Books are cheaper now, get over it…

by Marian Schembari on November 1, 2009


The book price war is a good thing. And I’m almost as bored of people talking about this as I am about the economy killing publishing. My usual response to such boredom: “get over it”.

I’m sorry, but I’m a 22-year-old college grad with a completely useless degree (gender studies), living in Manhattan, with the worst public library system EVER. And I work with books. Remind me again why I should cry about Wal-Mart and Amazon (among others, apparently) duking it out so I can pay less for a good read?people put the weirdest shit on flickr

For those of you living under a rock, essentially these two superstores keep lowering their book prices, and they tend to hover around $10 a pop for a recent bestseller. Publishers, bookstores, agents and authors are having a grand ole time whining about the loss of their livelihood and the death of the book. Now, as mentioned in an earlier post, this brand of negativity makes me sleepy.

I understand publishing is a business. And I’m the first person to jump up and defend that it’s the most important one. I also know that somewhere an angel loses it’s wings every time some indy bookstore closes for good. But come on people! Remember what publishing is about?!?! Books! Learning! End. Of. Story.

If Wal-Mart wants to hemorrhage money to prove they’re the biggest and the baddest, than that’s their problem. And if more people are reading and buying books in the process? That’s wonderful! I, for one, plan on taking serious advantage of this lucky turn of events while I can.

Example: I just recently moved from Greenwich, CT to Manhattan. The Greenwich Library is one of my favorite places on Earth. Not only is it a great space, but I got Dan Brown’s new book 2 days after it came out. They are well stocked, easy, accessible, and beautiful. New York, on the other hand, is gross, dingy, horribly stocked and slow. Sorry, guys. More on that later I guess. Anyway, there are a ton of books I want to read, but the library doesn’t stock them or I’m the 1,000th hold of 1,000 holds (this doesn’t change ever, mind you). But I can’t NOT read. But I can’t afford to buy books all the time either, especially new ones. This point is exaggerated even more so when they suck. In comes Amazon to save the day! Say what you will, but if I could have bought Dan’s novel for $10 the day it came out, I would have been all over that.

I love independent bookstores, and if I’m in a rush, or can’t find a book for less money, I will support them all the way. But I’m cheap and literary. And apparently, these two cannot coexist.

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  • http://twitter.com/marianschembari/status/5353006563 Marian Schembari

    Books are cheaper now, get over it… http://is.gd/4KBVx

  • http://www.domesticsluttery.com/ Sian

    I like that books are cheap. I bought five penguin classics for £7 the other day and I’m thoroughly enjoying reading Turn of the Screw.

    But, some of my friends are published authors. And when the huge companies like Amazon slash their prices, the author doesn’t get any royalties. There’s just not enough money to go around. And I think that’s an issue. If authors stop getting royalties, the face of publishing will change – and not necessarily in a good way. It’s a business for writers too – imagine if things got so bad that writer stopped writing books. Sure most writers do it for the love of it, but they still have to eat. Independent book shops invest time as well as money into their titles and that’s important. A personal recommendation is always so much better than a random review on Amazon. They’re so important to authors. I’d love to see people supporting the authors more – they’re not all raking in millions and selling film rights like Dan Brown.

  • http://www.domesticsluttery.com Sian

    I like that books are cheap. I bought five penguin classics for £7 the other day and I’m thoroughly enjoying reading Turn of the Screw.

    But, some of my friends are published authors. And when the huge companies like Amazon slash their prices, the author doesn’t get any royalties. There’s just not enough money to go around. And I think that’s an issue. If authors stop getting royalties, the face of publishing will change – and not necessarily in a good way. It’s a business for writers too – imagine if things got so bad that writer stopped writing books. Sure most writers do it for the love of it, but they still have to eat. Independent book shops invest time as well as money into their titles and that’s important. A personal recommendation is always so much better than a random review on Amazon. They’re so important to authors. I’d love to see people supporting the authors more – they’re not all raking in millions and selling film rights like Dan Brown.

  • Guest

    Nothing makes me happier than cheaper books, as an indie bookseller. I like when people can buy more books. I like when I can buy more books. I’m a fierce advocate for books coming out in paperback before hardcover, I love that most of the large publishers are publishing classics with gorgeous covers for reasonable prices, and I’m the first person to call and complain when a book goes up 50 cents or a dollar (which as been happening for many, many books this year when they are re-printed).

    That being said, there is a world of difference between books being cheaper and the price of books being reduced. Obviously I have a certain level of bias. But the fact is, the box stores aren’t making money on these massively reduced bestsellers (and only make pennies on their other heavily reduced books). Which is fine for them, because they’re using them as loss leaders. They’re selling them at a deep discount and (in the case of these ten bestsellers) losing tens of thousands of dollars because they know they’ll make it back on their 200% markup microwaves and 5-pound jars of peanut butter. And I can’t compete with places who sell barely above cost, much less AT cost. They’re also only selling a couple hundred titles at best that they are sure will sell, whereas we’re trying to keep in a diverse and interesting stock, some of which is us giving new authors and new presses a shot.

    (As for the library systems, this is just a drop in the bucket, but part of the reason many branch libraries in NYC suck is for lack of funding. There are many reasons for this, fubared NYC politics being probably the primary, but I’d just like to point out that a big source of funding for public works like libraries are various taxes, many of which my small bookstore and employees do pay, thus contributing to the state and city economies in a very small way, and Amazon does not. I think that they may now collect sales tax, but that was only after being forced to by both the legislature and the courts.)

    Why should this matter to people who care about books? After all, as you suggest, more people reading is a good thing, and capitalism is capitalism.

    Well, I guess it depends on what you read. If you are happy reading new John Grisham novels until the end of time, I guess it doesn’t matter. But if you like new authors and being surprised by books and a healthy publishing industry, it does. Whether we like it or not, it costs more than $10 to make a good book, right now. You’ve gotta pay editors et al. and you’ve gotta pay me (and indie booksellers around the country, and for that matter a number of chain booksellers) a living wage, since I’m the one who actually reads at least a book a day so I can recommend and promote the shit out of the great ones. Even Grisham’s agent has gone on record as saying that when you can buy Grisham for $10, there’s not much of a chance for other authors. And he’s right and that could get boring very quickly.

    This has gotten a bit long—I tend to get defensive when I’m accused of whining about my livelihood. Look, if I don’t have a job in five years because publishing as we know it has collapsed (which I think is unlikely, as an aside, but…) then okay. I’ll be sad, because I think I have the greatest job in the world, and I’ll be angry that one of the reasons it’s gone is because more people cared about the price of books than their quality, but then I’ll go get a new job. If I’m whining, or other booksellers are whining, a piece of it is because we genuinely care about books and how good they are and that the people who write them and make them are somewhat rewarded for it, and that will not happen if the current price wars are taken much further for much longer. Period.

    I’m sympathetic to your financial predicament (as a 24-yo college grad with useless East Asian Studies degree living in Brooklyn and working in a bookstore, the worst-paid job in the book industry). I hope you can be sympathetic, at least a little, to our professional predicament. And, I would argue, our culture’s larger potential literary predicament.

    ps: I invite you to come by WORD so we can talk about this further, if you’d like! I’ll bring donuts. :D

  • http://bookavore.com/ Bookavore

    Nothing makes me happier than cheaper books, as an indie bookseller. I like when people can buy more books. I like when I can buy more books. I’m a fierce advocate for books coming out in paperback before hardcover, I love that most of the large publishers are publishing classics with gorgeous covers for reasonable prices, and I’m the first person to call and complain when a book goes up 50 cents or a dollar (which as been happening for many, many books this year when they are re-printed).

    That being said, there is a world of difference between books being cheaper and the price of books being reduced. Obviously I have a certain level of bias. But the fact is, the box stores aren’t making money on these massively reduced bestsellers (and only make pennies on their other heavily reduced books). Which is fine for them, because they’re using them as loss leaders. They’re selling them at a deep discount and (in the case of these ten bestsellers) losing tens of thousands of dollars because they know they’ll make it back on their 200% markup microwaves and 5-pound jars of peanut butter. And I can’t compete with places who sell barely above cost, much less AT cost. They’re also only selling a couple hundred titles at best that they are sure will sell, whereas we’re trying to keep in a diverse and interesting stock, some of which is us giving new authors and new presses a shot.

    (As for the library systems, this is just a drop in the bucket, but part of the reason many branch libraries in NYC suck is for lack of funding. There are many reasons for this, fubared NYC politics being probably the primary, but I’d just like to point out that a big source of funding for public works like libraries are various taxes, many of which my small bookstore and employees do pay, thus contributing to the state and city economies in a very small way, and Amazon does not. I think that they may now collect sales tax, but that was only after being forced to by both the legislature and the courts.)

    Why should this matter to people who care about books? After all, as you suggest, more people reading is a good thing, and capitalism is capitalism.

    Well, I guess it depends on what you read. If you are happy reading new John Grisham novels until the end of time, I guess it doesn’t matter. But if you like new authors and being surprised by books and a healthy publishing industry, it does. Whether we like it or not, it costs more than $10 to make a good book, right now. You’ve gotta pay editors et al. and you’ve gotta pay me (and indie booksellers around the country, and for that matter a number of chain booksellers) a living wage, since I’m the one who actually reads at least a book a day so I can recommend and promote the shit out of the great ones. Even Grisham’s agent has gone on record as saying that when you can buy Grisham for $10, there’s not much of a chance for other authors. And he’s right and that could get boring very quickly.

    This has gotten a bit long—I tend to get defensive when I’m accused of whining about my livelihood. Look, if I don’t have a job in five years because publishing as we know it has collapsed (which I think is unlikely, as an aside, but…) then okay. I’ll be sad, because I think I have the greatest job in the world, and I’ll be angry that one of the reasons it’s gone is because more people cared about the price of books than their quality, but then I’ll go get a new job. If I’m whining, or other booksellers are whining, a piece of it is because we genuinely care about books and how good they are and that the people who write them and make them are somewhat rewarded for it, and that will not happen if the current price wars are taken much further for much longer. Period.

    I’m sympathetic to your financial predicament (as a 24-yo college grad with useless East Asian Studies degree living in Brooklyn and working in a bookstore, the worst-paid job in the book industry). I hope you can be sympathetic, at least a little, to our professional predicament. And, I would argue, our culture’s larger potential literary predicament.

    ps: I invite you to come by WORD so we can talk about this further, if you’d like! I’ll bring donuts. :D

  • http://Www.loganberrybooks.com/ Harriett

    Variety is the spice of life. If all you care about is the price, then all you will get is cheap books. Remember all the feminist bookstores whining that the chains had stolen their clientele with promises of big, cheap GLBT sections? Guess what, most of those stores did indeed close. Have you looked at the gender studies section at a chain store lately? Mine has one shelf of women’s studies (mostly basic history) and one shelf of lesbian studies (mostly celebrity biography), tucked neatly away in the social science section. That’s it. Is it possible that mega-business just killed your prospect of EVER finding a job that takes gender studies seriosly? Yes, it is. Now they’re tackling the publishing industry. Damn right we’re gonna fight.

  • http://Www.loganberrybooks.com Harriett

    Variety is the spice of life. If all you care about is the price, then all you will get is cheap books. Remember all the feminist bookstores whining that the chains had stolen their clientele with promises of big, cheap GLBT sections? Guess what, most of those stores did indeed close. Have you looked at the gender studies section at a chain store lately? Mine has one shelf of women’s studies (mostly basic history) and one shelf of lesbian studies (mostly celebrity biography), tucked neatly away in the social science section. That’s it. Is it possible that mega-business just killed your prospect of EVER finding a job that takes gender studies seriosly? Yes, it is. Now they’re tackling the publishing industry. Damn right we’re gonna fight.

  • Don Linn

    You don’t have to cry but unless you want to see the destruction of independent booksellers, Barnes & Noble, Borders, indie publishers, mid-list authors, ‘risky’ books and a general decline of literary culture, you should be concerned. “Bet over it” is a glib and self-centered response to a complex and important issue.

  • Don Linn

    You don’t have to cry but unless you want to see the destruction of independent booksellers, Barnes & Noble, Borders, indie publishers, mid-list authors, ‘risky’ books and a general decline of literary culture, you should be concerned. “Bet over it” is a glib and self-centered response to a complex and important issue.

  • http://mbreau.wordpress.com/ Melissa

    @Bookavore if Marianlibrarian doesn’t take you up on those donuts I will… Where is Word located?

    @Marianlibrarian From the other side of the fence, part of the problem right now is that publishers publish a lot of books that don’t work. So successful books are priced to compensate for the books that flop. While I don’t recommend eliminating less successful books (since the “general public” doesn’t always have great taste) therefore eliminating variety, it creates a sort of catch-22.

  • http://mbreau.wordpress.com Melissa

    @Bookavore if Marianlibrarian doesn’t take you up on those donuts I will… Where is Word located?

    @Marianlibrarian From the other side of the fence, part of the problem right now is that publishers publish a lot of books that don’t work. So successful books are priced to compensate for the books that flop. While I don’t recommend eliminating less successful books (since the “general public” doesn’t always have great taste) therefore eliminating variety, it creates a sort of catch-22.

  • http://twitter.com/pmadan/status/5396804626 Praveen Madan

    RT @marianschembari: Books are cheaper now, get over it (hey enjoy them) http://marianlibrarian.com/?p=388

  • http://marianlibrarian.com/ Marian

    Wow, I need to do this more often!

    While I admit to being obnoxious about this just for the sake of being obnoxious, my opinion still holds. In response to Sian, Dan Brown is a bad example. I am SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to buy a book I’ve heard nothing about but looks yummy if it’s not $25.00. Otherwise I’ll get it from the library. And who knows how this will all pan out, it’s still new. Maybe more people will end up buying more books because of this. Will the pennies add up? Probably not.

    Bookavore, thank you thank you thank you for your wonderful response. Not only do I appreciate the feedback, but you’re 100% right. I will never argue that this sucks, the problem is that I’m effing bored of hearing about it. Seriously. Amazon is not going to feel bad and slash their prices. It is unfortunately up to us to fix this problem. And I can’t pretend to have the answers. What I am prepared for is the fact that things cannot (and will not, no matter how hard some people try) stay the same. So yeah, instead of “whining”, do something. It’s like all the other changes that happen in our world we can’t control. We could whine all day about Katrina or the recession or global warming – let’s do EVERYTHING in our power to change things, but complaining that it happened does no one any good. Like I mentioned before, negativity really irks me.

    My “get over it” attitude is in response to many publishers/booksellers/whatever doing nothing in response!

    As for libraries, whilst I complain, the predicament makes me sad. Library funding is one of those things I will never argue about.

  • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian

    Wow, I need to do this more often!

    While I admit to being obnoxious about this just for the sake of being obnoxious, my opinion still holds. In response to Sian, Dan Brown is a bad example. I am SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to buy a book I’ve heard nothing about but looks yummy if it’s not $25.00. Otherwise I’ll get it from the library. And who knows how this will all pan out, it’s still new. Maybe more people will end up buying more books because of this. Will the pennies add up? Probably not.

    Bookavore, thank you thank you thank you for your wonderful response. Not only do I appreciate the feedback, but you’re 100% right. I will never argue that this sucks, the problem is that I’m effing bored of hearing about it. Seriously. Amazon is not going to feel bad and slash their prices. It is unfortunately up to us to fix this problem. And I can’t pretend to have the answers. What I am prepared for is the fact that things cannot (and will not, no matter how hard some people try) stay the same. So yeah, instead of “whining”, do something. It’s like all the other changes that happen in our world we can’t control. We could whine all day about Katrina or the recession or global warming – let’s do EVERYTHING in our power to change things, but complaining that it happened does no one any good. Like I mentioned before, negativity really irks me.

    My “get over it” attitude is in response to many publishers/booksellers/whatever doing nothing in response!

    As for libraries, whilst I complain, the predicament makes me sad. Library funding is one of those things I will never argue about.

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