Friday, August 28, 2009

The price of books

Josh bemoans the high price of books, which prompted me to respond. The comments go back and forth. Jim West picked up the post, prompting both Josh and I to respond.

What can I say? As I pointed out in a comment on Josh's post, there are two basic pricing models in the academic publishing business right now. One is aimed at the library market, with a limited number of sales and a high cost per book. The other model prices the books more moderately and aims to sell more books at a lower income per book. The European publishers have generally opted for the first model. The American publishers have generally (but certainly not all!) opted for the latter model.

The part that is frustrating to me is that Oxford, especially, has opted to use the higher price model, but then gone with print-on-demand technology. The advantage is no inventory. The disadvantage is that the hardcover books all look bad and the binding is not signature bound, but rather perfect bound.

Print-on-demand is a higher cost per piece (about 2-3 times traditional printing), but you don't have to carry a large inventory, thus allowing a publisher to keep older, lower demand books in print. Eisenbrauns uses print-on-demand for older books, but only in paperback.

So, vent away about the price of academic books. I agree with you, which is why Eisenbrauns has chosen to price books more moderately. Maybe, if you cry loud enough, the publishers who have chosen the library model will listen. I hope so.


Brian Small said...

I was told by one book exhibitor at SBL that if they lowered the price of their books so that people could afford to buy them, the number of additional books that they would sell would hardly compensate for the loss of income the higher prices would bring. Therefore, there is really no incentive for these booksellers to lower their prices.

Charles Halton said...

James, I am very glad for Eisenbrauns' pricing decision.

Brian, I think that this is true for some of the European publishers who mainly distribute dissertation or extremely niche books with a handful of people as a potential market. However, maybe books with an extremely low demand should be made available by the authors free of charge electronically. It doesn't seem to me to be reasonable to charge several hundred dollars for a book. Also, these publishing houses tend to have very minimal editing and the books are often full of typos--so what value are they adding?

Brian Small said...

Well, I certainly think their prices are ridiculous. I am just relating what the man told me.

jps said...


Well, all I can say is that Eisenbrauns is still in business :)