Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Long Tail and price

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)

by George Orwell (Author), Malcolm Bradbury (Introduction) "Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes ..." (more)
4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
Price: £4.97 & Free Delivery with Amazon Prime
You Save: £4.02 (45%)

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In stock.
Dispatched from and sold by Gift-wrap available.

Over the last few years the price of backlist titles has steadily increased. Classic books and interesting re-issues are now regularly priced at 10, 12 sometimes 15 pounds for a standard paperback. Selling a copy of Animal Farm for £8.99 the other day I felt guilty for charging a good customer such a ridculous price for a slim book. Of course it all make sense when you go on the internet and see how much you can buy it online for - £4.97. It becomes starkly obvious then that publishers are artificially inflating cover prices of the back list, the long tail to accommodate the book trades obsession with discounting and the appearance of a bargain. Animal Farm should always be a £4.99 paperback but we can only buy it from the publisher for that much! But also Internet sales suits publishers as they don't have distribution costs and Waterstones returning core stock every 3 months to regulate their cash flow. The publisher-Internet retailer is becoming more and more dominant for back list titles. Of course it is, it makes business sense! And with Tesco and Asda and Smiths taking care of the big 100,000+ best sellers what room for the lowly, browsable independent bookstore. We just can't afford to stock up on our bread and butter back list. Jesus, I wouldn't buy Animal Farm for £8.99...


  1. The other downside of "bargain culture" is that it's removing any sense of what a "fair" price for a book is i.e. roughly what it costs to make and distribute + a resonable mark-up. As the airlines are discovering to their cost, once you destroy any connection between product and price, customers eventually respond with inertia/ exhaustion — and don't spend their money.

  2. Many back titles (excellent condition, secondhand) can be had for $1 plus postage at Abebooks. Or explore ebooks at
    Happy reading!

  3. True, but used books give no income to the author; no royalty.

  4. Amazing how ignorant people are of the actual economics of publishing a book. Short print runs of back list titles cost a damn sight more per unit than big print runs of new titles. So it makes perfect sense to charge more for them than you do for front list.

    It's not rocket science.

  5. AnonymousJuly 27, 2009

    ANIMAL FARM is a massive classic and Penguin is a massive publisher, so the print run will be very high, backlist or not. Unit printing cost will be well under £1, editorial costs should be next to nothing as it's an umpteenth reprint, and royalties that need to be paid will be a percentage of RRP or net receipts, so will go down if the book is priced cheaply. Therefore an £8.99 cover price is excessive. I think Penguin are shooting themselves in the foot if they alienate high street shops, as Amazon will find a way to circumvent them in due course.

  6. I remember my sister telling me that during her time at Harper Junior Books, she learned that just a few high-selling backlist titles were subsidizing most of the new titles (most of the new titles lost money). So, it was "Where The Wild Things Are" and "Charlotte's Web" and "Where The Sidewalk Ends" and "Goodnight Moon" (this was 1985) paying for most of the 110 new titles produced by that children's book publisher, that year. When I asked her why the publisher even bothered to publish new books, if it was LIVING off money from the bestselling classics, she said because they were attempting to publish at least one new longterm bestselling classic per year, to add to their barn of cash cow books.

    These extremely dependable money-earners then have their prices hiked and hiked and hiked over the years, as the company can be sure people will pay for them even when the price is high.

    Now -- this was 1985, and I wonder if the model isn't broken to a certain degree. Animal Farm seems like a book which people would be purchasing new much less dependably than in the past.

    However, at my store, Eric Carle Museum Shop, where I stock about ten different forms of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, many of which see price increases every three years or so -- well, I live off this one, old title (published 1969) and I've heard that the publisher, Penguin, also depends on it for a shocking percentage of company profit. Naturally the company will keep hiking the price if possible -- it's like hiking the price of gasoline at the pump if you have a monopoly.

  7. I think this article was probably a good kick off to a potential series of articles about this topic. So many writers pretend to know what they’re talking about when it comes to this topic and in reality, very few people actually get it. You seem to grasp it though, so I think you ought to take it and run. Thanks!