Part of the reason why I don’t blog much comes down to books. A friend of mine and I decided to go into business together and start up a niche/micro press. No delusions of grandeur, no “we’re going to change the landscape of publishing … hear our [mouse] roar!” Just, put together books we like, with the immediate goal of the press (Bandersnatch) generating enough money to keep itself afloat. One of the thing I’ve discovered, recently, is the issue of putting prices on books.

So, keep this in mind. You read a book of poetry that you like, and you want to publish it using POD technology (to cut out the expense of large print runs and warehouse fees). Lets say it’s a 32 page chapbook. Cost of production, full color, trade paperback in a 6 by 9 format will likely be 5 dollars and change. If you’re profit splitting or whatever, you can likely put a price of $8 on it, sell it off a website with a paypal link, and call it a day. Of course, you can’t expect the title to sell much by itself — paypal is a limiting factor, and the sad fact is: nobody really buys poetry, these days.

However, lets say an online vendor/book store comes around. Lets say they see the book and want to stock it. In all likelihood, that vendor will charge half the retail price as a fee for stocking and selling said chapbook. Half of 8 naturally is 4 — and if it costs you 5 and change to produce said chapbook . . . congrats, now you’re a dollar in the hole. So, to factor in online vendors, you have to up the price. 5 to manufacture, so the price goes to 10 just to break even. Add 2 dollars profit, and you’re at 12 (for 32 pages of poetry). Some readers will look at that and ask, “What the bloody blue fuck?” And they will not buy.

But, interestingly enough, high prices are not the territory of print on demand publishing. In general, the prices of poetry books — even in the larger, New York City presses — are just abysmal. Recently, I bought Dearest Creature by Amy Gerstler. (Plug: It’s great! I’ve always admired Amy Gerstler’s work!) Penguin Books put it out. The list price? $18 for like 96 pages. Over at a smaller, independent press like Saraband, Cate Marvin’s Fragment of the Head of a Queen is $13.95. Same length. Looking for a doorstop? The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (University of California Press) has a list price of $28.95, for 586 pages. I could go on and on citing examples. Penguin seems to charge the most, however, for thin poetry books.

It’s kind of dispiriting if you think about it. This is something the average, serious poetry reader knows already. However, lets say, like myself, that you’re trying to sell poetry to a genre audience, who normally has a jaded eye. They will look at 32 pages of poetry with a $12-15 price tag and cringe. Truth be told — publishing poetry is not super profitable anyway. And as much as I’d love to be comforted by higher prices stretching beyond POD technology, I’m not. The average reader will look at Amy Gerstler’s book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, no matter the quality, and go “Um, 90 something pages for 18 dollars?” No thanks! Where are the Anne Rice paperbacks?

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