the dozens (if not hundreds) of hours and late nights that go into just the first-draft, then the many revisions. There’s the time spent with an editor being nit-picky and going through it over and over (not to mention the time sending out queries/waiting for someone to request the entire novel and sign a deal with the author(s)), designing the cover and interior, planning PR and marketing, and finally, promotion for the book. There’s probably stages and a billion details I’m missing, but the point is, it’s a lot of work. For all that work, people need to be paid — and that’s where the cost of books come from (not to mention things like material — paper, ink and all that stuff).

A friend of mine, Jeff Mariotte posted a link on Facebook for one of his books, The Slab. It was being offered for free as an e-book as part of the Kindle Select program, he had a pretty long post about it, and there’s one part of it that really stuck with me. (Besides the part about how awesome a story it is, I can vouch for how great a book it is, go buy it!)

“Giving away mulitple copies of a book that I worked on for a long time, writing and rewriting and revising and polishing, sweating and giving myself finger cramps, is not an easy thing to do. I’m a professional writer, and part of that deal is that the writer should be paid for the work.”

Authors work hard, editors work hard, everyone who plays a part in the publication of a book works hard. When you start the mass-distribution of free books, everyone gets ripped off. Amazon does offer many ebooks for free, and no matter where you go online there are ways to get free books. Demonoid, and other torrent-based sites will get you    thousands of books for free at once. There have always been ways to get books for free — that’s what libraries were made for, for the sharing of books. Readers have been finding ways to do so for years, whether it’s picking up dozens at Goodwill for 49c each, sharing with friends, or leaving them behind in public places. For these, the authors don’t receive any compensation but does that mean that the downloading of books is just the common day equivalent of going to a library?  It’s hard to say, and I don’t think there’s any one answer but the accessibility of free books online has undoubtedly lead to fewer books sales, and quite possibly the closure of book stores such as Borders.

Think of it like movies, let’s be honest — most of us have found a movie that looks interesting to us, but since we’ve been unwilling to spend the $14 for a movie ticket, we just wait for it to be available online. (Though, don’t get me started on the people who will happily buy tickets for a movie, getting two hours of entertainment then complain about the price of books which give you days of entertainment) Even though a lot of people still go out and see the movie, and buy the DVD, it still results in a lower revenue for the movie. The same holds true for books. Books aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.

Authors don’t get a lot for every book that’s sold. It varies, but they’re typically contracted to receive 10% royalties from the sales of their books, 15% of that 10% goes toward their agent. If it’s a hardcover book, and it’s being sold for $25.00, they’re looking at getting $2.13 per book sold (before taxes). Which, still isn’t bad at all if the book hits mass-production and becomes as well known as some titles such as the Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but it’s rare for authors to hit that status. They do receive an advance of their royalties, which is about 50%, which is great and is in the thousands of dollars, though that is typically put towards marketing and promoting their book. Until there have been enough sales to cover the amount of their advance — they don’t see another penny. So, there are a lot of great books out there, a lot of fantastic authors that aren’t getting the recognition or the money they’ve earned. In a lot of those cases, it’s not that no one is interested in their books, but it’s that those authors aren’t that well known, so people are skeptical about spending money on it and turn to online sources (or just stick with best-selling popular authors). Sales, and free books also affect how much the author gets paid, it’s a tricky thing — they receive less for those sales (or nothing at all from the giveaways or other sources of free books), but if done well it can increase their sales and lead to them making more.

We live in an expensive world, and a majority of us are struggling to make a living. Rising costs don’t make it any easier but that doesn’t make theft acceptable. It’s just not a viable excuse. Authors work hard at writing their books, it’s their job and they deserve every penny they can make for it. If you borrow a book from a friend — or if you download it somewhere — if it’s a book you like, do them a favor and support them, buy their book – for yourself, or for a friend. If you can’t afford to do that; write a review. Spend a few minutes back giving back to the people that enrich your life with mystery, wonder, and fantastical adventures. They’ve created worlds for us to enjoy and explore, show your appreciation and buy a book.

Rebecca created The Arched Doorway back in 2011 as an outlet for her thoughts on the books she reads. She spends her time as a freelance editor and reviewer. Her first anthology, Neverland's Library, came out in 2014 from Ragnarok Publications. Rebecca primarily reads historical and epic fantasy novels, such as those by Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Christian Cameron and Terry Brooks. She lives in Toronto, ON with her two snakes and hundreds of books.


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  • Eva (@PhoenixD0th)

    Hey Bec! Great article! :)

    I feel so guilty about this because although I buy books from Kindle, I also download pirated ebooks because a) I want to read books right after they’re published in the US/Canada and b) I want to check out books first before making a purchase. The main issue, especially in other countries like where I live, is access. I envy you for having up-to-date local libraries and bookstores. I would rent and borrow books or buy them if I really like and can afford them but the problem is the local libraries and bookstores don’t usually have the books I want to read. I swear visiting the library or the bookstore is a huge disappointment in this city. I would also have them shipped but the shipping fee is usually more expensive than the book itself, and for an avid reader, doing this will lead to bankruptcy. :s

    So hmmm.. I know piracy is bad and illegal and it affects independent authors/artists the most but when the issue is related to access, I don’t see a potential solution that would have me swearing off on downloading pirated ebooks. I don’t know, let me know what you think.

    • RLovatt

      Thanks Tevs!
      And hm.. To be honest, I felt guilty while writing this article. I am a HUGE hypocrite. If someone was to go through my hard-drive, they’d find thousands of ebooks. I do what you do with them though — I check the books out first before buying them, there’s only a few ebooks I have that I’ve read more than one chapter of, and those were given to me from the authors.
      I tend to read a chapter, then decide whether or not to purchase the book.. Just to get a taste of the author’s writing style.
      I can’t say I had thought of this on an international level, I know books have different release dates in various parts of the world and you definitely have to wait a lot of longer to get books. I’ve had to order some books from Hong Kong before, and yeah.. I imagine the shipping is just about how much you had to pay. Way too much, and having to do that for almost every book.. Well, you’d need to win the lottery a couple times to afford it. :/

      I really don’t know.. I mean, leaving ratings/reviews does always help the author out.. and you buy books when you can, so even if you can’t swear-off downloaded books you could just take the couple minutes to leave a rating of the book somewhere?

      (And you know.. Recommend them to me as well ;D I’m always looking for new books to read).

      There’s also near your birthday/Christmas or any of those holidays. I am quite willing to send you a present or two. :)

  • Michael Eric DeLap

    As someone that wishes to complete a book and get it out there to the reading public, I appreciate this post, Rebecca. I wanted to put my 2 cents in on something that you and Rickard spoke of: the closing of Borders stores. That was unfortunate. I met Brandon Sanderson at the Borders that was in Oak Brook, IL. I am a Barnes & Noble loyalist, but I appreciated that Borders for hosting his “The Way of Kings” singular Illinois tour stop. I even honored Brandon’s request (slightly touching on something Rebecca mentioned in her post) by spending the little money that I had by buying the first “Mistborn” novel, in support of the bookstore. I will never be one of those that downloads books for free that are supposed to be bought and bought legally, be it at a bookstore, resale shop or online. I will always show support for my favorite authors and ALL authors by paying them their dues. I hope, someday, people will buy the book I am trying to write. I am not out to get rich off the book at all. My book is for the betterment of whomever reads it and whomever benefits from those that carry out the books message of Chivalry’s resurrection. Well done, Rebecca!

  • Rickard Wozniak

    Ignore that fact I asked you about USA since you live in Canada, stupid me! :S
    So what I want is your opinion on these explanations as affecting Canada and if you have insight about the US that is welcome as well!

  • Rickard Wozniak

    A second thought came to me from rereading your article.

    You mention the closing of Borders, a chain of bookstores. Well the same thing is happening on a large scale in Sweden although mostly affecting smaller bookstores not linked to the big chains. But sales have been worse and worse through the entire market for books. This is a thing that started to be noticeable some 10 years ago in Sweden. At the same time libraries noticed fewer and fewer people borrowed books from the libraries leading today today to big shutdowns of libaries across the country.

    I suspect the same thing is happening in the USA and I have a few ideas on why this is happening.

    In Sweden we have had a traditional view that books should be accessible to all layers of society from the poor to the rich, hence a wide availability of libraries and government subsidized publishing of books. Books made available at a low price. With the worsening of the economy happening worldwide and in Sweden the poor layers of the swedish population have decided to not buy books at the same level anymore. At the same time the subsidized range of books has all but ceased. That’s one explanation.

    Another is related to reading performance getting lower, with schools struggling to make ends meet economically while at the same time offering the same quality of teaching. The extra help young students could get through schools such a extra help with how to learn reading is basically no longer there, leading to young people to refrain from reading by the fact that they no longer can read as well as the previous generations could. That’s another explanation.

    The third explanation I can come up with is related to big chains of bookstores thinning out the market for what kinds of genres that are available. While small bookstores are shutting down the big ones have taken over. What the big chains have done is limiting the selection of what kinds of books they offer to those that are guaranteed best sellers leading to a much lower variety of books. It has caused a disinterest to read among people who used to read and prefered to buy from physical bookstores. This has lead to the rise of internet bookstores who can get the consumer virtually everything at lower prices. But the lower prices affect how much the authors get back as revenue leading authors to concentrate their writing to a few select genres.

    All of these explanations are intertwined and play a big part in the problem with booksales.
    I think therefore that the piracy is a much smaller problem in the equation if my above explanations hold true.

    So, Rebecca, my question to you. Do you agree on these explanations as part of the problem even in the USA? I would very much appreciate your feedback on this question!

    Again, you’ve written a very insightful and interesting article! :)

    • RLovatt

      Thanks for the comments, Rickard. I always find your comments to be interesting and insightful — So really, thanks for taking the time. :)
      There are definitely a bunch of authors out there who don’t mind readers downloading their books for free, and even encourage it. It is a marketing strategy, and in most cases (like Brandon Sanderson) they can afford to do that. Less known authors who don’t get as many sales as the big-names don’t have the benefit of being well known and having guaranteed thousands of sales for every book release. Your point does hold true, regarding the “if my book was downloaded 5000 times i.e that means I should have had 5000 sales” not everyone of those 5000 people would go out and buy the book. They’d have issues with cost, not being all that interested.. But there are still the few hundred that would buy the book if they couldn’t find it online.

      I can’t say for sure about the closing of Borders.. I’m not saying that it was closed due to book piracy. The closing/bankruptcy has been speculated on in dozens of articles, a majority of them do agree that the rise of ebooks did play a huge role in that. They did make a few marketing mistakes — investing in too many stores, outsourcing to amazon.. There are a lot of contribution factors, ebooks and piracy are just one of many; but they still are a cause.

      As to your explanations being part of the problem here in Canada and the USA.. it’s kind of a yes and no. There’s a bunch of movements to get youths interested in reading, and promoting child literacy. Canada has a fairly high literacy rate, if what I remember from my classes last year said. As for your first explanation/point, there aren’t really a lot of efforts going into making books cheaper. You’ll get the science fiction books for $9.99 in a major book chain, everything else though is $15+. There are always ways to get books for cheaper — second hand stores, Goodwill, and library giveaway bins, but I don’t think those are a contribution factor. In Canada, we only really have on major bookstore chain, and it’s not facing any bankruptcy issues or anything of the sort.

      You have an interesting point, with the big book stores thinning out genres and focusing on specific ones. I have noticed that a bit, though there’s still a lot of selection for most genres that I can find here in Canada. If anything, there’ll just be a few more shelves/tables with the main focus on what’s popular in mainstream YA fiction. Vampire tables, witches or magic-based books, and things of that sort. I haven’t noticed any ‘elimination’ of genres, but there are some that don’t get as much focus as they should/have in the past.

      I don’t really know if any of that answers your questions.. but I hope so.

  • Rickard Wozniak

    I like your article, several good points made. Very well thought out, researched and executed and I like your urge to readers at the end to support the author with for example a review.

    I agree that authors and publishers should get back on all their respective investments and books just have to pay for themselves for us to have a broad number of genres in a thriving book market.

    Though I don’t agree on that a pirated movie or book necessarily means a loss in revenue from that person who instead downloaded.

    Author Tobias Buckell noted in his article Writing on the High Seas that piracy doesn’t necessarily lead to a loss in sales. Read it here: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/01/27/writing-on-the-high-seas/

    What I agree about in that article is Buckell’s negativity towards the idea that if my book was downloaded 5000 times i.e that means I should have had 5000 sales. I don’t agree on that, rather those people would probably never have bought the book anyway for other reasons than the book being too costly. I think generally that a person who downloads a movie wouldn’t be prepared to pay for it in the first place and thus isn’t lost sales.

    Another interesting study is presented here to show what impact free digital downloads had on sales of a number of printed books, among them Mistborn by Sanderson. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=jep;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0013.101

    On the other hand.
    It’s interesting that authors like Paolo Coelho openy urges people to pirate his books because he has noticed that it increases his book sales. Of course he was already a very successful writer with millions of copies sold and maybe it won’t work at the lower end with debut authors that struggle to get any recognition for their work at all and would need promotion from a publisher.

    Brandon Sanderson had success with the printed edition of Warbreaker even if it was available for free on his website and he attributes some of his and the books success on the fact he offered it for free. I even read onb Reddit where he openly said it was okay to pirate his books because he feels it will impact his sales positively. But again he was successful at the time with Wheel of Time fame supporting him.

    If I was a budding author myself, I can’t know what I would feel about people pirating my books. I would probably think it to be okay if it made people buy a printed copy of one of my books or if it spread good word by mouth, but not if it crashed my sales, but then again if my book was bad it would crash anyway I guess.

    Good article, made me think.

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