Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Praise of Cheap Books

This Thanksgiving, my family and I indulged in two traditions -- stuffing ourselves with turkey, sweet potatoes and yeast rolls, and then going to see a movie afterwards. This year’s film was the my-boyfriend’s-a-teenage-vampire flick Twilight, the first part of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling tetralogy to hit the big screen. At some point between the lights going down and the end credits rolling, my wife got hooked. “Oh, I want to read all her books right now,” she said as we walked to the van. “Could we go get them?”

Could we, indeed. Four novels are a lot to snap up all at once for a proponent of
The Middle Shelf, especially when only two are in softcover and I know we aren’t going to read them more than once. But my wife, who is a gracious and content woman, rarely asks for anything, so off to Barnes & Noble we went. When we got there, I grabbed one of the hardcovers and flipped it over to assess the damage. “Shock” would not be too strong of a word to describe my reaction.

Like taxes and the price of food, I had resigned myself to seeing the price on the bottom back corner continue to climb, especially when it came to Twilight and its siblings, which have achieved a Harry Potter-like popularity. But it hadn’t. Contrast the conclusion of the boy-wizard’s adventures (a stratospheric $35) with the final title in Meyer’s series (a modest $23). It got better the farther back in the chronology I went. The penultimate hardcover listed at $20, while the trade paperbacks cost $11. In addition, all of them were on sale. True, the paper was a little flimsy, as were the dust jackets, but the books were cheap. I bought them.

Publishing has not had a good year. What’s to blame? A bad economy? Poor corporate management? An increasingly visual culture? Maybe all or maybe none. I don’t know. But I do know that I purchased 2,560 pages of pulp where I otherwise would have waited for library copies because it cost $50. Publishers, take note: There are more of us out there. Price it properly, and we will come.

(Picture: CC 2007 by

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