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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pricing a Book

This book by Praveen Swami - India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947-2004 (Asian Security Studies) - boasting one of the most boring titles I've come across, costs $160. On the top of my head I can think of a few parameters that determine the price range of a non-fiction book. The perceived value of the content is obviously on top. Research scientists and anthropologists spend decades gaining knowledge which they summarize succinctly in an understandable manner. (A topic like Guns, Germs and Steel pops to me). We pay for their years of experience and analytical skills. Another determinant is the genre - an exploration of counter-terrorism, though important, doesn't sell as much a biography of Oprah Winfrey (pandering to the masses). And then the popularity of the author - Obama's earnings from his books last year was $8M.

But no common-sense approach would okay a publisher setting the price at $160 for a 272 page book. (I know there are businesses that pay a lot for slim reports. But this doesn't fall into that category. I bring in the number of pages because that's an indication of the extensiveness & depth of the treatment. A 57-year history can only be put in a nutshell in less than 300 pages; to dive deep and dissect would consume considerable volumes). Unless there are any state/jihadi secrets, which there obviously can't be, it doesn't make sense to price it out of reach of a common man interested in understanding the history. It's hard to put a price tag on any book and the value a good book delivers can never be measured in dollars. And this book might very well open eyes to many; it might very well contain many seminal ideas. But such an expensive price tag in most cases will work against the propagation of the author's knowledge; it may turn out as the prime means to ensure a reduced readership.

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