Who sets the price for our book and why does it vary so much?

27 Nov

I have written a lot of book chapters over the years, probably about 20, and have another 4 in press . I also have 3 more waiting on me to write by end of year (agh…). I have co-authored three books over the past few years (1,2,3) but other than the first book, self-published with ACD/Labs, I was not involved with setting the price. That’s probably good as it would likely be randomly changed, as would the list of authors and the number of pages!

There has been a question on this blog about whether I think the price for the most recent book is appropriate and I will discuss that when I have more time. I would say that based on the likely number of copies that will sell for this very specialized area, the size of the book and the amount of work it took us to put together (almost 2 years of work describing about 15 years of work), that this is probably a fair price…about $220 (but with price variation to be discussed below). If you consider that our single articles can be $30-35 for ONE PDF for 48 hours of access summarizing only one point in time in our research then I do think that the price is fine. Having previously “self-published” and seen how many books can be sold in that way I’d say that price is definitely appropriate considering the quality of support we have received from the publisher, RSC, and the associated costs of set-up for printing that must be taken on. Maybe self-publishing would be better nowadays  in terms of increased volume of sales, as my last experience was 10 years ago, but based on comments from people using (for chemistry books), sales volume is very low and for worldwide marketing to libraries a professional publisher IS necessary.

Back to the point of this blog post. Who really sets prices for a book, taking just the chemistry book I am involved with as an example? Amazon want about $220, at present, for a copy of our book. That includes a “random 7% discount” that comes from where? However, then things get interesting….

Note that the author listing order for our book is: Mikhail Elyashberg (Author), Antony Williams (Author), Kirill Blinov (Author). Now then….

Borders sell it for $424 here and change the author order to by  Antony WilliamsMikhail Elyashberg and Kirill Blinov. have the price listed in Australian dollars, add the book editor as an author, change the order of the authors and add another random discount.

PowellsBooks loses two of the authors and leaves only Mikhail Elyashberg as the sole author but keeps the price as the original Amazon price, no discount.

Barnes and Noble give a 19% discount before the book is even released, not an uncommon situation of course.

In most cases the number of pages is underestimated to be 368 pages but if you consult the RSC page you will see that it is almost 500 pages and the LIST price is 146.99 UK Pounds.

Who knows where these various online book sellers get their information and how their prices get set, but clearly there are discrepencies. While this book isn’t a mainstream novel moving the basic info out to the sites should be easy. One has to assume that the various discounts are based on either the scale of the sales operation or, it seems, more random factors. All very interesting…and no resolution from me!






About tony

Founder of ChemZoo Inc., the host of ChemSpider ( ChemSpider is an open access online database of chemical structures and property transaction based services to enable chemists around the world to data mine chemistry databases. The Royal Society of Chemistry acquired ChemSpider in May 2009. Presently working as a consortium member of the OpenPHACTS IMI project ( This focuses on how drug discovery can utilize semantic technologies to improve decision making and brings together 22 European team members to develop an infrastructure to link together public and private data for the drug discovery community. I am also involved with the PharmaSea FP7 project ( trying to identify new classes of marine natural products with potential pharmacological activity. I am also one of the hosts for three wikis for Science: ScientistsDB, SciMobileApps and SciDBs. Over the past decade I held many responsibilities including the direction of the development of scientific software applications for spectroscopy and general chemistry, directing marketing efforts, sales and business development collaborations for the company. Eight years experience of analytical laboratory leadership and management. Experienced in experimental techniques, implementation of new NMR technologies, walk-up facility management, research and development, manufacturing support and teaching. Ability to provide situation analysis, creative solutions and establish good working relationships. Prolific author with over a 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 3 patents and over 300 public presentations. Specialties Leadership in the domain of free access Chemistry, Product and project management, Organizational and Leadership development, Competitive analysis and Business Development, Entrepreneurial.

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3 Responses to Who sets the price for our book and why does it vary so much?

  1. David Flaxbart

    November 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the post about this issue, which is after all only tangentially related to the subject of the book. But the fact is, most readers who will find this book of interest borrow a copy from their local library, which purchases it on their behalf. They don’t buy their own copies from Amazon or B&N or anywhere else, generally speaking. And libraries typically don’t buy from those retail sites either.

    I don’t expect authors or readers to care much about book pricing, any more than they care about journal pricing, since these folks generally don’t pay the costs themselves — this is what libraries do for them. However, libraries face very tight and shrinking budgets, and book purchases – including e-books – are no longer automatic things. There are many selection parameters in place to block a purchase, and a $230 price tag is right up there.

    The library market has always been the primary market for scholarly monographs, and that’s why self-publishing sells so poorly – those books never penetrate the closed library-vendor-publisher loop and, rightly or not, are often dismissed as vanity press. Self-publishing authors would have to engage in some serious direct-to-library marketing to make any headway, and even then only well known authors would likely get any orders. (A recent book by E.J. Corey is an example.)

    What publishers never seem to realize is that price point affects sales volume. If you set a price based on anticipated sales, you are pre-limiting your sales. If you set a low price, you will very likely, as they say, make it up in volume. A $70 book will sell many more library copies (because of automated purchasing systems such as approval plans and patron-driven selection), and certainly more retail copies, than a $250 book. So why cripple sales up front?

  2. tony

    November 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    David…thanks for the comments. I judge that you are correct…that the majority of purchases will be by libraries but only time will tell. With time I am starting to learn more about what is influencing purchase and, as you term them, the “selection parameters”.

    Self-publishing of scientific texts does have poor pick-up from the libraries, so I hear, because the authors don’t market to the libraries. Likely because they don’t know how or don’t have the bandwidth. Likely a ROI issue for them?

  3. PhilM

    December 12, 2011 at 10:31 am

    As the father of a college student, I pay every penny of of tuition, board and textbooks. I doubt if anyone would argue that there is little reason to buy the majority of textbooks that are published other than that they are required as part of a students course. This was my experience thirty years ago when my professor expected everyone in class to buy his just published book. I am seeing a similar thing again with my daughter.

    I realize most authors don’t make a lot of money from their books. Maybe they write them to stroke their egos? In any case, I really wish the number of textbooks were lower leading to higher volumes per title and be priced lower consequently. And I really am thankful to a few teachers who teach entirely from their prepared materials and provide copies free of cost.

    Just my view point.


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