Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Ben Oakley
Yes, book prices rise with inflation. That is the simple answer, but as always, there’s a lot more to it than that!
Self-published authors, small presses, and even large traditional publishing houses, feel the effect of inflation on their book prices – and sales.
This price attack comes from many quarters.
- Readers cut out entertainment when bills become too high.
- The price of print-on-demand publishing goes up.
- The manufacturing cost of print books rise.
- Royalties become lower for digital books.
When energy, fuel, and food, all rise in price, the entertainment and leisure industry is hit where it hurts most. Books are a huge part of that industry but there are ways to mitigate the price rises as we’ll see here.
Why do book prices rise with inflation?
Book prices are part of an economy’s consumer price index (CPI). Consumer price inflation is the rate at which the price of goods and services bought by households rise or fall.
Books are included in the CPI and have been since 1920 in the United States and most other countries. According to Statista for the UK, from 2015 to 2022 the prices of books have increased.
Since 2020, there has been more fluctuation in book prices, because of Covid-19 and other debilitating incidents.
Rising book prices are perhaps not that big of a concern when everything else around us is also going up in price. The hard part is to manage pricing so that it keeps your publishing business alive, and your readers – and your accounts – happy.
The book price war
Book pricing is very much a contradiction to what the product is actually worth. When book prices rise with inflation, many readers don’t seem to notice. Take supermarkets for example.
You can buy the latest hardback James Patterson (and co.) novel in Tesco for £10, which is an extraordinary deal. So extraordinary it is impossible for any indie book shop to compete with.
Supermarkets, and in some cases, Amazon, use these deals a loss leader to get their customers into the store, where they are likely to buy other products.
It’s very much a quantity game with supermarkets. Having spoken to many indie shop authors, that price contradiction I mentioned up above, is ever obvious when it comes to the big books.
As an indie book shop owner, one of the main distribution avenues is via Gardners. Even if an indie book shop was to order in 100 copies of the new James Patterson novel, they would need to sell it at full price (£20) just to see a minimal return.
Thus, when a reader goes into an indie book shop and sees the same book for £20, knowing they can get it at Tesco or Amazon for half that price, where do you think they will go?
The truth is, when manufacturing is considered, along with various pricing implementations, a new hardback book IS worth £20.
It’s just that readers have a price expectation that has been fed to them by giant business for years, and it’s not going to change anytime soon.
Book prices for readers
As authors, we want to ensure our readers are getting the best value for money. Traditionally, many eBooks, in terms of novels and full-length fiction books have hovered around $2.99 or £1.99.
As a reader who is not using a Kindle Unlimited subscription, paying the above prices has been common. This has been the average pricing for self-published authors for many years.
However, traditionally published or indie press books tend be much higher, with many around the $8.99 or £6.99 mark. And readers will pay that, whether by having previous knowledge of the author, or the marketing machine that big publishers can roll out.
When book prices rise with inflation, readers can be priced out of the market. Readers know their pricing levels; they know what a book is worth and what they’ll pay to read it. Readers are savvy when it comes to drawing the line.
On the other side, when inflation kicks in and recession looms, people tend to look for an escape. Films, books, art, games, and music can in some cases be seen as a necessity.
Entertainment can transport a person to a world of imagination, provide invaluable knowledge, improve their own lives, and for that fleeting moment, take them away from the greyness of reality.
Reading in particular has been known to boost memory and intelligence.
Book prices for authors
There has been a hesitance in the self-publishing community to raise their book prices but it’s exactly what needs to happen. Even moving from the $2.99 to $3.99 level is proving difficult for some.
An author is not going to know their readers from a first book, and maybe not a second. In fact, having more books in a series has proved beneficial in terms of marketing and income.
At the end of the day, authors and publishers have to put food on the table and pay their own bills.
How to price a book during high inflation?
Mostly, your pricing will be controlled by price rises in other areas. For example, due to energy costs soaring in the UK, Ingram Spark are raising their POD pricing by almost 5% from October 2022.
If print production is going up by 5% then a self-published author should really be raising their print prices by 5%.
It also affects eBooks, because when energy costs rise and inflation rockets, power becomes more expensive.
When Amazon have to start paying more to run their servers, to deliver your books to readers, you will see your royalty percentage go down.
To mitigate this, simply raise the prices in line with how much more it costs for Amazon to deliver your eBook.
The key to pricing your book during high inflation is to find the line between what your reader is willing to pay and the value you offer in return.