Just how much is a picture book worth?

Australia’s second National Bookshop Day is nearly here. In the lead up to this wonderful event, I’ve been  thinking about the value people place on picture books. I know how I feel them.

Not everyone agrees with me though!

Since I began My Little Bookcase, I’ve regularly been told by people that they think full-priced picture books are too expensive. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, but this is one that upsets me terribly.

In Australia, a quality hardback will generally retail for $20 to $30, which interestingly is the same price they were 10-15 years ago (despite many other products increasing in price over time, including the cost of paper and printing). This means that authors and illustrators, whose royalties are based on the RRP of a book, are being paid significantly less than they were ten years ago.

I’m always a little surprised when parents complain about spending $25 on a picture book yet happily part with $60 on a pair of shoes, which their toddler will outgrow in a number of months.

Likewise, I often see plastic toys piled high on hard rubbish collection heaps that would have cost parents far in excess of $25. I sometimes wonder why it is that toys are considered value for money, whilst quality books aren’t considered in the same way.

Is $25 really too much to pay for:


  • A book that is well-written, well-illustrated and a pleasure to read, even when on high rotation?
  • 32 pages of true art?
  • The  quality time a picture book allows you to spend with your child when you sit down to read together (not to mention the closeness you experience as you snuggle together to view the book)?
  • The foundations a picture book can provide your child in their reading and language development (Which will undoubtedly set them up for some amazing life-long learning)?
  • A product that can remain in a child’s heart and bookcase forever; a product that will bring them so many memories; a product that they will possibly share with their own children and grandchildren?
  • A book that will help in stimulating your child’s imagination and interest in the world around them?

So what is it about the price of picture books that disgruntles so many people?

I’d like to challenge some of the negative thoughts you might have about the price of picture books.

After working on My Little Bookcase for nearly two years, I’ve come to know many brilliant authors, illustrators, publishers and bookstore owners.  I’m in a fortunate position to be able to understand (to a small degree) what goes on behind the scenes, and I feel obliged to share some of this information with you.

I’ve come to know many authors who experience sleepless nights worrying about their work, who work for hours perfecting their stories for children, and who leave their families behind as they travel the country to share their work with other children.

I’ve chatted to illustrators who work around the clock to meet deadlines, some books taking them years to illustrate. There are even some amazingly talented illustrators who doubt their abilities.

I know publishers who believe in what they do. They publish picture books because they believe that tangible books can make a difference to the lives of children. I also know they experience many stresses, including the stress of finding enough money to offer illustrators for the incredible long hours they work on the books.

I know bookshop owners who love books as much as you do and have so much knowledge and experience to share, but they struggle to keep their businesses afloat.

THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:

  • A picture book often takes two years to complete (sometimes longer)
  • Producing a picture book requires the work of an author, illustrator, editor, publisher, designer, art director, production manager, proof-reader, contract manager, production houses, printers, managing director, sales manager, sales representative, marketing manager, publicists, and distributors (I’m sure I’ve missed others). Each and every one of these people needs to earn an income to support their families.
  • The profit breakdown below is just a rough approximation, but it gives you an idea of where your $25 goes:

-Authors and illustrators receive approximately 10% of profits ($2.50 per book)

- Publishers receive approximately 30-40% of profits. This is used to cover production costs and pay wages.  ($7.50-$10.00 per book)

- Book retailers receive approximately 40-50% of profits. This is used to pay wages and shop expenses such as rent etc. ($10.00-$12.50)

But

-Mass market and discount book outlets (These are the retailers that buy in bulk and sell books at discounted prices) receive a great deal more than 50% of profits. Their extra percentage comes at the expense of authors and illustrators who then receive less than 10%

  • Sometimes booksellers need to reduce the price of books to sell old stock, but when you buy books at a discounted price, it usually means that the retailer has purchased the books from the publisher at a heavily discounted price. If the discount goes too high there is barely enough to cover the actual production costs of the book. If authors and illustrators are receiving approximately 10% of the publisher’s net profit, it certainly doesn’t leave them with much.
  • Sometimes for publishers, selling books at discounted prices to discount book outlets saves a book from being pulped. Doesn’t this sound horrible? Thankfully, this is a last resort.

Do you still think $25 is too much to pay for a picture book?

I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that I haven’t ever bought books from discount retailers, and I’m certainly not condemning you for buying discounted books;  Money is tight in many Australian households and I understand the lure of purchasing discounted books.

But as you can see, there is a lot at stake when you buy discounted books. I try to support local bookstores (and in turn local authors, illustrators and publishers) as much as I possibly can, and I hope you will consider doing the same.

You can start supporting our local superstars by visiting your local bookstore on National Bookshop Day on Saturday 11 August.

There are so many wonderful events taking place around the nation. We’ve begun a little list here, which includes bookshops holding events for children.

At the very least, can we stop complaining about the price of picture books? They really are worth every cent of $25.00

There are many authors, illustrators, publishers and booksellers who have  helped me (both intentionally and inadvertently) with this post. You know who you are, and I thank you for helping me spread the love and appreciation for picture books.


Just how much is a picture book worth?

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  1. Jode said: On August 9, 2012

    Jackie….this is a brilliant post! I will always choose to buy a good quality book over a new toy for my girls any day. I must admit that i have been guilty of at times thinking some books are too expensive…but i still buy them anyway! You have really given me something to think about though and challenged me to review how i think about book prices.
    Don’t get me wrong…i love books and understand the work that must go into them so have always been willing to pay but i also know that there are many parents who won’t bother because they presume they can spend the money on something ‘better’! So i think this is a very important post and message and i’m so glad you went into so much detail.
    I also worry that my children will not have the absolute pleasure of browsing a bookstore, choosing and walking away with a beautiful book in the future as bookshops seem to be endangered now!
    I hold onto my dream of writing a children’s book about twins but this post has also made me think about how many people are involved in this endeavour.
    I shall recall your words when i next think a book is too expensive! And i’m so glad to know there is a national bookshop day!

    • I’m so happy that the article has given you food for thought. Good luck with the book by the way. :)

  2. Sometimes when I look at the broken plastic toys and think how worthless they seem, and then do the mental breakdown of the costs of all those bits of plastic, it is astounding! A good picture story book (especially in hardcover…love!) is worth every single penny!

  3. I have to say I agree with both sides! Coming from the States where hardcovers are under $20 and paperbacks under $!0, paying $25-30 does seem like a lot of money. On the other hand, I am willing to pay $25-30 here for books because of all the reasons you listed above. I do believe that books are the best money spent. In fact, just bought one full price book today and have two more on order…. :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I know that people feel strongly both ways and voicing your opinion can be a little nerve-wracking!! A well written post!

    • You’re 100% right Stephanie, not everyone is going to share the same opinion, and there are definitely two sides to consider. I’m glad the post came across well and I was able to provide people with info so they can understand the two sides.

  4. Interesting post Jackie! I have a weakness for books. If I am ever to spoil myself it is either chocolate or a book (often both!). And I adore children’s books too. For each birthday and Christmas my kids are each given a book, and as treats in between books are often at the top of the list. We love reading. We also supplement our books with borrowing from the library. This is a great way to try out new authors, and often we end up buying new favourites :-)

    • I’m a huge advocate for libraries too Kelly. I think it’s the only affordable way to keep up with a book fetish- he he!

  5. Nice bottle of wine, cheap at $25. Gone very soon. Why are picture books considered expensive? Compared to what? Everything is relative. Picture books last a lifetime and are used over and over – excellent value if you ask me when I think about all the hours weeks months years that have lovingly gone into that darling creation.

    • Well said Kaye. I think what you get out of a product highlights how much you value and respect it. And, books certainly give us a lifetime of pleasure.

    • Oh, that’s just put my book buying in a whole new light! Now I reckon I could justify any book purchase, and not feel guilty about the calories or suffer a hangover the next day!!!

  6. As you well know, I’m a huge believer in the value of the printed page, especially where children are involved. From a consumer point of view, I think ALL books in Australia are too expensive, but that doesn’t stop me buying them… I’d rather buy a book than new clothes, accessories or shoes, and do! I just wish I had better bookshops near to home. (Actually I don’t, because that would be too dangerous and we are already at bursting point!) From an insider in the printing and publishing industry, who knows how much these cost to produce and the effort required, I am devastated to think that we undervalue books (and journals) so greatly that we are prepared to spend $100s on plastic toys that kids outgrow in less than a year (not including the absolutely environmentally disastrous rubbish we buy for other kids for their birthdays), but won’t spend reasonable money on something that will be enjoyed for years. My inlaws’ birthday gift to my Munchkin this year was some of his Dad’s old picture books. That is priceless… One day, I will put all his wonderful books aside for exactly the same purpose.
    Oh, my blood is boiling now too!!! Great article and a lot of food for thought.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Cath. I often wish for a lovely bookshop near me too, but having to travel a little bit makes an adventure to the bookshop so much more fun for Cam.
      I think your Dad’s gift to Munchkin is priceless too.

  7. Cat said: On August 9, 2012

    I agree with you so much. I walk past one of my favourite bookshops on the way to work and it takes every inch of me not to walk in and buy a new book every day that I’m at work! As you know (having asked your advice!) I’m asking for only book gifts for my smallest’s upcoming 1st birthday. We DO NOT need more plastic laying around our home! Books give such joy and wonderful bonding experiences and I will always do everything I can to support authors and illustrators. Great post!

  8. You are so very right! It’s all about value. What you are getting for the money you spend and in terms of value picture books are infinite. Great post! Like so many things stopping to reflect on the situation is a great way to gain perspective!

    • It is about reflection isn’t it? Life is so busy that we sometimes begin to take things for granted.

  9. Jackie, I just want to hug you….this post is fabulous!! Books are precious, they create memories and are a wonderful investment on so many levels. Every book I purchase, I wish I could buy 20 more but sadly it is just not affordable…..thank goodness for libraries.
    Every birthday my girls receive a book with a special written message telling them how much they are loved and how proud we are of them. Books are to treasure and keep forever….and I look forward to the day my girls sit down with their children and share the books we have given them. I am sharing this on FB – love it! x

    • Thanks Janice.
      We give books as gifts in the same manner here. I think the messages make them extra special.

  10. What a beautifully articulated and thoughtful post Jackie. The longevity of a book’s appeal really does justify the cost and I’d never even considered all of the many different people who have a stake in a book’s price – thank you for opening my eyes to that. Even when things get really tight, both Mark and I agree that we can always find something in the budget for books. How can you put a price on, as you said, all that bonding and quality time spend together, as well as something that is creating memories and a lifelong love of reading for our children, at the same time improving literacy and learning skills? You can’t. $25 sounds cheap when you think of it that way.

    • It really is extraordinary how much work goes into a book. Yes, $25 does sound cheap. It’s when you develop a book addiction that budgeting for books can be difficult, – he he!

  11. Jackie, my bookseller’s heart is so full there are tears in my eyes!
    I’m terribly grateful to you for putting it so well, it’s a big task to take on intelligently and respectfully, and you’ve nailed it. Thank you!

    • ….and that makes me happy.
      Thank you for your kind words about the post. I’m glad I can paint an accurate picture for my readers.

  12. You did an excellent job on this post Jackie. It makes me want to run to the bookstore and buy up big! Well done! Picture books ARE worth every cent!

  13. Great article, Jackie. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Our first picture book, “Why?” by Lila Prap, was $25.99 on release in 2005. Seven years later, our latest release, “Empty Fridge” by Gaetan Doremus, is $27.99, in a special ‘tall hardback’ format with rounded edges, which is more expensive to produce than a standard hardback. Over that period, Australia’s CPI has risen by 22.9% (or about 3% a year). If we’d kept up with the CPI, our new book would be around $32.

    • Thanks Andrew. It must be so hard for publishers. I know food producers aren’t charging more for products, but their packaging sizes are smaller. You can’t quite reduce the size of a story :)

  14. Thus is a wonderful post – I wish everyone was as passionate about picture books. I agree with many of the other comments about books being ideal gifts. Only one person gave my newborns a gift of books – almost everyone else gave clothes. The books would have been cheaper and we are still reading them (more than 3 years on) wheras the clothes have long since been grown out of.

    • Individual attitudes to books are interesting. Similarly, my daughter didn’t receive any books for her 3rd birthday. I wondered though whether it had something to do with me writing for My Little Bookcase.

  15. Hi Jackie,
    What a brilliant post! You should be commended. I’m a self-confessed hoarder of picture books and my children are the ones who are benefiting from it. It’s so important to expose children to books early, in particular picture books. They have the power to prepare children with a foundation for academic excellence. What better way to boost our children’s learning potential by making picture books an integral part of their lives. Well done Jackie!

    • Thank you Robert. I’d also love to see picture books stay in their lives beyond when children begin reading independently.

  16. Jackie,

    Love this post! I lament over the loss of our local bookshops. There simply aren’t any left!! :(

    Will pin and FB share this.

    Thank you xoxo P

  17. I couldn’t agree with you more and you’ve said it so well. I’ll be sharing this one.

  18. A beautiful reminder for all about the value of picture books. $25 is great value for money when you consider the number of people who share in the experience of reading the book, the number of times it can be read (over and over and over by the same reader), its ability to live throughout generations, its capacity to help children learn, think and feel, and the magic it creates in relationship-building between adults and children and between children and books. For the same price I could take one of my children to the cinema to watch a movie once, without sharing a meaningful conversation. Mmmm, not really a tough decision where my $25 goes.

  19. Hi Jackie,
    I totally agree with your comments. When I’m told that books are expensive I always like to ask compared to what? An $18 entree at a restaurant that is gone in ten minutes, 5 or more coffees a week that we just can’t live without and so on. It would be lovely if we could share your piece in a weekly enewsletter that we send out to our member bookstores. I am sure they would be more than grateful and happy to read it.

  20. Miss 7 and I loveeee picture books. I will be really sad when she moves onto reading chapter books by herself.

    • Steph, I know the feeling. Just like you I still love picture books. I’m sure our daughters will still love them too, even when they are reading chapter books independently.

  21. Wonderful post!! I like how you compared the cost of buying a picture book to buying a toy or a pair of shoes.

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Just how much is a picture book worth?

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