Booksellers fight inflation while books remain a bargain for readers

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Booksellers fight inflation while books remain a bargain for readers

Jul 15 2022

In today's Washington Post Book Club, Ron Charles makes an important point about what a bargain books are: The price of a book in 2022 is only about twice what it was in 1981 which is less than half the rate of inflation. He goes on to highlight the immense pressure publishers and booksellers are under at the moment having to absorb the ever increasing costs of production because book pricing doesn't allow production costs to be passed on to the consumer in the way that they can be with other products.

"If inflation has left book-buyers relatively unscathed, it’s been much harder on publishers and bookstores. Maria Pallante, the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, tells me, 'Publishing houses are absorbing daunting cost increases from every direction, including paper, printing, shipping and transportation.' "

"Pallante points out that publishers can’t easily adjust prices the way a shoe manufacturer might. 'The list price is the basis of how many contracts and receipts are calculated,' she says, 'so the publishers tend to weigh the timing of any necessary adjustments with great care, great consideration for how those changes would affect their industry partners.' "

"What’s more, we’re talking about works of art or scholarship that have, in many cases, taken years to create. 'Publishers hold books in trust for their authors,' Pallante says, 'and the list price is a key part of giving any particular book its best shot to be successful.' A price increase could adversely affect the sales of 'a book that’s already in production or already in a warehouse.'

"Booksellers find themselves similarly constrained. Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics and Prose here in Washington, tells me, 'Inflation leaves us caught in the middle and really squeezes us. That’s because as our costs go up, our book prices tend to increase more slowly and aren’t even controlled by us. They’re set by publishers. It’s a tough position to be in.' "

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