Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Do New Book Prices Drop So Fast?

One of the interesting phenomena I see is how fast prices of many new titles from a good number of publishers fall. I have seen books that have been out only a few days have 10+ copies already listed as used, with prices half or less off the Amazon price. Some even have over a dozen reviews months before publication date, which surprised me as well.

Then one day, a person came in the shop and had two boxes of brand new books. These books had been sent them by many publishers because of some small award for which the person had been empaneled. As with many prizes, books are sent to be considered and the publishers decide what to send. I imagine judges do have a bit of leeway to ask for titles they want to see, but I think the number of those titles would be small. I have known book reviewers and editors who have similar experiences as well.

Herein may lie the problem.

Whether it is awards, reviews, or even solicitation for blurbs from writers in the same field, some publishers send out a ton of copies in advance of publication, or shortly thereafter. In the case of reviewers and award judges, a good number of these books are not pertinent to the task at hand. Tangential, obscure, or self published works come in, along with the many pertinent works as well. Even for reviewers, the books may be pertinent but there are so many of them. Eventually, the stacks rise beyond comfort levels and something must be done to save both architecture and relationships.

Happily faced with a deluge, many folks have to regularly weed the books sent them. In many cases they sell them. The Strand in New York City, for example, has a well known reputation for having a wide selection of such review copies. Most university towns have several reviewers about, so on a smaller scale than NY this goes on across the country. Sooner, rather than later, these books start popping up on Amazon and elsewhere. In numbers.

Then the race to the bottom begins. The first few are priced at or even higher than the new copy, esp. if the new copy is not out yet. The next ones drop a bit below that, and so on and so forth. By the time the books has been out a month or two, the book is at most 20% of the value new. Again, we are primarily talking about most trade books here, but I do include some popular art books in the mix as well, and scholarly books published in quantity as some from Yale and Harvard and Oxford. There are of course exceptions but, for most, this is the likely scenario.

Publishers complain about Amazon listing new and used on the same page, thereby depriving them of sales, or about eBay or ABE books and all the new copies of books there. However, as we can discussed this an issue to which they themselves greatly contribute by sending out so many free copies. What are people supposed to do with all the books? Donating them is of course a possibility, but many of those copies wind up on the used market in any case. Recycling is a possibility, but why recycle a perfectly good new book? I think expecting reviewers to jus sit on these free copies or return them to the publisher (esp. if the books were not requested in the first place) is just absurd, and complaining about the current effects of one's own policies a waste of time. Publishers would beter spend their time revisiting their pre-publication distribution policies.

Next Week - How Publishers Might Improve Revenue Stream From Their Titles

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