A stupid question: is it possible . . . .

Hardback novels going at between $25 and $35 per. Expensive, to say the least. So here's the stupid question; is it possible to craft a hardback book for less than $20--and make a profit?

If 'No' what makes'em so expensive? If 'Yes' then why in hell aren't publishers cranking'em out? Surely they see the potential of selling more books if they were cheaper?

Is it really true that outrageous up-front money to major authors contribute to outrageous book prices? Or is it more like the industry is recalcitrant in finding newer, faster, cheaper methods in print production?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on November 11, 2009 at 12:13am
Not sure how that would work, Dan. Presumably, each major house is part of a different corporation.
Comment by James Roberts on November 10, 2009 at 2:07pm
When a film comes out, you spend top bucks to get in line to see it. If you're willing to wait a few weeks, you can see the same film at a buck house for a deep discout. If you want to buy a novel while it's "fresh" you pay a premium. If you're willing to wait, though, it'll show up at a remainder house, for three to seven bucks.
Comment by Naomi Hirahara on November 10, 2009 at 1:15pm
Good question. I also write middle-grade books and my last hardback for that market had a retail price of $16.99 and was 230 pages. So it seems that it's possible to charge less for a hard cover.
Comment by I. J. Parker on November 10, 2009 at 4:54am
I have the feeling I've said all this before: People can get the books for free at libraries. Bookstores order and then return the books within weeks of receipt. The cost of this will affect the author. Bookstores make no attempt to carry all of a series. Readers rarely buy a book out of the middle of a series. The points made above about the competition in the stores with heavily promoted authors who are widely displayed (and by the way, add to that display on the "new releases" table) all influence sales of other authors negatively. Our own publishers handicap us.

As for preorders: My sales are very good many months before the book is released, but that only happens on Amazon. One hopes that Amazon will capture a larger share of the market. And Amazon doesn't work with returns.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on November 10, 2009 at 3:14am
Here's my idea for a change: Instead of printing up hundreds of books and flooding stores, take two thirds of that money and advertise on radio and on the net. Spend the rest on the books. People will buy if they know something of interest is out there.

Advertise in specialty niches. That's where the readers are. Hook them.
Comment by John McFetridge on November 10, 2009 at 3:08am
Yes, people see it B.R., they just don't know any other way to get people to buy books. No one does.

Here's what they do: Print up advance copies and send them out for reviews. Print up a huge number of copies and ship them to bookstores so that if there are good reviews (and, oh happy day, if the book gets mentioned on TV) then when people go into the bookstore it's there and they can buy it.

If someone could come up with another way to sell books, every publisher would be all over it.

Right now online sales make up less than 20% of books sales, but even that 20% is still dominated by a handful of titles - the same ones with the hundreds of copies in the bookstores. That long tail is really, really long.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on November 10, 2009 at 3:02am
You know, with the high cost of a hardback, plus the drop in fiction buyers, plus the distinctly related news that Borders is closing 200 stores in order to survive, you'd think some alarm bells would be going off somewhere. Someone should be concerned and see these different threads are all related.

Guess not.
Comment by Jon Loomis on November 10, 2009 at 2:55am
You know, like mine and Jon's....

I did finally get a "face out" at my local Borders--although I doubt that's true anywhere outside my home town.
Comment by John McFetridge on November 10, 2009 at 2:52am
We're starting to see pre-ordered hardcovers selling for ten bucks. That should tell us that the price of $35.00 has an awful lot to do with print run, shipping and returns.

So far, the best way to sell a book is to fill a bookstore with copies of it - hundreds of copies all over the front of the store. The store doesn't put up a dime for that, the publisher pays for all those copies to be printed, shipped to the stores and even pays for space on those tables when you walk in and for 'end caps' on rows of shelves. All those costs have to be recouped.

What would really help is if people bought fewer of those books and more of the one that you have to walk into the shelves to find by reading the spine.

You know, like mine and Jon's....
Comment by Dana King on November 10, 2009 at 2:22am
You both raise good points. I've often wondered why books with large advance payments aren't more expensive than those with lesser upfront obligations. Why should Stephen King (with built-in readership and enormous advance payment) cost more than, say, Jon Loomis, who is trying to build a readership. The production costs shouldn't vary that much, except for the enormous paper costs King's 1100-pager will require. Seems to be the publishing industry ignores the whole supply and demand cost structure.

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