Pop goes the book bubble

In NY Daily News, Alexander Nazaryan — writing about Border’s troubles — makes an this observation:

What happened to real estate is now happening to books: An industry colluded to push an overpriced product on a public whose purse strings were tightening and whose tastes were changing. Demand dropped steadily, but supply kept soaring – only now is it coming down to earth. Nothing reminds me so much of those tracts of foreclosed houses in Florida as stack upon stack of hardcover books, desperate to be bought for $25.99.

If you scan the covers of vintage pulp fiction books, like the little pretties on this page, one of the things you may notice are the prices.

The vast majority are 25 or 35 cents.

What would a 35 cent book cost in today’s dollars? According to this online inflation calculator: $3.09.

When’s the last time you saw a brand new $3.00 paperback in a bookstore?

Some might argue that the reason mass market paperbacks have doubled or tripledĀ  in price is that there’s now an infrastructure that, in aggregate, raises the quality of our books. They’re better vetted, better edited.

But I suspect that if the quality of the writing is better, today, it’s thanks to the vast industry devoted to teaching craft. The writers are better.

What’s really happened is that the publishing industry isn’t set up to keep prices reigned in. That’s never been a priority for it.

And as a result, print books are overpriced.

And with a quarter of a million or so titles published every year in the United States alone, of course the whole thing was ripe for a collapse . . .

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