Pricing a Book

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: books

Pricing a Book

In the past few weeks, we have received many e-mails from readers of our new René Herse book. All messages were positive. Many readers wrote that the book greatly exceeded their expectations.
I appreciate the feedback, and I am delighted that our readers are so happy. After all, few people take the time to write about something they buy, so when you get dozens of e-mails with only a couple of hundred books sold, it’s a good sign.
Readers love the wonderful photos and stories. The René Herse archives are amazing – I was blown away as well when I first saw them. But something inside me still wonders why the book exceeded so many people’s expectations. What did they expect, if not an amazing book? Perhaps the answer lies in the price: $86 is a lot of money in absolute terms, but it’s very little for a book like this.
Book pricing is a tricky thing, because when the book gets printed, you pay mostly for the setup fee. After that, it costs less and less to keep the presses running longer to print a higher quantity, thus lowering the per-unit cost.
This gives publishers two choices: You can print a lot of books, so you are able to sell them at a low price. The downside is that you need to sell many books to break even on the project. For specialized titles, it’s safer to print very few and sell them at a much higher price. After all, you know that some readers will buy the book almost at any price, and that way, you will break even once you have sold only a few hundred books.
As an example, take a beautiful book on the early days of Porsche published last year (top of this post). Many books have been published about Porsche, but this isn’t your standard, casual overview. It is a carefully researched book by one of the best authors in the field. It includes specially commissioned studio photos. With 356 pages in a format of 10.5 inches square, it’s almost as big as our René Herse book. The publisher priced the book at $ 120. The first printing is already sold out, barely three months after it appeared. This indicates that the publisher underestimated the interest in this topic, but it also means that they already have recovered their investment.
I have more than a passing interest in car design and history, even if I rarely drive a car. I am tempted by this book, since the Porsche/Cisitalia/Dusio Bicycles connection has intrigued me for a long time. But $ 120 makes me hesitate. At 2/3 that price, I would have bought the book as soon as it came out.
Above is another “specialized” title about the Group B rally cars of the 1980s. It’s a lavish book, 1000 pages in two volumes, written and published by the expert on the subject, photographer Reinhard Klein. The price? 995 Euros. That’s a little over $1300. No wonder the book is limited to 500 copies. Perhaps more surprisingly, over 400 already have been sold. Good for Mr. Klein, but too bad for me, who cannot afford his book.
René Herse could be considered a “specialized” topic as well. The average cyclist doesn’t recognize the name, and our book never will become a blockbuster. On the other hand, there are quite a few fervent fans of the “Magician of Levallois.” For them, the book would be a “must-have” at almost any price. Unlike Porsche or rally cars, there isn’t anything else published on the subject. If there ever was a title that lent itself to a high price, this is it.
So why didn’t we price the book high? The reason for keeping our books affordable is simple: The story of René Herse and his riders is so wonderful that I want to share it with as many people as possible. The very reasonably price of René Herse allows the book to have an impact far beyond the collectors and connoisseurs. That way, it can inspire current and future generations of cyclists. That is my passion and true goal for writing these books.
For true aficionados, we offer the “Limited Edition” with a beautiful slipcase and four  ready-to-frame art prints of unpublished photos from the René Herse archives.
Click here for more information about either edition of the René Herse book.

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