For newly published books, the hardback usually comes first. Then it is an excruciating wait for the cheaper paperback that will not bust the bank. As someone who is obsessed with making my bookshelf look aesthetically pleasing, I hate combining paperbacks and hardbacks in a series – they must look uniform. So, I will usually wait patiently for the paperback. Worse is when the cover is redesigned mid-series, but that is a rant for another day. Sounds rather sad, I know. However, I don’t have the money to fund my book addiction if I were to buy hardbacks, so second-hand bookshops are, or were (thanks Ferguson and Boris), my lifeline.
It is logical that hardbacks cost more. Mass market hardback books come out first and the higher price helps make more money off sales. Authors must make profit somehow in a sector notoriously difficult to become a big seller. We are willing to pay more for hardbacks for various reasons. We have individually attached subjective value to hardbacks greater than paperbacks. As more people hold this view, the value becomes a collective value, a shared psychological conception on the worth of a hardback versus a paperback. We may value the sturdiness, we may value how at the start it is newer and later it is older, maybe even a first edition.
There is also the matter of time-preference; do you mind paying more to read it new or are you willing to wait up to a year for the cheaper paperback?
Marketing is key to influencing the prices we deem permissible for a book. Hardbacks may have fancier covers, be longer lasting and have a dust jacket to protect it. There is also the matter of time-preference; do you mind paying more to read it new or are you willing to wait up to a year for the cheaper paperback? The pricing of books is a rather niche window into the interesting world of the economics of pricing.
This goes for academic texts too. Both paperbacks and hardbacks are more expensive than books for the general public due to extremely limited demand, the time-preference of needing the newest scholarship for university libraries, and all compounded by the monopolistic cartel-like behaviour of publishers. A significant problem, especially, as I previously explored, for academic eBooks. Due to basic economics along with publishers’ behaviour, we have resigned ourselves to the idea that academic texts will cost you your first-born son and your left leg.
Older books are also just better than new ones, both in content and in their hidden secrets, so I find browsing second-hand bookshops much more rewarding
Even when the paperback is out, the hardback costs more if still in print. We place greater value on the binding as we do for our time-preference. Hence special bindings and editions cost so much, and people are prepared to pay. Take the Folio Society, for example, where on their website books range from £30 to over £300 – I only have second-hand versions. Some books on their website are leatherbound and hand-bound, all are unmistakably beautiful collector’s items. Their scarcity and ornateness drive their price. The extras such as lovely new colour images, new introductions and updates from authors or editors, and of course the lovely new covers and bindings, all make for gorgeous books to own and display. I could never pay the full price since I am sadly not made of money.
Books in general tend to be cheap these days. If you go to Satan’s website – sorry, I mean Jeff Bezos’ Amazon – you can find new books for incredibly cheap, ranging from a couple of pounds up to maybe £20. The monopoly on book discovery and selling allows Amazon to force prices to be what they like. In the age of buying eBooks for a pittance, many people have switched as it is easier to be ensnared by Amazon’s Kindle market with books for 99p or nothing. Authors would obviously love to see higher prices for a more comfortable living, but they must perform a balancing act, otherwise people would find them too expensive and not buy. This is made even harder by Amazon’s hardball pricing and licensing.
When I visit shops like Waterstones or Blackwells (anyone else remember the days when we were not banned from bookshops and a fulfilling life?), I may buy nothing or just the single book. It is a treat, as buying full price books from there, ranging upwards of £20, is unsustainable. Older books are also just better than new ones, both in content and in their hidden secrets, so I find browsing second-hand bookshops much more rewarding. It is also an oddity of Amazon Marketplace that used hardbacks are often cheaper than used paperbacks.
For students, I recommend using library access to places like Cambridge University Press to pick up any books that take your fancy. Get yourself a PDF merger and your finds, whilst not the same as physical books, may go some way to that £9,250pa fee.