Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Inflation of Reading

I am a notoriously cheap person. I save every penny I can, and with the rest I purchase books—new, used, and everything in between. I like my books unsoiled, uncreased, and in mass-market paperback editions. There is something special about the mass-markets—they are small and comfortable to read, with (usually) great artwork, and they are light to pack around in a bag or suitcase. I can sneak them to work and read them on my break, at lunch, or any damn time I have a minute.

I also like to complain about how expensive books are—specifically mass-market paperbacks. I’m still stuck in 1992 when the expensive paperbacks were $5.99—and most of what I read was between $3.99 and $4.99. So when I walk into the bookstore and nearly everything has a retail price of $7.99 I gasp, bitch and moan and then buy a couple—and always think, damn, a few years ago I could have walked out of here with three.

Where is this going? Well, all this complaining and comparing got me thinking about what the inflation rate on mass-market paperbacks is, and how it compares, in general, with the overall inflation rate of the U.S. economy. So I put together a few numbers—in a very unscientific manner—to see just how much the price of books have increased on an annual basis over the past sixty years.

The numbers are rough, and the sampling is far from complete, but I had a good time doing it, and I hope you have a good time with it to. My only request is that you don’t take the numbers as perfect, because they aren’t. I used a discount method of present value of money to calculate them, and while they should be in the neighborhood, they certainly could be improved.

General Genre Rates

The westerns are a comparison between the common price of the 1949 Gold Medal editions and the common price of 2007 westerns. The mysteries compare these same GM editions and the current line of Hard Case Crime novels. The science fiction is a comparison between the old ACE Doubles in 1956—I have several of these, and that is where the price came from—and the most common price of ACE science fiction books today. I did this by sampling the science fiction area in a local bookstore last weekend.


The 1949 price was: $0.25
The 2007 price is: $5.99
The annual inflation rate is: 5.63%


The 1949 price was: $0.25
The 2007 price is $6.99
The annual inflation rate is: 5.91%

Science Fiction

The 1956 price was: $0.35
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual Inflation rate is: 6.33%

Some Particulars

The particular series and title numbers came from editions that I either own, or could easily find comparison prices on the web. When possible I compared the first edition of a book with the most current edition. For The Executioner series I compared a recent release with the 1976 edition of #26: Acapulco Rampage. The Gunsmith series is a comparison between the 1982 first printing of #1: Macklin’s Women and the 2006 release of #294: Farewell the Mountain. The individual titles should be self-explanatory. I hope.

The Executioner series

The 1972 price was: $1.25
The 2007 price is: $4.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.03%

The Gunsmith series

The 1982 price was: $2.25
The 2006 price was: $5.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.16%

Off Season by Jack Ketchum

The 1981 price was: $2.50
The 2006 price was: $6.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.19%

Among the Missing by Richard Laymon

The 2000 price was: $5.99
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.20%

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter

The 1993 price was: $5.99
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual inflation rate is: 2.08%

The Totem by David Morrell

The 1980 price was: $2.50
The 1995 price was: $6.50
The annual inflation rate is: 6.33%

The numbers really aren’t terrible, but they aren't good either. Every category except Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact exceeded the national inflation rate by between one and three points—if you figure the overall inflation rate in the economy over the same period at about 3%. The general genre rates were around double the overall inflation rates, while the individual titles were slightly less.

It might not be a huge inflation rate, but it is enough above the overall inflation rate to give me grounds to gripe. I hope the little extra growth is headed towards the writers, but somehow I doubt it.

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