Friday, 11 October 2013

Another Visit to Chapters (and a historical look at the price of Alice Munro’s books)

I wrote the draft of this blog a couple of weeks ago, but since it focuses comparing the prices of books I thought this might be an interesting and topical little addendum.  Alice Munro’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature (yay Canada) motivated me to look around the house for some of her books that we own.  I found a paperback book  that she wrote, that was printed in 1979 (Who do you Think you Are?).  It’s cover price is $C2.25.  A more recent trade book of by Alice Munro that we own (The View from Castle Rock) cost $C20.00, bought around the year 2010.
I checked the Consumer Price Index on the Statistics Canada website.  For 1979 was 40 (with 2002=100), while for 2010 it was 116.5.  So, that’s an escalator of about 2.9 times.  Given that, the price of a paperback should have only risen to about $6.55 between 1979 and 2010 (2.25 times 2.9).  Instead, it hit $20.  Granted, there is some difference in quality between the 4 inch by 7 inch paperback of 1979 and the 5 inch by 8 inch 2010 trade back book, but it’s not enough to account for such a big difference between the increase in book prices and the increase in overall consumer prices during this time interval.

Interestingly, recent e-books seem to be settling in at about the $4 to $10 range, so the e-book revolution  may just be returning matters to their historic norm.  A quick check of’s website, however,  shows that the kindle version of “Who do you Think you Are?” is going for $C13.99, the paperback for $C13.72.
And now, to the original blog:
So, we made another weekend trip to Whyte Avenue Chapters in Edmonton, this time in late September 2013, again on a Saturday late morning.  Things were a little busier, maybe because people are more into reading, later in the fall.  At any rate, the store was somewhat busier than our last trip, though only moderately so.
One interesting development was that they had a local writer, Andrea Carter, selling and signing books at a table upstairs (the book was Hardbed Hotel).  I decided to buy one, a $16.99 paper book (I later noticed that the ebook was $3.41 at Amazon, the paperback $14.40, not that I am complaining about that).  She said that her paper books were outselling her e-books.  That was interesting - Dodecahedron Books hasn’t done any print-on-demand paper books yet (working on it), but most writers on the internet that I have noticed say that their paper books only sell about one copy for every ten e-books.

 As for the book, I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say much about it.  She seemed like an intelligent, thoughtful woman, though.  I will leave an Amazon review when I  am done.
Judging from the book cover, it doesn’t appear that she is being backed by a major publisher, or perhaps even a minor publisher.  Createspace is listed as publisher on Amazon.  I don’t know how she got the Chapters book signing gig, but good for her.   The store loudspeaker would let customers know about her presence at 15 minute intervals or so.  That was noteworthy, as I had read many writers who had done book signings at stores in the past complain that they were treated rather shabbily, and basically ignored.  So, perhaps big book chains are desperate enough to actually give local writers some love.  Many people say that this is the “value added” that a bricks and mortar store can provide over on-line book shopping - the actual physical/social connections that only an honest to goodness bookstore can provide.

I also picked up an astrophysics non-fiction by Niel DeGrass Tyson (Space Chronicles, publisher Norton) and a SF novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (2312, publisher Orbit).  Here’s a price comparison (Sept 28/2013 Chapters, Sept 29/2013 Amazon on-line prices). I should note that I have a Chapters card, so I earned some points that can eventually translate into roughly a 3% discount):

Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312:

·         Chapters paperback - US$10, C$11.00,

· - paperback $7.99, kindle $8.90

· - paperback $5.91, kindle $8.99

Neil DeGrass Tyson, Space Chronicles:

·         Chapters paperback - US$16.95, C$18.00

· - paperback US$12.16, kindle US$11.66

· - paperback C$ n/a, kindle C$12.02

So, a few observations from this small sample:

·         Chapters books store prices are still higher than on-line shopping, even the mass market paperback straight-up comparison, by an average of 25% (using the US prices).

·         The big publishers are charging about the same for the e-book as for the paperback (a little more in one case, a little less in the other).

·         Paperback prices are pretty quirky between and, but e-books are pretty close.

The Neil DeGrass Tyson book seems pretty good, from the first 30 or 40 pages, but I found myself wishing I was reading an e-book version, as the paper seemed to make my hands a bit itchy.  In the old days I just ignored that, but now it makes me want to read on my Kindle, Kobo or iPad.    I haven’t had time to look at the Kim Stanley Robinson, yet, but he’s reliably interesting.  The paper seemed a bit on the cheap side too.  Interestingly, Andrea Carter’s Createspace paperback seemed to have higher quality paper than the other two “traditionally published” books.
The service was good that day.  I got help pretty quickly to find a mini-Kobo charger.  The cashier asked me if I wanted to make a donation to a reading related charity along with my payment.  I declined, and gave a few bucks to a panhandler and some young women collecting for the Navy League outside the store instead.  I have my doubts about these corporate charity shakedowns.  I am glad Amazon and Kobo don’t do that when I buy on-line.

All in all, I feel a little stupid for paying too much money for my books and for getting paper books when I prefer e-books.  But I enjoyed the chat with a live, local writer and it gave me the chance to discover someone I probably wouldn’t have, otherwise.  So, call it a draw between Chapters vs. on-line shopping that day.

No comments:

Post a Comment