Much has been written on the Orwellian-sounding Productivity Commissions' recommendations to remove parallel importation restrictions on books and reduce copyright to cut prices so we can all get cheaper books. Because that's what Australians really want -- cheaper books, not cheaper cars or lower interest rates -- what's important is getting a bloody bargain book.
But the price of books has already fallen, as Nikki Gemmel pointed out in her piece in The Australian. Nikki asked: "How cheap is too cheap, if it costs us our future stories?" And that got me thinking -- what's the true cost of cheaper books? What's the true cost of a book? The width of the spine? The weight? The page count? The number of words? The writing and the story inside...? Which leads us to ask -- what's the true value of a book? But this is a vague and subjective, intangible thing, the 'value' of a book, so let's look at what this bunch of bound pages is worth, and how many beans we think we should palm over for them.
The cost of a book comes down to so much more than what you see on the shelf. There's the cover, the pages, the ink, the binding, the weight of the paper, and the printing and production and delivery costs that go along with that. Then there's the author and all those words inside, their imagination, their ideas, their creativity, their art and all the hours they spent researching and writing -- the story -- that's what you're really buying when you purchase a book. Then there's the publisher, the editor, the author's agent, the proofreaders, the copyeditors, the cover designer, the sales and marketing team, accounts, and... the publicist.
On top of all of this, there are the unseen hours, all the conversations and communications and discussions and back and forth between the author, the publishers, editors, account managers, sales teams, booksellers, publicists, people who are creative and silly enough to try and make a living out of things as silly and awesome as books. Then there are the hours of touring and publicity.... How many hours? How long is a piece of string? These uncountable and unaccounted for hours.
Why do people gripe about the price of a book? People don't gripe about the exorbitant cost of their perfume or their Italian leather shoes or their Rolex or their Ferrari. They know what they're paying for... all those handcrafted hours, the design, the brand, the history, the status symbolism, the quality of the materials that went into making them... a cost that does not reflect the actual 'value' of said luxury items. Reckon it really costs $500K to make a Ferrari?
Whereas the cost of a book, say $19.99 for a novella, more realistically and accurately reflects their value. But to place the cost of releasing a novel into perspective, there is a certain amount of time and hours and love that goes into the crafting of a book that you can't measure by a carat, a number of stars, a number of hats... weighing up the cost of a book by the width of the cover, the thickness of the spine and the extent (that's publishing-geek-speak for pages) just doesn't work -- the costs are unseen, off the page.
The team behind the creation of a book is included in the price, just like the barley and distilling and oak barrels and time and history and knowledge go that into that fine bottle of single malt Irish whiskey. And with a book, just like a glass of good whiskey, the true value is all in the drinking, in the reading.
But no one thinks of books that way. What? This bit of paper? 33 dollars? Too exy. We shouldn't have to pay for art. We should get our music and books and movies for free. Pirate Bay free torrent download, mate. We happily pay for the art of a Mustang, the art of an architecturally designed house, the art of a Heston Blumenthal 23 course degustation, but we won't pay for the art of a book?
We'll support the art of German ingenuity in cars, Italian cobblers, British chefs. We'll 'buy Australian' when we go to Woollies, 'support local' when we talk produce like a bunch of 'foodies', and baulk when we hear yet another Aussie brand has been sold offshore... it's bloody un–Australian mate! But we won't support local, home-grown Aussie authors, we won't support the art of Australian, local, home-grown, grassroots publishing by forking out 20 bucks for a book? Straya.
So next time you pick up a book and you look at the price and weigh up the cost and you think, wow this is exy or, wow this is value for money, or wow how cheap is this because you've picked it up from some dodgy cardboard remainder bin, remember that the cost of a book is more than just price and size, the cost of a book is all the hours that go into making one...
When you buy a book, when you hand over your hard-earned money, you're contributing to the cost that goes into creating that book you have in your hands, a book you can take home and enjoy on the couch with a red wine, or on the beach with a beer, or on the toilet in the morning. And when you've finished reading that book, you can pass that book onto your friends, you can donate it to the library, you can leave it on your shelves for someone else to pick up.
Sure, cheaper books will be, well, cheaper, but are we prepared to pay the price when all we've left to read is every shade of shit...