We observed the other day that the Harper Lee estate is discontinuing the paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, which sees much use in schools. The New York Times reports that HarperCollins will be offering schools a discounted edition of the To Kill a Mockingbird trade paperback. The discount will bring the $14.99 trade paperback down to the the old mass market paperback’s $8.99 price level.
“We are happy that schools will be able to acquire our trade edition of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ — a superior reading experience, with its larger trim size and greater durability — at the lower price they have become accustomed to,” Michael Morrison, the president and publisher of HarperCollins, said in a statement.
The thing is, that’s not the lower price they were accustomed to. As the source of our earlier story pointed out, schools typically got the same kind of discount on the $8.99 mass market paperback, bringing it to around $4.50 or so. Even the New York Times story states that the paperback “cost $8.99 and was often sold to schools at a discount.” Thus, this discounted edition actually still costs slightly more than that earlier article expected. Schools are still going to have to shell out twice as much per copy—and might, thus, find incentive to switch the curriculum to some other, cheaper book.
For that matter, Amazon has the trade paperback for $8.92—8 cents less than the price HarperCollins is offering to the schools! Isn’t that something? Even the publishers’ educational discount rate can’t beat Amazon’s price for ordinary people! I’d say the discount is educational, but it’s not the kind of education the publisher meant to offer. If the publishers don’t want to drive more business Amazon’s way, they’re sure picking a funny way of showing it.
And let’s not forget that the publisher-ordained list price for the To Kill a Mockingbird e-book is $10.99. That’s $1 more than the price Amazon used to charge for new-release titles, and only a few bucks less than publishers charge now, for a book that’s almost 60 years old.
But then, the book is still in demand. My local public library has 20 copies of the e-book—and they’re all checked out, even now, with 4 people in line for the next available copy. So perhaps they’re just charging what the market will bear, at least in this case.
The publisher might not be entirely to blame for the price in any event. It might be the Harper Lee estate pulling the strings, as it was when Hachette had to discontinue the trade paperback. Maybe they’re the ones who chose the price. In any event, the children of the estate’s members will be old and grey by the time the book finally enters the public domain. Until then, they can do whatever they want to with it.
My suspicion is that the publisher is to blame for this. With Harper Lee now gone, there’s no one at the estate who can raise much of a fuss in the media about this change.
The estate probably isn’t fully probated anyway. My neighbor, who knows Harper Lee, has yet to hear what her will says. In Alabama, you can’t really settle out an estate until debtors have had 6 months to come forward and make their claims. I hope she and her lawyer-sister planned it well. Literary estates often end up in a mess.
My attitude toward the publisher and those school discounts is rather cynical. You and I know how to watch for and get good prices. School systems are often clueless and easily taken. Many will fall for that so-called education discount on the trade paperback and think they’re getting a deal. That maybe why it is being offered.
Also, the trade paperback may actually be a better deal for schools in the long run. They’re better made than a mass-market paperback and, because they fall open more easily, often last longer.
It’s also true that it may take years to clear out the inventory of mass-market paperbacks, that is unless that inventory was about to run out and Grand Central/Hachette decided to forgo a new printing. Printing, warehousing, and distribution do cost money. Simplifying will save them money. Publishing is about money you know.
Rents on Manhattan condos and apartments don’t come cheap. They probably more to park their car than most people are paying to buy their homes.