Thoughts on pricing children’s chapter books

When I was a kid, I got an allowance of $5 per week.

That $5 went toward many Beanie Babies, a handful 10-cent Now and Later candies at Mazon Market, and those big 50-cent stickers you can buy from sticker machines at Pizza Hut and Kroger.

But during weeks my Mom and sisters made the trip to Streator to shop, I hoarded that $5 bill.

Streator had On Cue.

On Cue sold books.

Streator shopping trips were agonizing until we got to On Cue. (Mom tended to go there last to make sure I would behave at all the boring stores.) I was dragged through clothing stores like Fashion Bug and Maurices. We had to stop at Kmart for household goods. We went to Save-A-Lot and McGrath’s Seafood and Kroger for groceries. Sometimes we would swing by CVS Pharmacy if there was a good sale.

I dragged my feet. I moaned. I flopped my arms. I  begged to go to On Cue next.

And finally, at the end of the trip, we went to the bookstore.

I would spend an hour in the children’s books, carrying a purse on my shoulder that contained nothing but a wallet, which contained nothing but a $5 bill. I went through each book, evaluating which one I should officially make my own.

The trouble was, most of them were out of my price range. A handful were $4.99, although most of them were below my reading level. A few were $5.99, and I knew I could count on Mom to supplement the purchase by giving me the extra dollar, plus tax. (That’s how I ended up with a shelf full of $5.99 Nancy Drew mysteries.) Sometimes I could even wrangle an extra $2 from Mom to get a $6.99 book.

Then there were the $8.99 books. That was the magic number I recall as a kid. Many of the books in the children and YA fiction section were priced at $8.99. To get one of those, I had to bargain with Mom. She would pay the extra four dollars plus tax, but it would come out of next week’s allowance. No whining allowed the following week if I couldn’t buy Beanie Babies, Now and Laters, or stickers.

(Although if memory serves me right, Mom usually handed over a dollar in quarters for Now and Laters and stickers the next week.)

I grew up knowing books aren’t always easy to buy. I also grew up knowing books are important to developing minds and need to be easily available to children.

For families who live in library districts, easy access is no problem. To families like mine, which lived in rural farm country outside city limits, book access was limited during summer vacation, when the school library was closed.

As a writer, I sit on the fence and see two sides. Publishers and authors need to earn livable wages off their product. But readers also want (and need) access to reading materials.

That’s why, as a self-published writer, I am thankful to cut out the middleman of the publisher. I can set my books at the more affordable end of the pricing scale.

My goal for every children’s chapter book I write is to keep the price below that ever-memorable magic number of $8.99.

Writing isn’t about the money; it’s about making stories available to children. It’s about opening them up to new worlds with new words.

I want every kid with that $5 bill to have a realistic chance of buying a book.

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6 Responses to Thoughts on pricing children’s chapter books

  1. trinitygrau says:

    This is a very interesting post. Many books we own must be loved by the entire family or someone else (not in my direct family group) must have given us a coupon for a book store to buy a book. The cheapest kid’s book I’ve ever seen was $10 dollars. My parents didn’t think it warranted that much money. And that book was a baby book! Series can cost up to $100 dollars! It’s ridiculous, but at the same time I can’t help but think that the less known you are, the higher the price should be. That way if someone does happen to find it, you’ll actually profit. At the same time, I want friends and family to be able to buy it without sweating over the amount of money. Whoo! There goes another one of those “writers’ challenges”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Baby books and children’s storybooks are hard on parents’ wallets, particularly because of the paper stock and the full-color press runs. The cardboard-style stock used in a lot of baby books and the full-color illustrations on every page in picture books and storybooks keep production costs high, making it tough to price those books.

      One anecdote I wish I had remembered to mention earlier in this post: The first time my mom took me to St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store, she pointed out a book shelf in the back corner. There was a sign on the shelf that said: “Children’s paperbacks: 10¢ Children’s hardcovers: 25¢.”

      I had my five dollars in my purse, and I walked out with 20+ books. I spent at least an hour arranging them in my room when I got home. I was in awe that I owned so many “new” books I had never read. To this day, I hit every used book sale and used bookstore I can find.


      • trinitygrau says:

        We love used book sales. We’ve actually been lucky enough to walk by a place where a very small library was closing. They had no idea what to do with the books, so they were giving them away to anyone who wanted them! We got a lot of rare books during this small adventure.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jemima Pett says:

    I used really value the gift tokens and cash my aunts sent me at Christmas. One paid for my pony club subscription, the others went on books – most a book, one I’d been looking forward to. We still have book tokens, so I hope kids still get them. But you’re right, thinking about the likely gift amount and the cost of books is a great reminder of the buying power of the reader – it’s limited!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. catmichaelswriter says:

    Pricing is such a challenge! When I think about audio and e-books, it becomes even more problematic. I’m sure many have complex algorithms for deciding, but I quite like your strategy. glad I found you on the MDBR Linky Hop.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Books and buying power | Jemima Pett

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