I've gotten a lot of reaction to my posts about the clueless way literary novels are priced
. I've tried to establish that our industry's practice of selling only expensive premium editions for a novel's first year is dysfunctional and self-defeating beyond any reasonable explanation, and at least half of the people who've responded to my posts have told me my argument is flawed. As far as I can see, though, my conclusions remain intact.
But why argue theories and generalizations? Let's take a stroll through our neighborhood bookstore and see what our industry's book pricing practice looks and feels like to "the boots on the ground".The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon: $26.95
This is a quirky novel by a writer who appeals notably to a hip young audience
. Assuming these hip young potential book buyers are accustomed to downloading songs for a dollar each, they'd have to expect this book to be worth twenty-seven good songs in order to take a risk on it. Way to grab those impulse buyers, HarperCollins!New England White by Stephen L. Carter: $26.95
This is a smart literary novel that explores issues of class and African-American identity in a campus setting. The book got moderately good reviews in many newspapers, but the author is not a household name and the book will be a marginal buy for most potential readers. At $26.95, this ought to fly off the shelves!
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers: $25.00
I considered this ecological-psychological novel
a masterpiece. Nearly a year after its original publication, this wise and thought-provoking book is still out of the price range of anybody who isn't accustomed to tossing twenty-five dollars around on a book. That is, it's still out of the price range of most normal people. Can this really be how Richard Powers wishes his book to be made available to readers?
Friends, I know I tend to get hot under the collar when I talk about "my pet peeve". And if I come off like a know-it-all, I promise this is not my intention. I have never worked in the book publishing industry, and am only speaking from the point of view of a consumer.
However, I have worked in the media/technology industry for the last 12 years, and as Lynyrd Skynyrd says, "I know a little". It seems pretty clear to me that our fiction publishing industry is stuck in the past, and I truly do not understand why our supposedly innovative and progressive book executives can't find ways to dispose of an offensive and elitist publishing tradition that dates back to medieval times.
Because I'd like to understand the topic better, though, I'm planning a more organized discussion which will take place on this site next month. I'm hoping to get input from a variety of critics, bloggers, writers and publishers. Why let the Presidential candidates have all the debate fun? I don't know what the last word on book pricing is, but maybe we can figure it out together. Stay tuned.