Selling Hardbacks for a Suggested Retail of $10 – a Fluke, or Sanity Breaking Out in Publishing?

barnes noble fredericksburg bargain priced 1When I was visiting the Barnes & Noble store in Fredericksburg yesterday,I came across a surprising sight.

Mixed in with the many tables of remaindered, discounted, and otherwise reduced price books was one tablet full of “bargain-priced” history and mythology books. The books were priced between $10 and $13, and here’s the fun part: the titles which mentioned their list price were selling at that price, rather than at a discount.

In a market where trade hardbacks usually list for $25 to $30, and trade paperbacks are often listed for $15, here was a whole table full of hardback books priced for less than the expected retail price of a paperback.

barnes noble fredericksburg bargain priced 2

barnes noble fredericksburg bargain priced 3

It was a table full of books which carried list prices close to the actual market price rather than the inflated price we have come to expect as the norm in the US book market.

So tell me, is this a fluke, or is it a sign that some publishers are adopting a more sensible pricing policy?

Nate Hoffelder

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Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Carly13 June, 2016

    Those look like bargain/remaindered titles. My guess is that they’re either not from major publishers, or they’re overflow from major publishers. Bargain books aren’t always overflow, sometimes they’re books that were published specifically for bargain sales-so they’re cheaper for the bookstore to carry, but the bookstore can’t return them to the publisher, hence the low pricing up front. No one wants those books back, so if they can’t sell at bargain prices then B&N is stuck.

    It’s been years since I worked in a bookstore, but at the time there was a rise in books being published specifically for the bargain sections, and that’s my best guess as to how these ended up priced so low.

    1. Nate Hoffelder13 June, 2016

      Okay, so I was right.

      I would call the current return policy insane, so this is an example of sanity breaking out.


    2. Peter Winkler13 June, 2016

      “Bargain books aren’t always overflow, sometimes they’re books that were published specifically for bargain sales-so they’re cheaper for the bookstore to carry.”

      In publishing these books are called “value editions.”

      1. Carly13 June, 2016

        Gotcha. It’s been 10 years since I worked for Borders, so I didn’t remember all the lingo. 🙂

  2. David North13 June, 2016

    The irony here is that a big part of Amazon’s first big dispute with publishers centered around the price of ebooks being kept to $9.99 or less.

    So now, after all the blood drawing and acrimony, publishers are to the point of selling a more costly paper book for what Amazon asked at the start for digital books.

  3. Reader13 June, 2016

    I do not recall when I have gone into an B&N bookstore and NOT seen some hardbound books under $10. A limited set of hardbounds under $10 has been standard at B&N bookstores for years and years.

  4. MKS13 June, 2016

    Yes, they had some excellent anthologies of weird fiction and horror shorts from pulps for $5.99 in book-club quality binding forever… I imagine the history and mythology books were probably all reprints of public domain works.

  5. I hate to break this to you, but these all look like packager books. That is, the authors have been paid a fixed fee (usually terribly small) to compile and/or write the content. Then the packager prints and distributes the book at these low prices.
    Look at the topics. They’re mostly collections of facts about a certain topic, old photos that are no longer under copyright, etc. In other words, a lot of stuff you can find on the web with a quick search.
    Before the internet, there was value in these books. Mostly now I can’t figure out why people buy them at all.
    As for the author’s role in this, I know why someone would take the really low fee and no royalties to write some of these but I think it’s a shame that we are forced into such decisions.

  6. Richard Hollick14 June, 2016

    Did you notice who the publishers were? Barnes & Noble have owned publishing imprints for years and have published their editions at those sorts of prices, without needing to discount them. Of course these tend to be public domain works.
    In so far as I can see, your photo tells us the books are not public domain, and come from more than one publisher. For years publishers have been willing to print special editions for a big retailer. They sell in bulk, at a negotiated price, and of course the books are non-returnable, so publishers rather like them. The book may be modestly posted as a “special edition” (as little as a small indication on the copyright page, and of course a separate ISBN, or can have quite a splash proclaiming that you as a customer of company X are benefitting massively from this sacrifice on the part of your friendly retailer. Mostly I think they tend towards the modest end of the scale when destined for the retail trade.

    1. Nate Hoffelder14 June, 2016

      I didn’t recognize any of the publishers, no. The two books I flipped through were rather generic, though. I think Laine was right about these being packager books.

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