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

Antony (Tony) J. Williams received his BSc in 1985 from the University of Liverpool (UK) and PhD in 1988 from the University of London (UK). His PhD research interests were in studying the effects of high pressure on molecular motions within lubricant related systems using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. He moved to Ottawa, Canada to work for the National Research Council performing fundamental research on the electron paramagnetic resonance of radicals trapped in single crystals. Following his postdoctoral position he became the NMR Facility Manager for Ottawa University. Tony joined the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York as their NMR Technology Leader. He led the laboratory to develop quality control across multiple spectroscopy labs and helped establish walk-up laboratories providing NMR, LC-MS and other forms of spectroscopy to hundreds of chemists across multiple sites. This included the delivery of spectroscopic data to the desktop, automated processing and his initial interests in computer-assisted structure elucidation (CASE) systems. He also worked with a team to develop the worlds’ first web-based LIMS system, WIMS, capable of allowing chemical structure searching and spectral display. With his developing cheminformatic skills and passion for data management he left corporate America to join a small start-up company working out of Toronto, Canada. He joined ACD/Labs as their NMR Product Manager and various roles, including Chief Science Officer, during his 10 years with the company. His responsibilities included managing over 50 products at one time prior to developing a product management team, managing sales, marketing, technical support and technical services. ACD/Labs was one of Canada’s Fast 50 Tech Companies, and Forbes Fast 500 companies in 2001. His primary passions during his tenure with ACD/Labs was the continued adoption of web-based technologies and developing automated structure verification and elucidation platforms. While at ACD/Labs he suggested the possibility of developing a public resource for chemists attempting to integrate internet available chemical data. He finally pursued this vision with some close friends as a hobby project in the evenings and the result was the ChemSpider database ( Even while running out of a basement on hand built servers the website developed a large community following that eventually culminated in the acquisition of the website by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Tony joined the organization, together with some of the other ChemSpider team, and became their Vice President of Strategic Development. At RSC he continued to develop cheminformatics tools, specifically ChemSpider, and was the technical lead for the chemistry aspects of the Open PHACTS project (, a project focused on the delivery of open data, open source and open systems to support the pharmaceutical sciences. He was also the technical lead for the UK National Chemical Database Service ( and the RSC lead for the PharmaSea project ( attempting to identify novel natural products from the ocean. He left RSC in 2015 to become a Computational Chemist in the National Center of Computational Toxicology at the Environmental Protection Agency where he is bringing his skills to bear working with a team on the delivery of a new software architecture for the management and delivery of data, algorithms and visualization tools. The “Chemistry Dashboard” was released on April 1st, no fooling, at, and provides access to over 700,000 chemicals, experimental and predicted properties and a developing link network to support the environmental sciences. Tony remains passionate about computer-assisted structure elucidation and verification approaches and continues to publish in this area. He is also passionate about teaching scientists to benefit from the developing array of social networking tools for scientists and is known as the ChemConnector on the networks. Over the years he has had adjunct roles at a number of institutions and presently enjoys working with scientists at both UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University. He is widely published with over 200 papers and book chapters and was the recipient of the Jim Gray Award for eScience in 2012. In 2016 he was awarded the North Carolina ACS Distinguished Speaker Award.

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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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