Bookish Talk

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 either 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 is a paperback edition released.

In Portugal, books are not published in this way. From visiting bookshops, I believe that 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-sized 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 to 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 from 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 often. 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 there to see if there is a larger variety of books available. Public libraries are a great asset, but unfortunately not everyone lives near 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 has 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 either.

If you managed to read this rambling post until the end, thank you! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!


7 thoughts on “Bookish Talk

  1. watcherofmanyworlds says:

    I have exactly the same problem. My mom, sometime ago, asked me why I don’t buy many books in Portuguese. I just told her that for the price of one Portuguese book, I’m able to buy two or three in English. It’s absurd. Reading is an enormous contribute to our culture and language skills, it should be more accessible to those who don’t have much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susana_S_F says:

      Fully agree! That’s also one of the reasons I buy so many books in English, besides preferring reading the original to a translation and wanting to continue to practise the language!


  2. MarinaSofia says:

    I think it might also be that in Portugal, like in Germany and France, book prices are protected, set at a certain price, so you won’t find supermarkets or online retailers discounting new books so heavily. I used to find that a problem, especially when I struggle with income, but then I thought that at least it means that writers are getting paid more for their effort. You might expect that selling a higher volume at discounted rates would add up to the same thing, but I think on the whole it means the author’s percentage is tiny and it’s only the publisher potentially who thrives on it. Here’s an article about this which you might find interesting:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      Thank you for the link! It raises great points! I do agree that it’s important for authors to be paid more, not only because they deserve but also because I suppose it would allow talented people from all backgrounds to have the possibility of being a full-time author. I suppose a balance should be found, so people could also still buy books regardless of their income.
      I did a bit of research and you’re right, prices in Portugal are fixed during 18 months after the date of release. Retailers are only allowed to do discounts of up to 10%.
      I’ve recently saw some statistics about reading habits, and Portugal is one of the countries that reads the least in the EU. I wonder if that is related with the prices or not. Maybe the prices set should be a little bit lower or the government should at least exempt books from VAT to promote reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Emma says:

    I thought there were a lot of independent bookstores in Lisbon.
    Here in France, a paperback costs about 8 to 10 euros, sometimes less. The price of books is fixed mostly to support independent bookstores and foreigners will tell you we have a lot of them.
    I think the price of books in Portugal is high compared to the minimum wages for example. Are eBooks as expensive? France is currently fighting in Brussels to have it admitted that eBooks are entitled to reduced VAT rate like paper books. The notion of book is in the words, not in the paper.

    PS: Besides libraries, you can also try to buy used copies of books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      I can only think of five independent bookstores in Lisbon, although I’m not counting with the ones which only sell antique and second-hand books. There must be more, I just don’t know where they are. But when I was younger, I remember spotting so many at the Chiado and downtown neighbourhoods.
      I think eBooks are a bit cheaper. I just really don’t like reading them, because I already spend so much time looking at a screen. But I totally agree with you that eBooks should be entitled to have reduced VAT.


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