Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Price of Language for a New Century

I have to give props to W.W. Norton & Company for pricing the 734-page anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, at the very reasonable price of $27.95. In fact, Amazon is currently selling the book for $18.95. I feel that Norton made a smart decision in publishing the anthology as a paperback, and I think that the relatively inexpensive price of the anthology will encourage more people to buy it.

Even though I imagine (just as I imagine that the grass is green) that not every publisher has the financial resources of a W.W. Norton, it always irks me a little when a publisher does something like price a fifty-page chapbook for $39.95 or a hardcover anthology for $79.95. There is a legitimate argument that the "free market" can dictate the pricing of books, but I think that it's better not to price out potential readers (e.g., college students with tens of thousands of dollars of student loans) by overpricing a book of poems in the first place.


Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

Part of the price thing is that publishers know they won't sell many copies of a book of poetry so they price it higher because you have a certain amount you have to recoup and smaller sales means less opportunity to average the price down. Plus they know a good proportion of what they will sell will go to institutions (libraries) that (theoretically) can afford a steeper list price.

Nice to see Asian American Poetry back up.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

That's a good point, Glenn. I think that it makes sense to price books of poetry higher, provided that bookstores, especially large chain bookstores who are marketing them to a more general audience, sell them a discounted price.

Another question that occurs to me now is: how do certain books of poetry end up in Barnes and Noble or Borders and not others? With some poetry books (e.g., if the author is Shakespeare, Dickinson, or Whitman), you can easily tell. But from time to time, you come across a seemingly random collection from a contemporary poet, and you wonder how the decision was made to sell that book as opposed to others.

10:34 AM  
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