Three lines in three different posts in this morning's Sisters in Crime listserv stuck me:
"So I suspect that the designers who charge orbit-high rates for work with InDesign may be trying to recoup the cost of the program."
"I think this shows that publishers don't like/appreciate libraries."
"I think the risk (and the reward of jacking up prices) is being miscalculated … publishers that make it hard for people to try out books are the ones who are risking irrelevance."
I think we are all struggling with assessing value in a dynamic environment, and I think it's especially interesting to look not just at the ideas expressed here but also the words that we're using.
"Suspect" has at least a connotation of something inappropriate. That connotation is reinforced by "orbit-high." But is there anything wrong with a professional trying to recoup costs?
It's always difficult to ascribe motive, but do we really believe that publishers don't "like" libraries?
When we're talking about risk and reward, we're using terms that put us into the right realm — commerce. But are we imputing a duty — trying out books — that publisher should not have to bear? Not that I don't agree with the trying-out goal. I just don't know how we pay for it.
Perhaps because I've just completed another text rush season at my day job, I'm feeling bruised on price issues. It's easy for a consumer to decide that he or she is being overcharged, something that students seem to have little hesitation to say to us. I actually prefer that our customers vocalize the thought, because at least it gives me an opportunity to have the conversation, to explain how we set prices, why our prices are different from what they see at Amazon, what our costs are, and that we're a nonprofit trying only to recoup our costs — primarily wages, which in some cases are shockingly low at our store. I don't tell students the last part; I don't think they need to know specific hourly wages. But otherwise, we are willing to share all of our financials with students and everyone else in the community.
Of course I turn around at do it myself every time I fill up at the gas station. I think I know what's wrong with gas prices — that they're manipulated by speculators, and not driven by pure supply/demand considerations. But who am I to say?
I don't like how much Adobe charges for InDesign, but I pay the price because I like the results I get out of it when I lay out pages. I wish that the designers I work with cost less, but I know that they've studied hard to get to where they are, that they're proficient both technically and aesthetically, that they haven't skimped on the tools of the trade, and that their files will be trouble-free at all the vendors who'll be processing them. It always seems that Lightning Source is charging a lot just to set up a title and accept files, but I also know that they've made a huge investment in their digital infrastructure and that the people who support those systems get paid well (as they should for their expertise and education).
There's lots wrong with the book business — including the prices of various services, and the prices of our products. But I think we could all be more careful about how we think about and talk about these questions. I don't think we can suggest that it's wrong for a service provider to try to recoup the cost of the tools of the trade. If the terms of an arrangement aren't favorable for users, it's probably not because the seller doesn't "like" them.
Except, of course, the gas companies. They obviously don't like me.