Since starting my book blog I’ve been paying more attention to the different ways in which books are published and their prices both in Portugal (where I live) and the UK, and have some random thoughts to share. Don’t expect to read a well-thought-out essay, though. This is more of a collection of musings about my personal experience as a book buyer, since I have no real inside knowledge about how the publishing industry really works in neither of the countries.
When I first started buying books from online UK sellers, more or less six years ago, I didn’t immediately realise that new books are usually first released in hardback and only sometime after a paperback edition is made available. As I much prefer paperbacks, I just instantly chose those editions. From my now limited understanding, books are released in hardback first because they are sold at higher prices and generate more profit per unit. Only when hardback sales start to wane, a paperback edition is released.
In Portugal, books are not published in this way. From visiting bookshops, I believe the vast majority of books are only published in paperback, irrespective of being new releases or not (don’t quote me on this though, since I have no actual numbers to provide that confirm my perception). The dimensions and paper quality of paperback books available in Portuguese bookshops are varied, some have French flaps, others don’t.
You may now be thinking that books in Portugal are cheaper than in the UK, as the majority seem to be immediately released in paperback. However, that is not the case. Paperbacks in Portugal can be as expensive as hardbacks. Short and medium size books in paperback, new releases or not, can cost as much as 17€, and longer books can cost 20€ or more. And these prices apply for both books originally written in Portuguese and translations. For example, I recently bought a book in paperback by José Saramago, which was first published in 1995, that cost me around 15€. It is possible to find really good bargains, like classics that cost 6€, but prices like these are far from the norm.
From my own experience, paperback books in the UK are far cheaper, at least when bought online. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than £9 (around 10€) for a paperback book. This is a considerable difference when you take into consideration that average Portuguese wages are lower than in the UK. Why is there such a difference in prices? I wish I had an answer to that question, but I really don’t. As far as I know, books are exempt of VAT in the UK, while in Portugal they are subject to a tax of 6%. But I don’t think that is reason enough for the disparity in prices. If you have an answer for my question, please let me know!
One way to save money would be to use public libraries more. There is one where I live and I used to borrow books from there some time ago, usually when I wanted to see if I really liked one author or not. However, at the time it didn’t have that many fiction books that appealed to me. I may now return to see if there is a larger variety of books available. Public libraries are a great asset, but unfortunately not everyone lives nearby one.
I have to admit that nowadays I do the majority of my book shopping online on Amazon and on Fnac (a retail chain of cultural products, which have stores in France, Spain and Portugal), as where I live there are no independent bookshops. I try to visit some, whenever I go to Lisbon, but there aren’t that many left there neither.
If you managed to read this rambling post until the end, thank you! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!