Looking Back at Book Pricing Trends

In October 2005, BookNet Canada began tracking sales data on print books in the Canadian market, including average list and selling prices. Consumer prices on other goods had long been tracked, but this was the beginning of comprehensive, national, data gathering on books.

At the time, a bag of roasted coffee beans cost $11.25/kg, a domestic stamp was $.50 and a ticket to the movies cost just over $6.00. Today, coffee is close to $20/kg, mailing a letter will set you back $.62, and a 3D movie ticket can cost as much as $18.00. It seems that everything we consume is getting more expensive.

But a new BookNet Canada research study, available to SalesData subscribers only, has revealed that books are bucking the trend. The average list price of a print book for sale in the Canadian market in October 2012 was actually 3% lower than it was in the same month eight years ago, when BookNet Canada first started tracking sales.

There are differences in pricing over the course of a year, with average list and selling prices peaking in the holiday shopping months and waning during beach read season. And there were a few spikes in the data over time… you might recall a certain blockbuster title changing the retail landscape in July 2007 with a $45 price tag. 

Can you spot the Harry Potter effect?

Changes in price also fluctuate by format (hardcover, paperback, mass market) and subject (fiction, nonfiction, juvenile). Mass market prices have barely changed at all, the average list price dropping only 1% in eight years. During the same period, the average list price for fiction rose by 9%.

The trend holds for books published by Canadian-owned firms. In fact, the average list price for a book published by a Canadian publisher was the lowest in August 2012 that it has been since BookNet began tracking sales data.

Perhaps the most consistent trend we saw in the study is the increasing gap between the list price of a book and the average actual selling price. While the average price publishers set for books in the Canadian market has declined, the price the consumer actually pays has come down even more.

Despite the rising costs of most consumer goods, on average, books in Canada are getting cheaper. So skip the movies this summer, and head to the beach with a book instead!