The true cost of books

Readers have always complained about the cost of books. For many, it is one of the top reasons why they do not read for pleasure. An article in The Punch newspaper last year went so far as to blame Nigeria's poor reading culture on the high cost of books.

Writer Ahmed Maiwada noted:

“The average book one can get is about N1, 000 and above and it is a lot of money by any standard thereby denying a student who doesn’t earn any income the access to read,” said Maiwada. “You cannot achieve a readership public when the reading public is interested in reading and the books are not available.”

The complaint is not a new one. Readers in the West have similar laments about the costs of e-books.

 Narasu Rebbapragada, of PCWorld writes:

An e-book that costs the same as a printed book doesn’t feel right. No trees died to make it. No heavy machinery ran to print it. No planes flew to ship it...So why should you have to spend as much as you would for a heavy hardcover book to own it?

However, publishers have long understood that the cost of a book encompasses far more than what it takes to print or ship.

Before a manuscript is even chosen for publication, the publisher has to spend a great deal of man-hours going through a huge amount solicited and unsolicited manuscripts. Then there are staff costs to executives after a book has been selected and a deal is being negotiated. Sometimes there are lawyer costs for signing agreements and securing copyright on books.

Often publishers have to pay an author an advance on potential royalties the book might generate. This is money the publisher may never get back as the majority of books published never generate enough to cover their author’s advances.

Whether they are print or e-books, publishers have to spend time and money refining, editing, and proofing a manuscript to turn it into a book. A cover also has to be designed and the text has to be typeset - all of which have to be paid for. Once the book is finished, publishers now have to market it. They have to factor in costs such as galley copies for reviewers, marketing and sales staff costs, author book tours, and designing catalogues, ads and flyers (even if they are only electronic).

Also, publishers still have to pay retailers, even electronic retailers such as Amazon, a cut of their sales. For print books, this can be as high as 60%. Also, books need to be stored – and warehouses cost money. Finally, there are routine business costs such as rent, taxes, electricity, phone, internet, fuel etc.

With such figures in mind, perhaps it is a wonder books don’t cost much more. Yet the cost of a book should not be a deterrent to reading it. After all, most people spend far more money on clothing and accessories, items whose pleasures - and benefits - are far more fleeting than those of a good book.


  • People spend money on what they value, and if they value books, they will invest in them like you rightly pointed out. But some people genuinely lack funds to purchase books (but still want to read), and that’s where public libraries and similar ventures come in. At the very core, a reading culture needs to be cultivated and encouraged. That should eventually drive up the demand for books.

    Posted by The Relentless Builder on June 20, 2011

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