My good and old friend Emre wrote in with this question. He just finished Hunter S. Thompson’s classic Hell’s Angels, and is pining to read a certain new book that I’ve been mentioning quite a bit lately:
when’s the paperback for [Edith] Grossman’s Don Quixote coming out?
Book pricing is a classic example of what we used to call price discrimination in my economics classes. The way the book publishers see it, there is a certain percentage of the population out there for whom getting a book as soon as it comes out is worth the premium of ten bucks or so. These people are willing to buy the book at this higher price, so the publishers take advantage of it. Once the demand for the higher priced edition has dried up, they put out a lower priced edition and then they can sell the same book to a second group of people for whom owning the book is worth less. It’s good business, actually, because the publishers can cash in on the pent-up demand for each title. Other businesses rarely have this luxury because products are usually not as individualized as books are. So, how long does it take for that first level of demand to dry up? When customers ask me, I usually say it can take anywhere from six to eighteen months, and that it varies from title to tile with the only real hard and fast rule being that the really, really big sellers in hardcover tend not to come out in paperback for quite a while, for obvious reasons. I suspected, however, that Emre was looking for a more specific answer. So, I tracked down the phone number for Ecco Press, the division of Random House that is putting out both the hardcover and paperback editions of this book, and rung them up. The gentleman that I reached there looked through his records and told me that they have set a tentative release date of October 2004 for the paperback. So there you have it Emre, either you can sit tight til next October or you can go ahead and pony up the cash. It all depends on how you quantify your pent-up demand.