How much should a paperback book cost?

I spent two thirds of my weekly food shopping budget on three new novels this week. These novels were all by debut authors and were each priced at £12.99. I should also mention that they were all soft covers, rather than hardback. It makes me wonder if any new author even has the chance of making a success of their book if the retail price is so high.

Bookshop DisplayI’m a book person. I love to read. I would not baulk at paying almost £40 for three hard back books by authors I enjoy reading. What made me question the price on this occasion was that there was no way of knowing if I was getting my money’s worth. These novelists aren’t well known authors with a track record, I have never read anything written by them previously. I have no idea if I will like their style or prose. I was given some inkling, thanks to attending the Fiction Debuts event as part of the Manchester Literature Event (check out the blog post I wrote for MLF on the event), and bought them entirely due to this event.

Would I have bought any of these books had I not met the author (and wanted them to sign the copy)?
The sad answer is, probably not. I might have been interested. I may have been intrigued by the blurb and even read a paragraph or two and liked the writing style. But, it is doubtful that I would have stumbled onto these books in a store and bought them for the price they were being sold for.

Would I have bought them through Amazon, at the discounted price?
Well, considering they cost between £9-10 it’s more likely than had I been in a shop: but I would have already have needed to know about these books to search them out to buy on Amazon. It certainly feels like a more reasonable price.

What about the ebooks then, would I have purchased these?
I’m not an ebook reader – I like the physical book in my hand. But, given that the ebook costs are significantly lower than the soft cover versions, it would be much more likely. What really shocked me was that I could have bought all three ebooks for less than £15.

What this tells me is that it much be extremely competitive to be a new author; something I already knew anyway. However, it also pains me think that, one day, my own novel might make it out there into the world and someone won’t be reading it purely because it was too expensive to buy.

Is £12.99 too much for a brand new product that you have no clue if you will really enjoy, from a writer you have not yet heard of or have read before? What marketing success is it likely to have priced so high, especially for a soft cover. I remember paying £7.99 for paperbacks and was quite happy to do so. But £12.99 seems a little steep – especially considering that people are becoming choosier about what they read because buying books is a luxury that many are struggling to afford.

If all new authors are priced so high I doubt very much I can afford to support many at all. I actually really like trying out debut novels, as I find so much passion and honesty in them. But I can’t continue to discover such talent if I am being priced out of the market, especially as I don’t do ebooks…? Is this going to force me into the ebook market? Are physical books becoming more expensive because they are developing into a rarity? 

I hope not. Books represent the beaten path to my heart; I am content when reading a book; I smile fondly at memories with my books; I adore the weight of those pages in my hand and breathe in the smell of books whilst I read. I will continue to buy books for as long as I can, as much as I can. But one day, possibly very soon, I won’t be able to afford the luxury of indulging new authors in creating their dream (presuming their dream is a physical end product) because I just won’t have the money available to read that book they spent so long writing.


What do you think? Do you find physical books too expensive compared to the ease of one-click bargains available as e-books?  Should debut novels be priced differently to others? Am I being too harsh – is £12.99 for a paper back actually a reasonable price?
Let me know what you think in comments…


12 responses to “How much should a paperback book cost?

  1. I think you might be missing the distinction between trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. AFAIK, all of the books you’re talking about are the former, so £12.99 is not a surprising price point. But if their publishers stand behind those books, they will eventually be published in B-format or whatever. And those editions will probably be priced at around £7.99 or £8.99 as normal for a mass market paperback.

    Debut literary novels need to be first published in quality editions, because the mainstream press don’t review novels that go straight to mass-market. (In the same way that they don’t review movies that go straight to DVD.) And quality editions are just more expensive.

    • That’s interesting. As a consumer I definitely wouldn’t make that distinction. I’d be curious to see the difference between the trade versions and B-format books.

      Thanks for pointing this out – I feel more informed and can understand the pricing a little better now.

      Book markets appear to be very complex – what with all the potential people involved (author, artist, editor, publisher, retailer etc.). I wrote this post from my very limited point of view hoping that it would lead to some further explanation and distinction, just as you’ve provided.

      Appreciate you stopping by and commenting.
      Cat x 🙂

  2. I purchase both ebooks and paperbacks. I go electronic when it’s an author I don’t know (for the financial reasons you state above), paperback when it’s an author I know or a proven best seller. I have a hard time imagining a world without physical books. If they will eventually become obsolete, I think it will be more than a few generations before it happens.

    • I feel reassured that you don’t believe books will be obsolete too soon. I could not honestly imagine a world without bookstores!
      I think in future I might go with your tactic of buying ebooks for new authors. Then, if I enjoy the book I could always invest in the physical copy; that way I support the author twice!
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
      Enjoy the weekend, Cat x

  3. It depends on the book. If its from an author I love (and know I can trust), I have no problem plopping down $10 to $15 dollars for a book. However, I won’t drop that amount of money for an author I don’t know. I’ll only take a gamble on unknown authors at a used book store. 🙂

    • It’s funny, I tend to be the opposite – going second hand with books I’ve heard good reviews about or authors I recognise.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Take care, Cat x

  4. That’s quite a lot for paperbacks. I’m not a fan of hardbacks for their size and price and often wait for the paperback but that seems to be changing now that soft covers are now becoming more than $10 (in the US). I want to support the author but it’s becoming quite hard, especially since I have so many books and continue to grow my library.

    • It is becoming more difficult to build up a library. Not only are books more expensive but local bookstores have closed and libraries are struggling for funds too.
      Thanks for commenting. I think of lot of general book buyers might not even consider that they are supporting the author directly when making purchases too.

      • I must confess that I even I sometimes forget about the author’s payment. Because of my small budget, I generally stop at used bookstores, etc. for secondhand books because at this point it’s all I can afford.

  5. Now that I know the author only gets 10% minus their agent’s fee, I’m more likely to pay the higher amount. However, I’d say my limit is £10 for a paperback. I also resent any e-book over £5 because a second-hand physical version’s cheaper than that.

    • That’s exactly why I wanted to buy the books at the higher price – to support the authors whom I had met. Although, it’s more likely lining the pockets of the big name bookstore I purchased them from!
      Would you pay over £5 for a brand new eBook that you couldn’t get second hand through? And presumably if you buy second hand books the author doesn’t benefit at all…
      It’s a minefield of morality and integrity, isn’t it!

      • If it’s only available as an eBook, I wait for the sale. Or wait until it’s in paperback – if that’s under £10, they get my money.
        I know, that’s true – but I do tend to buy them from local bookshops, so…. it’s a win/lose kind of thing.

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