Here’s a story.
A friend of mine happened to be browsing online when the news of JK Rowling’s pseudonymously published crime novel hit Twitter. Being in kind of a prime position to take advantage of this, he and a couple of friends bought the final copies of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. The books probably cost them somewhere between £12 – £16.
Then they put them on E-bay.
I don’t know the exact amounts each person got for their books, one I think was around £200, another, sightly higher. And my friend? Well my friend managed to get a lot more than that for his copy. An astonishing amount to be fair. Let’s not forget, these guys only paid £16 at the most for their copies, and suddenly they’re worth over ten times that much.
On Saturday I went into two different stores from the same chain to find two different prices for the new Margaret Atwood book. Apparently if you were so inclined, you could walk ten minutes down the road and get it for £2 cheaper.
Which got me thinking, how much is a book worth?
It used to be fairly straightforward. A book would be for sale in any of your wonderful bookshops. The price would be clear on the back, or the inside cover and sometimes you’d get an offer, a three for two or something. You’d pay what, £7.99 for a new paperback? Maybe a couple of quid for a used copy from a charity shop. Sure, old first editions would go for a bit, but that’s just the nature of collectors. And yes, I know I’m massively oversimplifying this, and I’m sure it was never like that at all anyway but bear with me here.
Then came Amazon. Then came the supermarkets. Then came competitive business mindedness.
Nowadays, your average paperback can sell in a supermarket for £3.99, even on the day of release. Hardbacks, £7.99. It’s a scary world, because those books will be shifted, and why? Because of the price. Because of impulse. Because they are there and they are cheap. And so the publisher will churn out more, and the supermarket will stock their shelves high with Dan Browns and John Grishams and Stephanie Meyers and all of them.
Of course, this is a) a different article altogether about commercial books and the danger of cheap selling of mainstream titles further straining the chances of emerging authors getting a chance and b) easily solvable by buying from somewhere else.
Lets look at a proper real life example of how ridiculous this all is.
Gone Girl seems to be doing pretty well, Gillian Flynn has apparently written a pretty damn good book there, although I’ve yet to read it.
On Amazon, you can buy the paperback for £3.85 or the Kindle edition £2.99 direct from the business. That’s pretty close to the supermarket prices, right? Well, look at the used copies. The cheapest I found was £3.00, and the most expensive? £29.99. £30 for the same version of the book you can buy for just £3.
When I put the question out online, I got some really interesting responses.
— LJSpillane (@LJSpillane) August 27, 2013
@DanCarpenter85 depends on the book – don’t tend to buy HBs over £10 but 7.99 is comfortable for pb – 8.99 is ouch and 9.99 is forget it.
— Gav Reads (@gavreads) August 26, 2013
@DanCarpenter85 depends on the book… I'd pay as much as I had for some and nothing for others (most others)
— J Courtenay Grimwood (@JonCG_novelist) August 26, 2013
So how do we judge a the value of a book? Obviously first editions have and always will be a valuable commodity, something that is worth something simply by being the first. That’s neither here nor there really, what intrigues me is how people value your garden variety paperback.
So, I’m putting the question out to you. What is a book worth?
Pop your comments below!