I recently paid $40+ for a used paperback book.
I wasn’t required to buy it for any reason. And no, it wasn’t a college textbook. (That’d be a steal!)
It was a book I was very much interested in reading, that was not available through my library, and that was out of print. So I paid more for it than a brand new hardback, waited the two-week shipping (for which I paid extra), received, read, and deeply enjoyed the book.
I saw a screenshot meme online about book pricing that resonated with this experience. I can’t find it, unfortunately. It’s lost somewhere in the gaping, infinite maw of the internet. But the basic gist was a juxtapositioning. People are willing to pay $5 (sometimes more) for a latte that a barista made in 10-15 minutes, while complaining that paying $4.99 for an e-book, which took years and countless hours of work and effort and thought, is “too much.”
During the pandemic, my local libraries closed. Delivery was slow and unreliable. And, besides, we were nervous to order things or interact with delivery people. Maybe the virus could ride in on packages, we knew so little about how it worked. I found myself stuck with the books I already had on my shelves. Over the last year, I have re-read most of them. And I am rediscovering the unending value of a well-written book.
A coffee is great. Especially a well-made coffee. But it lasts an hour. Maybe a morning. A day if you count the caffeine effects. The next day, you need another coffee. It’s ephemeral.
Know what’s not ephemeral? Written language. Preserved thoughts, poems, and stories. A human person (and if it’s traditionally published, many human people) labored to make sure those words were put down in exactly that order.
Even if that roomful of monkeys did finally produce Hamlet, that would be a fucking miracle, wouldn’t it? I’d pay more than a latte for a miracle.
Books are precious resources. The value we derive from a book is infinite. It can be consumed over and over. It can be passed from hand to hand. It can be gifted to our children and grandchildren. And all of this without diminishing. There is never less than when we began. In fact, now there is more: shared experiences, new conversations to be had, strengthened human connections.
Their creators should be respected with what passes as a value indicator in a capitalist society. Money.
How much money is enough for something miraculous as a book?
Probably more than whatever you paid for your morning coffee.