Book prices are likely to rise, say publishers – who are acting to avoid steep increases for readers.
Some presses are exploring printing on cheaper, thinner paper, postponing reprints of older books and releasing fewer titles to cut costs and avoid raising recommended retail prices.
But rising paper and energy costs and the effects of Brexit mean that price rises are likely in the long term, if not the short to medium term, “if the current high costs of production and distribution stabilize in the current levels,” Juliet said. Mabey, co-founder of independent publishing house Oneworld
Valerie Brandes, founder and publisher of Jacaranda Books Arts Music, said consumer book prices are likely to increase “in all formats” by 10-20%.
Independent publishers typically order smaller print runs than larger companies and therefore cannot access economies of scale. And as overall production costs have increased, printers’ quotes for new or reprinted hardcover books, “which would have been affordable a year ago, are no longer profitable,” according to Mabey.
In the UK, the collapse of the Net Book Agreement in the 1990s meant that there were no longer fixed prices for titles – unlike countries like France and Germany – which meant that books in the UK may be subject to discounts, some of which are substantial. The high cost of materials and production, combined with retailers’ ability to discount, means book margins are low for many publishers.
Julia Marshall, production manager at Simon & Schuster UK, said there were “concerns about the affordability of the books – particularly in the current environment”.
“Books remain a very affordable form of entertainment compared to other leisure activities, but the current pressures on disposable income are extraordinary,” she continued. “There is a delicate balance to be struck on price in this regard, as our primary focus will always be to ensure that we are able to get our authors’ works into as many hands as possible.”
Aimée Felone, chief executive of children’s publisher Knights Of, said she believed consumers “would face increased book prices to keep publishers’ margins profitable”. But she warned that with the cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affecting communities of color, there were “ethical considerations to take into account when raising book prices”.
“If we continue to raise the prices of our books, we will end up ostracizing communities that are already on the periphery of the market,” she added. To try to keep costs down, Felone said Knights Of tries to lock in printing schedules as far in advance as possible, take advantage of better prices, and order higher print runs to drive down the price per copy.
In addition to being affected by the cost of paper, other raw materials, energy and transportation costs, many publishers routinely use special finishes on books, from gold foil for lettering to colored edges and patterned flyleaves.
Marshall said raising book prices was “only part of the solution” and that it was essential for publishers to review their printing strategies, be more flexible on material choices and to reduce coverage embellishments as “other ways to offset increases”.
Special elements would still be used to highlight key titles, Felone and Mabey said. Felone said that as a “publisher committed to elevating underrepresented voices, we know that to give our authors the best chance in an oversaturated market, we need to publish them competitively, which means finishes are almost a necessity”. But where costs could be reduced without deteriorating the reader’s experience, they would be, she added.