The price of books is likely to go up, say publishers – which are acting to avoid steep rises for readers.
Some presses are exploring printing on cheaper and thinner paper, postponing reprints for older books and publishing fewer titles to reduce costs and avoid increasing recommended retail prices.
But the hike in costs of paper and energy and the effects of Brexit mean price rises are likely in the long term if not in the short and medium term, “if the current high production and distribution costs stabilise at the current levels”, said Juliet Mabey, co-founder of the independent publishing house Oneworld
Valerie Brandes, founder and publisher of Jacaranda Books Arts Music, said it was highly likely that book prices for consumers would have to increase “across all formats” by 10 to 20%.
Independent publishers usually order smaller print runs than big firms, so cannot access economies of scale. And as overall production costs have risen, quotes from printers for new or reprint hardbacks, “which would have been affordable a year ago, are no longer cost effective”, according to Mabey.
In the UK, the collapse of the Net Book Agreement in the 1990s means there are no longer fixed prices for titles – unlike in countries such as France and Germany – meaning books in the UK can be subject to discounts, some of them substantial. The high cost of materials and production, combined with retailers’ ability to discount, means the margins on books are small for many publishers.
Julia Marshall, production director at Simon & Schuster UK, said there were “concerns about the affordability of books – particularly in the current environment”.
“Books remain a very affordable form of entertainment in comparison to other leisure activities but the current pressures on disposable income are extraordinary,” she continued. “There is a delicate balance to be struck on price in that regard as our primary focus will always be ensuring that we are able to get our authors’ works into the most hands possible.”
Aimée Felone, managing director of children’s publisher Knights Of, said she believed consumers would “face increased book prices so that publishers’ margins remain profitable”. But she warned that with the cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affecting communities of colour, there were “ethical considerations to be made when increasing the prices of books”.
“If we continue to raise the prices of our books, we will end up ostracising communities that are already on the periphery of the market,” she added. To try to lower costs, Felone said Knights Of was trying to lock in print schedules as far in advance as possible, to take advantage of better prices, and order higher print runs to bring down the price per copy.
As well as being affected by the cost of paper, other raw materials, energy and freight charges, many publishers routinely use special finishes on books, from gold foil for lettering to coloured edges and patterned endpapers.
Marshall said that increasing book prices was “only part of the solution”, and that it was essential for publishers to review print strategies, be more flexible on material choices and reduce cover embellishments as “other ways of offsetting increases”.
Special elements would still be used to make key titles stand out, said Felone and Mabey. Felone said that as “a publisher committed to elevating under-represented voices, we know that to give our authors the best chance in an oversaturated market, we have to publish them competitively, meaning that finishes are almost a necessity”. But where costs could be cut that did not result in a worsened reader experience, they would be, she added.