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How Much Have Book Prices Increased Since 2019?

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Several times while looking at publisher catalogs or on book retailer sites, I’ve found myself pausing and wondering if I was reading the price correctly. YA paperback releases are now coming in at almost $16 a pop from some publishers, and more than one recent YA hardcover came with a $25 price tag. One of the many reasons YA became so popular a decade ago was because its price point was more accessible than similar titles published for adults: you’d anticipate paying between $10 and $12 for a paperback and between $16 and $18 for a hardcover, as opposed to $16 to $18 for an adult paperback (that was not mass market) and somewhere between $25 and $27 for hardcover.

To say there’s been sticker shock this year would be an understatement. 

It is no secret that the cost to produce books has gone up. In 2018, a deep dive into the paper crisis for publishers suggested prices might need to increase to accommodate this. But it’s not just the cost of the supplies that have gone up. So, too, have costs associated with the staffing that keeps publishing going. How much is unknown, given how little open discussion of salary happens in the publishing world.

What we can know is that those doing the work at the bottom of the publishing houses–the editorial staff, the marketing and publicity staff, copy editors, and the rest who have their hands on the books themselves–certainly aren’t making enough money for the work they do nor the requirement they often have of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. This is, of course, why the HarperCollins Union went on strike last year. They were able to negotiate a starting salary for incoming staff to $50,000, which is just above a living wage for a single working adult in New York City (that clocks in at about $46,800). We also know that the authors themselves have not seen any meaningful increase in what they earn as an advance. It’s probably doubtful that book price increases have made any meaningful difference to those who create the product or bring it into its final form. 

Let’s get back to the question at hand, though. Have book prices actually increased or is it all a perception, given the cost increases in every other area of life? 

To find out, I’ve crunched some numbers. 

First, a methodological note. It is impossible to find an average cost of every book published by every publisher. Initially, I thought to look at the top tier authors at every publisher and look at the increases in the cost of those books over a five year period. While most of those big authors published a new title every year, not all did. That made consistency difficult. It was also not the best representation of an array of publishers, each of whom has a different pricing scheme. Instead, I pulled the top 10 titles from Publisher’s Weekly’s Adult Fiction Hardcover Bestseller List in fiction for the past five years. I used a mid-August list date to keep the data consistent, as it is unlikely we’d see a price change in the middle of the year. It also ensured a wide range of publishers were represented in the data. 

Each of those titles was dropped into a spreadsheet, and then I looked up the cover cost of the book. There was no rounding here: if a book was $29.99, that is the number added. Every single book on this list was easy to find a cover price for via Amazon.

screenshot of a spreadsheet with the costs of the top 10 books from publishers weekly bestseller lists and their costs beside them.

In the image above, the yellow bar indicates the average price of a hardcover book. Indeed, the cost of hardcover books has gone up incrementally every year since 2018–you could expect to pay a little over $28 for a hardcover then and now, you can expect to spend a little over $30. That is a 7.7% increase. 

If you’re looking at the above and wondering what’s going on in 2021, when the average price went down, that is pretty easily explained: a hardcover manga title was on the top ten bestsellers that week. Those tend to be a little bit less expensive than the traditional narrative fiction. Even removing that title, though, the average for 2020 was $27.90. 

So yes, book prices have gone up. It’s been a slow movement, but it is there. 


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