Book prices are a funny thing, except to your wallet. Alcoholics may suffer from cirrhosis of the liver; bibliophiles’ wallets and pocketbooks may suffer from cirrhosis of book purchases.
Where do pricing decisions come from? My first book, 98 pages of poetry, goes for $15.95 retail, which is publish-speak for $16, thank you (consider gas prices at $181.9 cents a gallon… where does the 9/10ths of a penny come from?). And my second book, 105 pages of poetry, logs in at a straight-up $17.
High? Probably. But anyone who’s browsed the poetry section in a bookstore (two shelves, hidden in a corner near the water cooler and the rest rooms) knows that poetry books run high. Why that is, I cannot say. Don’t poetry sales have enough going against them? (Rhetorical question)
But I come not to wonder about retail prices on books that earn royalties (a petty day’s pay for authors), I come to wonder about scurrilous pricing by third parties bent on cashing in—not only on book buyers, but on authors, too.
As Exhibit A, I give you this website offering my book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, for a mere $119.86.
That’s right. You can buy a new book from Amazon for $17, but this site provides a better deal—a mark-up of some $103. Who would spend such a sum? God knows, but it apparently happens, else this practice would not be so widespread. Right?
The psychology could be that some people, without looking, think a book is rare or out-of-print. Or maybe they think it’s a special copy. Or maybe they buy from the first website they find in a Duck-Duck-Go (who uses Google anymore?) search. Or maybe they are confused. Rich and confused, a combination beloved by swindlers.
Whatever the reason, if anyone buys my book at that price, I will get a royalty payment of nothing, nada, zilch, while the mysterious seller will take home over $100 for my work (and yes, writing is work).
Is this stealing? In my dictionary it is. But others might use the euphemisms “capitalism” or the “free (haha) market,” maybe, or the “American way,” perhaps.
This practice is most visible on Amazon itself, where every book is available both new and used from “other sellers,” who tack on $3.99 (translation: $4) shipping. If you scroll down Amazon’s listings here you will see that my book, for example, runs as high as $49.06 (bargain hunters take note!).
Heck, my wares can even be had at Everyman’s favorite store, Walmart! At a $1.80 mark-up, yet. And hurry! As Wally (Mart) kindly warns you on the site, there are “ONLY 5 LEFT!” (Not to worry, I have more than 5 available, not only at a better price but signed.)
Explorations on the web will even turn up sellers both exotic (South Africa!) and far-flung (Europa!). Yep. This book is, as they say, IN DEMAND. In some cases, I may see a pittance royalty (more aptly called “pauperty”), and in other cases, I will see nothing but the back of the Artful Dodger making off with both the cost of the book and the mark-up.
But such are the prices of authorship and fame. It’s the law of supply and demand, I tell you. The fewer copies of a poetry book there are and the higher the demand, the more the price will go up. And up. And up.
And if you think no fool will purchase a book at that price and at that cost to the author, think again. Donald Trump is the President* of the United States. Think of purchases as votes. Think of asterisks as saying it all.
See what I mean?