Book price: do publishers take us for idiots?
Everyone will have noticed: in general, the thicker a book is, the more expensive it is. It’s quite logical, except that the paper does not cost much … so it’s hard to understand how 50 pages of difference cause a price difference of 3 €.
Indeed, if you have already knit with the world of printing, you know that a few tens of pages more generate a few cents more per unit on the cost of printing. Therefore, do publishers take people for hams by playing on the perceived value or is there another economic reason that justifies a price difference of € 2 to € 3 for a few dozen pages?
Despite an incursion into the world of traditional publishing as a book editor (at Studyrama) and now more used to the workings of independent publishing, I turned to a specialist on the subject to enlighten our lantern: Enrick Barbillon, founder from Enrick B. Editions (and the publisher behind my Law Student Chronicle).
All the answers you will find here are to his credit (and you can like the Facebook page of Enrick B. Editions to thank him, I am sure it will please him).
Our expert agrees: it is not the impression of a few dozen pages more that generates the final price difference on a book. On the other hand, beyond this direct effect of increasing volume, there are many indirect effects that are not necessarily thought of at first glance.
THE LENGTH OF THE BOOK INFLUENCES THE PRICE OF THE BOOK
The more pages a book contains, the more expensive it is to create. This is called the composition fee (the composition being the layout of the book in its final format). Indeed, the composition workshops usually charge the number of characters or the number of pages so the longer the book, the more expensive the composition. This is not necessarily huge (the impact on the unit price of the book is in cents) but these costs add up with the others …
For example, if the book is a translation, be aware that the cost of a translation is dependent on the length of the book; it is calculated in sheets (a sheet representing 1500 characters). So the longer the book, the higher the cost of translation … and increases the final unit price by a few cents.
Finally, we would tend to forget, but the costs of proofreading and correction are also calculated (in general) the number of words so the longer the book, the more the correction is expensive.
Of course, these fees apply only to serious publishers like Enrick B. Editions but not to some publishers who let their authors support not only the correction but also the layout! In these publishers, only the next reasons are valid (if we can say).
BOOK WEIGHT INFLUENCES BOOK PRICE
The more pages a book contains, the heavier it is, and the more the cost is doubled. In the first place, this increases the transport costs between the printer and the publisher:
Multiplied by several hundreds or thousands of copies, the grams linked to the additional pages can be counted in kilos (even tens of kilos).
The volume generated by the additional pages also accumulates and generates several more cartons, which may require an additional pallet for transport.
So it’s already a few pennies more that are found on each book, but we must also take into account the cost of transport between the publisher and the customer. Thus, at the beginning (so before receiving a distribution service), Enrick Barbillon prepared and sent orders to customers and bookstores … via La Poste.
However there is a significant price difference depending on the weight, for example between a shipment greater than or less than 250g. Therefore, the weight of the book (depending on its number of pages) becomes an important factor to take into account when calculating the price of the book.
Indeed, do not forget that the edition remains a business (there are invoices and wages to pay) so it would be rather bad that the low margins of the publisher disappear in postal charges …
THE ECONOMIC MODEL INFLUENCES THE PRICE OF THE BOOK
All these things being presented, you will have noticed that they are only centimes which are cumulative with each other. But put end to end, the whole generates a price variation clearly visible between books more or less long … without explaining a difference of several euros!
What is the latter factor X to consider? Of course, there is the psychological factor: a reader is willing to pay more for a bigger book and publishers sometimes take advantage of this psychological effect to inflate the price of the book.
If this can shock you (there is not enough), the boss of Enrick B. Editions explains this very simply by the constraint of the economic model. Indeed, today, less than half of the published books are profitable, with a very important variation according to the domains (literature, human sciences, etc). Each published book is therefore a bet that the publisher makes (which is the main difference between traditional and self-publishing).
And even before the book is in the bookstore, the publisher must advance many costs: advance on copyright, purchase of translation rights if it is a foreign book (and translation costs on if necessary), compo workshop, graphic designer for cover, printing, transport … (when it is a serious publisher).
Thus, the publisher spends an amount that can become important enough to release a quality book and it can sometimes happen months or even years before a book becomes profitable … if one day it becomes!
For example, imagine that a publisher is at equilibrium (that is to say, it comes back in its expenses) by selling 800 copies of a book. The first year, the book sells for 550 copies, the second at 250 … It will be necessary to wait until the second year of operation to recover his bet and he only earns money from the third year (if the book continues to sell).
From these figures, adding between 1 and 2 euros to the final price of the book allows the publisher to limit the risks. And for those who like numbers (which is probably the case if you have read this article to the end), it should also be noted that on 1 euro generated, less than 20% on average (less than 20 cents) come back to the publisher. The rest is divided between the bookseller, the VAT, the broadcaster, the distributor … and the author (do not mess!).