I suspect most non-publishing readers don’t realize the full significance of the word “Reprinting”.

Publishers will price their books so that they (ideally) recover all the costs of creation against the first printing.* There are rare exceptions to this rule, but they represent a huge gamble: the first printing may in fact never sell out, or may take years to do so. If that happens you’ll have exaggerated the scale of your loss by failing to collect against each copy sold a sufficient portion of the up-front costs. So if a book is reprinting that’s a signal to all concerned that it has probably started to make some money. I remember editors boasting to one another “My book is already out of stock”. It’s a sort of backhanded puff: shouldn’t they be distressed that people can’t buy their author’s book? But of course what they were really saying was that another book was about to reprint and thus enter solidly into the black, vindicating their keen discriminatory powers.

If the cost of the first printing is $10,000, the cost of a reprint of the same quantity might be just $2,000. The mathematics behind your price calculation looks very different the second time around, but you don’t change price; you just make more profit. There’s really no moral justification for this — but hey, we’re in business. There are of course a few solid business justifications: it costs money to keep changing your prices; dropping the price opens up an ambiguous discussion with the author whose royalty payment would go down as a result; and of course you need some funds to fill the money hole left by all those other books which don’t ever make it to the end of their first printings. The fact that the book-buying public has no idea of the real cost picture removes any compulsion to worry about their feelings. After all nobody snoops around bookstores seeking a copy carrying the words “Reprinted 2016” on the copyright page.

Now that printing quantities are getting smaller and smaller, reprinting happens more frequently than ever. In the days of letterpress printing you used to dread the prospect of a reprint; with offset, reprinting became viable; with digital printing it becomes dead easy and highly desirable, down to the one-off print-on-demand scenario which is where most books will end up now. But as print quantities come down the need to recover fixed costs doesn’t go away: it just needs to be amortized over ever smaller numbers of copies.


These costs include payments to the author including advances against royalties, editing, text processing/typesetting, design, payments for permission to quote other works and to use illustrations, preparation for printing. These costs may well amount to half to three quarters of the full cost of the first printing, so they do need to be recovered somehow against sales. Enthusiasts for e-books often overlook this problem, shouting that as the cost of reproduction approaches zero, the retail price ought to follow the same trajectory.