Book-onomics

This is not a rant about how authors are artists and should be paid for their work. This is a post about the bargain that is a book, a physical book, pages bound together inside a cover.

New hardcover books are about $35.00 or so here in Canada. New pocket paperbacks are about $12.00 and new trade-sized paperbacks around $20.00. I realize that some books are slightly more, some could be less, but if you went into a bricks-and-mortar shop and found these prices here in Toronto, you would not be surprised. If you ventured forth and bought, say, a new book in hardcover by an author you’d read before, and that book was around 400 pages, how long might it take you to read it? If you are a page-a-minute person, it would take you 400 minutes, which is 6 hours and 40 minutes. Many people actually read at a slower rate than that, why don’t we say around 10 hours. That is entertainment for $3.50 an hour. That’s a pretty good rate. The ten hours it takes to read the book are probably spread over about a week and interspersed with other activities. You can read on transit, while waiting for an appointment, after dinner in the evening, before work in the morning, any time you like, you can read. It is entertainment on demand.

Lots of people complain about the price of books. I’ve not heard as many people complain about the price of movies. Maybe this is just because I work in a bookshop and not a movie theatre. But think about it. If I go to a movie, it costs about the same as a paperback novel, and I get an hour and a half of story that I can’t experience again. If I buy a paperback novel, I get 10 hours of reading and a story that I can experience again and again if I want. Same price. People complain about the books.

I think books are a good deal, even at full price. Why don’t more people buy into this?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Book-onomics

  1. Books are actually slightly less expensive in the US than in Canada (at least that’s what I can tell from the prices labeled on the covers). But regardless of all that. I consider them to be a necessary resource. It’s wonderful to be able to buy a book and be able to read it over and over again. You can do this with movies, to be sure. But you only get, what, an hour an a half of straight entertainment? With books you can set it down, pick it up again whenever you want, and carry around it. You don’t have to go to a theater and pay $10 for a ticket plus another $8 for snacks and drinks. Just to sit in a room with a ton of other people who like to talk, sneeze, make out, etc. You can eat whatever you want. Sit with people or alone. Inside or outside. In short, i absolutely agree with you and wish more people did.

  2. Christine

    I don’t see full-price hardcovers as a good deal & I never buy them. Part of the reason is probably that I read significantly faster than a page a minute — I finish most novels in 2-3 hours — so by your formula, my entertainment rate is a lot higher than $3.50.

    But mostly I think hardcovers are annoying. They’re big, they come with stupid dust jackets, they’re heavy; I don’t want to be schlepping those around. If a book is worth reading at $35, it’s going to be even more worth reading at $12 if I’m willing to wait a few months. Why pay an extra $20 for hard sides?

  3. Rachel

    Just found your nifty blog. I’m looking forward to perusing more…

    On Book-onomics: I’m a big book lover, but being short on space and money, I’ve gotten increasingly dependent on my public and school libraries. What joy! The advantages so far outweigh the disadvantages that I suspect I’ll put my money elsewhere than on books once I’m back into the workforce after school.

    That said, some books I just have to keep on hand, and will buy new copies when my current ones wear out, e.g., Persuasion, the Aubrey/Maturin series, The Lord of the RIngs, collected Gerard Manley Hopkins (that one is due for a new copy!), Dorothy L. Sayers’ mysteries, the James Herriot vet books…

  4. Christine

    Further to the above, I actually did the math:

    Most novels have about 400 words per page (so the internet tells me). I read at 935 wpm, which is 2.34 ppm. That means a 400-page novel would take me 170 minutes, or just under three hours (2.85). And that, in turn, puts my dollars-per-hour entertainment at $12.28 for a hardcover, $7.02 for a trade paperback, and $4.21 for a pocket paperback.

    Yes, I read freakishly fast — and means that a hardback costs me almost four times as much per hour than for people who read at a slow-to-average rate. It’s just not worth it.

    (The real entertainment bargain, of course, is our $8/mo. netflix subscription.)

    • Of course the numbers change if you are a freakishly fast reader. But surely even freakishly fast readers want to re-read some books? Also, i agree about the size/weight issue of hardcovers. The reason I buy paperbacks is price as well as convenience of size.

  5. I think that sometimes the complaint about pricing may be rooted in the fact that cheaply made, easily mass-produced books are being sold for more than they are worth. In other words, as production prices go down, prices aren’t really going down much.

    • And that is where my rant about needing to pay the author not just for the physical product comes in. But I’ll refrain from saying more. I think the problem comes with a devaluation of what is in a book more than the devaluation of the physical product. People are perfectly willing to plonk down top cash for cheaply made electronics. It is the perception of value vs the actual value.

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