Over the last couple of years, prices for everything have gone up while supply chain issues have plagued several industries. Despite the news cycle dropping the story, it is still impossible to purchase several major types of baby formula; eggs, thanks to avian flu, are no longer a cheap protein; and everything from grocery staples to gas has become a harder hit on the budget. Paper, including what’s used for books, has not been spared. Even before the start of the pandemic, paper supply was a challenge and it was predicted that the cost of books could rise over the coming years. Yet what no one is talking about yet is how this has come to pass in a pretty big way, amidst what has been a disappointing year in sales: YA book prices are going up, and paperback editions are no longer the inexpensive option they once were.
In 2021, the average cost of a young adult paperback book ranged between $9.99 and $12.99. Not all publishers use the same price, but the vast majority of imprints within a publication do (notable exceptions would be comics imprints vs. novel imprints or paperback editions of nonfiction, as well as books by big-selling authors or those with big crossover appeal). A sample of paperback books and their costs across publishers is as follows:
- Hachette: They Went Left by Monica Hesse, published in paperback April 6, listed for $10.99.
- Harper Collins: $9.99 was the cost of I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi. The book released in paperback March 16, 2021. A different imprint at Harper released the paperback of MK England’s Spellhacker for $10.99 and the Inkyard Press/Harlequin corner of Harper released the paperback of Eric Smith’s Don’t Read The Comments for $10.99.
- Penguin Random House: $11.99 was the cost of Ashley Woodfolk’s When You Were Everything , which published March 9, 2021 in paperback.
- Macmillan: Anna K by Jenny Lee, which published March 23, 2021, in paperback, is $10.99.
- Scholastic: The first book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down The Hawk series hit paperback April 6, with a list price of $11.99.
- Simon & Schuster: We Are The Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian released in paperback April 13, 2021, for $12.99. Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario, published in paperback April 13, 2021, listed for $11.99.
The publishers above represent the big five, plus Scholastic. Again, average paperback costs in 2021 were pretty consistent, with $12.99 being the highest and a bit of an outlier from Simon & Schuster.
In 2022, some of the prices started to look a little bit different, though maybe not entirely alarming. Inflation pricing happened a little but again, not much. Let’s take a look at paperback releases from the same group of publishers. For fair comparison’s sake, we’ll look at paperbacks published in the spring season.
- Hachette: Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews released May 31, 2022, for a price of $10.99.
- Harper Collins: The paperback release of Tirzah Price’s Pride and Premeditation came in at $11.99. Remember this one, as we’ll come back to it. Julie Murphy’s Pumpkin’ was also $11.99 and Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, and Ashley Woodfolk listed for $12.99 — this came from the same imprint, Quill Tree, which sold Rishi’s paperback for $9.99 one year earlier (that is a $3 difference — not insubstantial). Additionally, Angie Thomas’s Concrete Rose published in paperback May 3, 2022, for a list price of $14.99. Inkyard published The Witch King for $11.99 in paperback.
- Penguin Random House: $10.99 was the list price for This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi, $9.99 was the list price for Lisa Schroeder’s A Night to Die For–published under their Underlined imprint dedicated solely to paperback releases, and Kim Johnson’s This Is My America was released for $10.99. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon was listed for $11.99.
- Macmillan: Wendy Heard’s She’s Too Pretty To Burn published in paperback to a list price of $10.99, while Dahlia Adler’s That Way Madness Lies hit in paperback for $12.99.
- Scholastic: Mason Deaver’s The Ghosts We Keep published in paperback for $10.99 and Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelley was also $10.99.
- Simon & Schuster: Mary HK Choi’s Yolk clocked in at $12.99 for its paperback release, while Kelly Loy Gilbert’s When We Were Infinite was also released for $12.99 in paperback.
The examples below are all YA paperbacks hitting shelves in spring 2023.
- Hachette: Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Final Gambit (which is a summer release in paperback) will retail at $11.99. Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, another summer paperback release, $11.99.
- Harper Collins: Remember keeping Tirzah Price’s books in mind? The next entry in her series, Sense and Second Degree Murder, will be $15.99. That represents a four dollar increase in the span of a single year (or if you prefer percentages, that’s a 25% increase). It’s not the only YA paperback from this publisher getting that price hike. Others include The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson, Only a Monster by Vanessa Lem, and Out of the Blue by Jason June, coming in at $15.99.
- Macmillan: $11.99 is the paperback price for Lizz Huerta’s The Lost Dreamer. All For One by Lillie Lainoff, $12.99.
- Penguin Random House: Great or Nothing by the authors Jessica Spotswood, Tess Sharpe, Caroline Tung Richmond, and Joy McCullough will be $11.99. Talia Hibbert’s brand new YA book Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute is a rare book that had a simultaneous hardcover and paperback release and the book goes for $13.99 in paperback.
- Scholastic: Debating Darcy by Sayantani DasGupta (March 7) will be $12.99. Sharon Cameron’s recently released paperback for Bluebird is $12.99.
- Simon & Schuster: Hanna Alkaf’s Queen of the Tiles will publish at $12.99. Ashes of Gold by J. Elle’s paperback is also priced at $12.99.
A quick glance shows that the cost of paperbacks have gone up roughly $1 since 2021 cross publishers, except for Harper Collins. Costs for their paperbacks in 2023 have increased upwards of 25% in some cases.
In a year where members of the Harper Collins Union are striking in support of a livable wage and better commitment from the company on diversity initiatives, the publisher has taken little time to hike the prices on their YA books. It’s particularly noticeable when you compare to the paperback books released in 2022, as well as those released by other companies.
That price hike coincided with a new year, as books published in fall 2022 did not see that $15.99 price.
A new YA paperback book should not cost the same as a discounted hardcover book. When we demand supporting independent bookstores — and indeed, it is good to support them when you can! — the reality is publishers are pushing the cost of more affordable options for books upward. When costs go up, customers will look where they can find the best deal. So, perhaps it’s a reminder that the individual buying a book in hardcover from Amazon for $10.99 isn’t the enemy when the cost of that same book in paperback — a less “luxe” edition — is $15.99 in stores.
If YA books are ostensibly for teens, then this is an even bigger barrier.
Moreover, it’s hard not to take into consideration the move by Barnes & Noble last fall to move away from hardcover offerings in their middle grade titles and project that this might be the future for YA in their stores, too. Stores which have, according to the press, become “like indies” and have a better reputation and image now than they did prior to the start of the pandemic.
And worse, in a world where book bans continue to be a reality at schools and libraries across the country, the readers who most need these books continue to be shut out by the businesses putting materials out for them…and those same publishers remain silent on the rise of book bans preventing young people from accessing that very material.
Teens continue to be priced out of their own stories, and given the increase in prices for trade paperbacks across the board, chances of publishers understanding the need for teens to get their hands on mass market editions of YA continue to decrease. It also doesn’t help that more and more YA books remain in the pricier hardcover versions for longer, which themselves have seen steady price increases over the last few years. It used to be that one reason YA sold so well was its price point. Now it’s worth considering that that the price point may be one of the reasons both sales and interest in YA are cooling quickly.