Questions and Answers about Book Pricing
Q: Do you offer package pricing?
A: Yes, package pricing is available for many of our books. For more information please contact your publisher's representative or firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our most commonly used package offers is "Buy Three, Get One Free": adopt any three Broadview books for a single course and a fourth is provided absolutely free for students. We'll shrink-wrap all four books together with a new ISBN, so that your university or college bookstore will only have to bag them! In order to ensure that your students receive the special package price it is necessary to obtain a unique package ISBN from Broadview that your bookstore should use when they place your order.
Q: Why do book prices vary so widely?
A: The biggest single determinant of a book’s price is usually print-run. With a specialized title written for scholars or aimed at a limited upper-year student market, for example, the publisher will be able to justify only a very modest print-run, making the unit cost quite high, and necessitating a higher price. Conversely, if the publisher is able to project large sales to a great number of first-year courses, a larger print-run will be scheduled, unit costs will be much lower, and a much lower price will be possible. Other important factors that may affect a book’s price include the level of development costs (often including research costs as well as editing, design and typesetting costs), whether it is printed in one color only or different colored inks are used; whether there are illustrations (and particularly color illustrations); and whether there are extensive permissions costs associated with the book. (In order to publish an anthology of literature, for example, or a collection of previously published readings, the publisher must clear permission for work in copyright, which usually entails considerable expense.)
Q: Is the bookstore ripping me off?
A: Certainly not in the vast majority of cases. Typically, the publisher sells to the university bookstore at a discount from the suggested retail price, but the discount is enough to provide for only a modest margin in the best of circumstances.* Depending on a university bookstore’s cost structure, it may be necessary to charge slightly more than the suggested retail price. This is particularly true when the university bookstore is located far away from the publisher’s warehouse, since the customer bears responsibility for shipping costs.
Q: If book prices for the text(s) for a course seem to me to be way too high, is my professor to blame for assigning them?
A: In most cases, no. For one thing, strange as it may seem, he or she may well have had no easy way of discovering the book’s current price. Many publishers do not publicize the retail prices to students of the books they publish. The assumption, presumably, is that since the professor will not be the one actually paying for the book, he or she will not be interested in how much the students will have to pay. In fact, many university instructors do care about what their students pay for books, and would appreciate having this information made more readily available by publishers.
If a text is expensive, though, it may also be the case that the professor has been aware of the price and has made an informed decision that the book represents the best possible value to the student for the course.
Q: What can I do about the prices of textbooks?
A: It is always a good idea for students to discuss the price of books and the value of books with their instructors. Such discussion may serve, first of all, to confirm that your instructor does know what price you have paid. Just as helpful is to let your instructor know towards the end of the course if you feel the texts selected for the course have indeed represented good value. You may also wish to discuss with your instructors general issues such as to whether you would prefer to see texts with less illustration, one-colour printing, and paperback covers—which would thus be priced considerably lower than texts with a great deal of illustration, multicolour printing throughout, and expensive bindings.
The Broadview Approach
First of all, we at Broadview strongly believe that a book’s price should be clearly indicated on all relevant promotional material, and we make a point of providing up-to-date price information on our website. At Broadview, we also believe in providing the best possible value to the student. Quite often that means pricing our books considerably below the competition. All else being equal, we ourselves prefer to publish books that are handsome, durable, and pedagogically sound, but that do not have a lot of bells and whistles; that’s the reason, for example, that we are able to price The Broadview Guide to Writing at little more than half the price of most competitors.
But the best value is not always the lowest price. With our Broadview Editions series, for example, we offer texts that include a wide range of background materials in addition to the text itself, and that are produced on high quality paper. Occasionally, we are actually able to price these volumes to match the prices of competing editions that do not include any extra materials, and that are printed on lower quality paper. But typically we do charge a dollar or two more for our editions in this series than other publishers charge for competing editions. It is our belief that the added value to the reader in these cases is more than worth the extra dollar or two in cost.
Like other publishers, we would argue that most books represent extremely good value. When you think for a moment about the intellectual labour—as well as the material and the physical labour—that goes into a $50 book, and compare it with what goes into a $90 pair of sunglasses, we think the value of the book stacks up pretty well.
Used Books: The Downside
Every student knows the upside to having used copies of textbooks readily available: the price is lower than the price of the new book. Ironically enough, though, buying used books contributes in the medium- and the long-term to significantly raising the price of textbooks.
Years ago, when used books represented only a very small percentage of total textbook sales (and were generally sold off-campus by retailers other than the main university bookstore) their sale had little effect on the economics of publishing as a whole. In recent years, however, that situation has changed radically, to the point where it is not uncommon for a professor to choose a textbook that has never been used before at that university and find the order filled entirely with used copies of the book.
When a used copy is sold, the author, who has typically spent years writing the book, receives nothing. As publishers, we have invested substantial amounts to have the book edited, designed, typeset, and printed, and also to market it, place advertisements, provide desk copies for professors, and so on; like the author, the publisher receives nothing on a used book sale. Aside from any issue of fairness, this is a situation that, if used book sales continue to grow, is simply not sustainable. There is no way that authors can continue to write books and publishers continue to produce and market them without receiving anything in return. In the short- to medium-term, the inevitable effect of increased used book sales is to drive up the prices of the smaller number of new books that are sold. Beyond that, moreover, there is a very real chance of publishers being driven under as used book sales take up more and more of the marketplace.
We at Broadview do not defend the pricing practices of all publishers. But, when it comes to the effects of ever-increasing used book sales, it is not the publishers that have been most aggressive in raising prices that are most vulnerable; it is smaller, independent publishers such as Broadview, Hackett, Fernwood, and Zed—publishers that make a real effort to keep prices reasonable for students—that most feel the squeeze when used book sales take up a higher and higher market share.
Another implication of the huge growth of the used book market is that many publishers have responded by issuing new editions more often than is necessary, or by including expensive and potentially unnecessary ancillary materials alongside all new books. The costs associated with developing products to accompany textbooks, such as CD-ROMs and other supplements, directly affect the pricing of textbooks. Again, smaller independent publishers have been the ones that traditionally have been most reluctant to take these approaches—but sadly, small independent publishers too are becoming more and more likely to be squeezed into following the example of larger publishers.
It is important to acknowledge that students are being squeezed, too—particularly when tuition costs have increased so dramatically in recent years at many institutions. With the current onslaught of congressional hearings and government-led inquiries into the prices of textbooks, we at Broadview would like to emphasize that simply promoting the availability of used books will not solve what is essentially a much larger and more systemic problem.
We encourage instructors to make informed decisions about the books that they choose to adopt for their courses, to educate their students about the differences between new and used books, and to try to work with publishers to help create (and create demand for) pedagogically sound yet cost-effective textbooks. At Broadview, pedagogy is a priority.
We hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions or comments about our books in particular or about the price and the value of books in general please contact Don LePan.
*Here and elsewhere, generalizations concern the book trade in North America; circumstances are often substantially different in the U.K., continental Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, etc.