Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Dime Novel

242 The Dime Novel

Here’s the ultimate inflation insult: the “dime novel” now costs ten bucks.

It’s not enough that a three cent stamp now costs 41 cents. It’s not enough that a song on a juke box can cost half a buck. It’s not enough that a quarter’s worth of gasoline now costs three bucks. But now, the price of a ten cent book has risen 1000%.

Don’t you love what the publicists tell you? Don’t you love the weasel-worm “justifications” that apologists offer?

Here’s a sample – a made-up one: “You have to understand that the cost of paper and of cover art is always rising. You have to understand we’ve enlarged the page size and the type – so even more paper, plus more ink! And the DISTRIBUTORS!!! Plus no one ever sells these things at sticker price, anyway.”

Oh boy. Put away the magnifying glass. Put away the “Itty Bitty Book Lite,” which never works, anyway, and I’ll put away the reading pillow. A nice chunky dime novel that’s self-illuminating, small enough to carry, but large enough to see is a dandy improvement, even though the recycled paper isn’t as nice as the usual thick newsprint.

Actually, this is all a lie. The book is not ten bucks. It’s $9.99. With the sales tax, it’s $10.58.

“Yes,” says the publicist, “the price will vary. Not every state charges sales tax on books. Right. There’s no tax in Delaware. Four other states have no sales tax, but they do have excise taxes. And almost everything there is a luxury.

So, let’s organize an excursion, an Atlantic City-style bus trip, to Delaware to buy tax free dime novels for a mere $9.99.

It’s been a long time since publishers have demanded big page counts so they can justify charging $28 for a hardcover book. What is truly astonishing is how many books don’t get sold, despite attractive titles, authors, covers and advance payments.

Many go right from the printing press to the “book for a buck” table at Barnes & Nobel. Saves a lot of promotional money, advertising and storage space.

Along with the price inflation, there’s variety inflation. Stuff that no one likes, cares about or will buy rolls out of the binding plants at a rate that would make tree killers like the New York Times and Staples green with envy.

At latest count, there were 24,346 titles that fall under the umbrella “self-help” or get rich quick. “How I made 20 billion dollars refilling Amway boxes” should be on everyone’s library shelf.

There are biographies of 110,238 people you never heard of, don’t need to know about and add nothing to your life. Hot off the press: The Daisy Cruz Story. Who? Exactly.

There are travel books about every possible location (even Delaware!)

And those canny book marketers never miss a trick. Since women writers of fiction sell far more books than men, there’s a (not too) secret push in publishing circles, to raise the cover price of books written by women.

The price of E-books has remained fairly stable. That is for two reasons: (1) No one likes them, and (2) it’s hard to bring your notebook computer or Palm Pilot into the bathroom. Not to mention dangerous.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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