Higher Education

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Cost of a book

Why is it that a new, case-bound book (i.e. one with stiff boards and a jacket covering them) will cost a third more than the very same book printed with paperback covers ten months later? Why does a school or college textbook cost so much - much more than a travel guide with the same number of pages? If it’s cheaper to make a paperback book, why can’t all textbooks be published in paperback for those students who don’t have a lot of disposable income?

Welcome to Book Production !

The above are some of the questions frequently asked of our sales representatives when out on campuses around the country. Most of the answers come down to basic economics and each of the issues will be addressed below.

An editor or publisher will request a costing for a book from production - if it’s a textbook, the editor will look at the competitors’ books and make sure their book will not fall short in comparison. Things like how many photos, how much artwork, number of pages, the physical size of the book, whether or not it’s going to be casebound or have paper covers will be suggested by the editor . Other components necessary for calculating how much the book will cost will include the royalty rate to be paid to the author, the suggested price of the book, and how many to print.

The production people will choose the printer best suited to the type of book being printed (and usually the cheapest). A very important component is the paper the book is printed on - it accounts for more than a third of the manufacturing cost (paper, print, and binding). The biggest issue though, in the whole production process, is the quantity (i.e. how many to print and bind). The more the publisher can print (and therefore have to sell), the more the initial costs can be spread out. Thus, the unit cost for a book with a high initial cost will be lower if the print-run is higher. The initial costs are those that include all the elements in taking the book up to the manufacturing stage. They will include formatting the text (previously known as typesetting), any photos or art, and the fees involved in obtaining them. Literary permissions will also come into this area - these are fees paid for the right to publish previously published material, be it literature, photographs, or illustrations. The permission fees for a recently published anthology at Oxford exceeded $100,000 - and that’s not including anything else!

To answer the question of why textbooks are so much more expensive than a similar looking book in a bookstore, it’s necessary to look at practices in the marketplace. Generally, a trade publisher (i.e. one who sells fiction, picture books, and books you’ll find in a local bookstore) will try and sell their books in other countries. By doing so, they can increase their print-run, and thus lower their initial costs. To do this, they’ll arrange to publish the book in several languages, having a commitment from foreign publishing companies to do so. This will only involve changing one colour (usually black) in the printing process -hence the book can have a much longer print-run than a locally produced textbook, which will only appeal to a limited market - maybe just Canada, or a province or two! Where possible, paperback textbooks will be produced, but in many instances, if the book is to be a core text and requires constant handling, then it’s more likely to have a stronger binding. The case binding will offer more support and protection to the pages - sometimes a paper cover will not offer enough strength in the spine especially if the paper is coated (glossy) and there are a lot of pages. Of course, the case binding costs more - the materials, time and labour involved all add up to a higher unit cost and thus, the final cost to the purchaser will be higher.

So next time you’re in a bookstore and wondering why a book costs so much, take a closer look at the book and try to figure out how many people were involved in getting it on the shelf: editor, author, copy editor, designer, artists, photo researcher, photographers, production publishing people, text formatter, proof-reader, indexer, printing staff, binding staff, truck driver, warehouse staff, customer service, book shop staff and then ask yourself - "is this all it costs?"