Books are physically changing because of inflation

From The Ecoonomist:

The second world war was a hard time for British publishers. Paper imports collapsed; paper started being made from straw; publishers printed only sure-fire hits. New novels were rejected; a history by Winston Churchill went out of print.

But the war did not stop some books from doing well. A volume by a hitherto little-read author called Adolf Hitler, for example, sold splendidly. Despite being 500-odd pages long and containing chapter titles such as “The Problem of the Trade Unions”, “Mein Kampf” was an instant hit. After topping British bestseller lists in 1939 it became the most frequently borrowed book in British libraries and was, one magazine noted, a “topical bestseller”.

Publishing can, then, find the paper for the things it wants to print, even in times of scarcity. The industry is currently experiencing another period of shortage, and war is once again a cause (along with the pandemic). In the past 12 months the cost of paper used by British book publishers has risen by 70%. Supplies are erratic as well as expensive: paper mills have taken to switching off on days when electricity is too pricey. The card used in hardback covers has at times been all but unobtainable. The entire trade is in trouble.

Not every author is affected: a new thriller by Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, is a 1,024-page whopper—and this week reached the top of the bestseller lists in Britain. But other books are having to change a bit. Pick up a new release in a bookshop and if it is from a smaller publisher (for they are more affected by price rises) you may find yourself holding a product that, as wartime books did, bears the mark of its time.

Blow on its pages and they might lift and fall differently: cheaper, lighter paper is being used in some books. Peer closely at its print and you might notice that the letters jostle more closely together: some cost-conscious publishers are starting to shrink the white space between characters. The text might run closer to the edges of pages, too: the margins of publishing are shrinking, in every sense.

Changes of this sort can cause anguish to publishers. A book is not merely words on a page, says Ivan O’Brien, head of The O’Brien Press in Ireland, but should appeal “to every single sense”. The pleasure of a book that feels right in the hand—not too light or too heavy; pages creamy; fonts beetle-black—is something that publishers strive to preserve.

But, says Diana Broccardo, the co-founder of the publisher Swift Press, although some savings might seem small, over an entire year “small things…can add up.” You can squeeze out an awful lot of white space from a seven-volume series of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. Authors might like to imagine that they are judged by the sheer power of their prose; in truth, publishers must also measure their words by the tonne and by the metre.

Some publishers are considering shorter books. Previously, if an author was commissioned for 70,000 words and filed 80,000, you’d not worry too much, says Mr O’Brien. Now, he says, “You might say, ‘Well actually, no.’…Because otherwise the book is just not going to work.”

This is not necessarily a bad thing. For at the heart of the publishing industry lies an unsayable truth: most people can’t write and most books are very bad.

. . . .

Paper-supply problems provide an opportunity for tripe to be trimmed. In wartime such trimming caused a minor revolution in English literature, says Leo Mellor, a fellow at Cambridge University. Out went dull Dickensian dialogue, in came elliptical modernism. Suddenly, says Mr Mellor, there was “a premium on the laconic and the succinct”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

5 Real Reasons Why Books are So Expensive in 2022

From My Reading World:

If you’re an avid reader, you will, of course, know how expensive books are. Have you ever wondered why they are so expensive?

. . . .

Books are expensive because of the rising cost of printing on paper, royalties, the economy of scale, return policy, and transit costs.

. . . .

What’s the average price of a book?

An average-sized book can range anywhere from $14-$18. While this might seem affordable but when you’re an avid reader, the numbers quickly add up. It means that it will become difficult for you to read multiple books throughout the month.

I will now go into the details of why these books are so expensive.

Five reasons why books are so expensive now

Let me now highlight the reasons why books have become so expensive.

1. Cost of printing and paper

Physical resources needed to print a book like printing machine, paper, and so on are increasing in price consistently. Due to the same, the cost of the books is also increasing.

The problem is that the cost of these resources is increasing at a higher rate than inflation. It is the primary reason why books are so expensive.

2. Royalties

Publishers have to pay royalties to authors as well. Publishers and authors have to incur marketing expenses as well. As the author becomes more famous, the royalties of the author increase as well.

It, in turn, increases the price of the book as well.

3. Economy of scale

You might be thinking, shouldn’t books be more affordable because of the economy of scale?

The problem is that economy of scale works in the opposite direction for books. The number of avid readers is decreasing day by day. That is why; the sale of books is decreasing in terms of copies.

With the lower copies being sold, the price of the books is undoubtedly bound to increase. That is what is happening.

Link to the rest at My Reading World

PG notes that he doesn’t always agree with items he posts on TPV.