On Large and Small Books

During my last binge at Landmark, I saw a book which I thought I’d like. It was priced at some six hundred rupees – a full fifty percent premium over what I’m usually willing to pay for a book – and was quite thick. My first thought was “ok on a pages-per-rupee basis, this seems to be doing quite well so I should buy it”. Then I had  second thoughts.

The question is – should you look at the size of a book as an advantage or as a disadvantage? I think the normal viewpoint (as reflected by my instinct) treats pages as assets. There might be historical backing for this. When books were read for timepass, the amount of value (the time that could be passed) that could be gleaned from the book would be proportional to the number of pages in the book. If the language was difficult to read, then even better – for now it allows one to pass even more time reading the book.

However, when one comes to “funda  books”, this argument fails spectacularly. When you read funda books, you don’t read to pass time. You read books in order to get fundaes. And once this happens, volume becomes not a benefit but a cost. When you are reading a book for the fundaes, then you are effectively paying two costs – one is the rupee cost of the book and the other is the time COST. The time that you spend reading the book now becomes a cost. And when time is a cost, then more pages need not be a benefit.

Unfortunately, when you are at the bookstore trying to make a decision about whether to buy a book, there is no way you can figure out how much of fundaes the book is likely to offer. It would have helped if you have read some reviews, which will allow you to make an informed decision. If you haven’t, then hard luck. Now, if you have no clue about that book that you have in your hand, and you need to make a decision on whether to buy it, then I won’t blame you for making your decision based on the thickness.

The unfortunate consequence of this is useless padding up of books. Authors and publishers know that a large section of the readers are likely to judge books based on their size. And they make things voluminous. They take 40 pages to tell stories that could’ve been written in 4. They end up saying the same thing time and again, just to increase the number of pages. And overall, end up boring the reader and lowering the net value added by their book.

So you have ideas which could have been communicated in a few blog posts developing into a book – after all, no one wouuld be willing to pay the same amount of money for a 20 page book as they would for a 200 page book right? even if it were to offer comparable amount of fundaes?

I don’t really know if there is a simple solution to this problem. Solving this would involve effecting a major shift in consumer behaviour. It is unlikely that blogging and online publication would become profitable, else we might have expected the disruption to come from there. Still, you can never say. All we can do is to wait and hope. And read reviews before choosing books.

PS: online purchase of books (via Amazon, etc.) might help mitigate this problem a little since you don’t really feel a book when you decide to buy it, and you have reviews available instantly. Nevertheless, I’m sure most buyers would be subsconsciously using the “number of pages” field while making their purchase decision.

PS2: I should make my blog posts less verbose

7 thoughts on “On Large and Small Books”

  1. I always wondered on what basis books are priced.I mean when you first publish a book you have no idea how it’ll be received by the readers.I speculated that the way they do it is, once the subject of the book is categorized(into finance,philosophy,travel etc)they have some kind of upper and lower bounds and after that the final price is decided quite arbitrarily.The real thing is still a mystery to me.

  2. I too don’t know anything about how books are priced.

    But I also buy books, sometimes, based on my ability to hold them up while reading in bed. Hardcovers plonking down on a nose can put a quick stop to approaching drowsiness….what a weird yet valid-to-me reason to buy a paperback instead of a hardcover, especially of the kind of books one does read just before going to sleep….

    1. ah ok
      i never read those kind of books, and I’ve stopped reading books at bedtime so this is not a constraint for me.

      but interesting, nevertheless

  3. Another criteria for the pricing of a book is the brand value of the author.The richer and more famous a person is, the higher monetary value is attached to his/her time, resulting in a more expensive book.

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