I recently encountered some interesting data on the academic book market, in an article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, by Albert N. Greco, Robert, M. Wharton, and Falguni Sen, titled, “The Price of University Press Books: 2009-2011.”
According to data from YBP, in 2011, the total number of books published by university presses was 12,104, and the number published by commercial scholarly and professional publishers was 52,148. I was interested to see that commercial scholarly presses were a much bigger part of the market for scholarly books than university presses. Included in the category of commercial scholarly book publishers are big ones like Routledge and SAGE on down to small ones like Parlor Press and Litwin Books. (Since Litwin Books is on the YBP core list of publishers, we were counted in these stats.)
Also interesting to see in this data were the average prices per title charged by university presses and commercial presses. In 2011, the average price of a book from a university press was $61.04, and the average price from a commercial scholarly and professional publisher was $85.17. The authors of the article state that they assume there is no qualitative difference between titles published in the two categories.
At Litwin Books and Library Juice Press we have been pricing our books much lower, with the idea of making them affordable to individuals and not just institutions. The average price of a book from Library Juice Press is $24.80, and the average price of a Litwin Books title is $26.86. While it might seem that our prices are ridiculously cheap for the market that we are in, it has to be stated we are only publishing paperbacks thus far, and the data I saw did not separate prices for hardcover versus paperback editions. Paperback editions from other scholarly publishers, though usually higher than ours, are mostly in the same range. (It’s my personal opinion that hardcover pricing for libraries is a scam, gaming on the fact that many years ago, when library collection policies were set, paperback books were manufactured poorly and hardover books lasted much longer. With current manufacturing techniques, quality paperbacks are just as durable as hardcover books, with the exception of those with sewn bindings, which are far from the norm.)