Isn’t blogging wonderful (sometimes)? On Sunday, Susan Hill protested about the price being charged for Nicola Watson’s book The Literary Tourist. After a short review of the book, she wrote: "But in their wisdom the publishers have not only made it look more like a scholarly book than a popular one which is a pity – but worse they have the nerve to charge £45 for it. Yes, you heard me correctly. Even libraries – which do not buy many new books now anyway – are not going to order this for you. I tell you what. I challenge Palgrave to hand THE LITERARY TOURIST over to their general division, Macmillan. I then challenge Macmillan to issue another edition – for the general interested reader, with a new, more lively jacket and as a paperback, to cost no more than £10. It still would not (probably) make Richard and Judy but it would definitely reach the parts that a £45 academic book will not reach. And if Macmillan won’t do it, with my publisher’s hat on, I will." Five people agree with her, in the comments to the blog post.
The next day, Monday, Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillan, responded: "Susan’s commentators are horrified at the idea of paying £45 for a 250 page book. Compared to discounted Harry Potter of course £45 seems expensive. But is it? Try comparing the price with a shirt, a meal in a London restaurant, a ticket to a major sporting event, a train ticket, an hour of a lawyer’s time. I think academic books are amazingly good value. They are permanent. They are valuable. They are great value for money. They are the fruit of extensive research and application. They are fundamental to the scholarly process. They reach a global audience and are readily available through libraries for those who cannot afford to purchase. They are fit for purpose and worth every penny. Thank goodness academic publishers have worked out a way of continuing to publish academic works commercially in spite of library budget constraints and falling print runs."
This type of exchange, between two top, well-informed, open-minded and opinionated publishers would not have happened, on this timescale at least, 10 years ago. More’s the pity. But now, thanks to the willingness of the two individuals concerned to write openly about their views as well as the good old Internet, we can all see for ourselves how these pricing decisions are made. To take an example somewhat closer to home, I would rather stay in and read (and, if I so choose, re-read) a £45 book than spend £50 on seeing "We will rock you" in the West End (and have to spend another £50 if I wanted to see it again).