What's a book worth?

What's a book worth?

'An integral part of our emotional lives'

What’s a Book Worth? is asking readers to film themselves talking about a book that means a lot to them and share those thoughts on 28th September, using the hashtag #WhatsABookWorth, the title of the book and its cover price. It is also encouraging readers to write a short blurb about a book that they love and share it on social media.

My colleague Sarah Shaffi at The Bookseller is writing about a campaign launched by the author and historian Mathew Lyons "to encourage discussion about the emotional worth of books."

Shaffi's article is in today's edition of the magazine, and her interview with Lyons brings into focus one of the most elusive — often frustratingly so — elements of the bookish kasbah: the question of a value that trades in currencies beyond the cash-and-carry noise of the industry! the industry!

In interview, Lyons says to Shaffi:

A good book represents absurdly good value for money. As low-cost, premium items they are in a strange, perhaps even unique, position in the marketplace. Paperbacks are priced at an almost disposable level—the same as a couple of cups of good coffee, say, or a couple of magazines.

If you buy someone a book as a present, you can spend nearly as much on wrapping paper and a card as on the book itself. But books aren’t casual purchases for most people. We all have books that mean a great deal to us, books that have changed our lives. So why don’t we talk about that fact more? Why not celebrate the extraordinary value they bring to our lives?

Well, Mathew, you've asked the right people now. 

We can talk about that fact, and will do so, in #FutureChat

This story was written as the walkup to the #FutureChat 4th September. Join us each Friday live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Looking for some 'big thinking'

Certainly, the campaign shoved into action by Lyons (pictured) will resonate with those who have worried as the market price of books has plummeted.

  • Big, honking sales of books for 20p do nothing to remind us of the value of books, do they?
  • Self-publishing squabbles over the virtues of 99 cents vs. "for free," as some so ungrammatically put it, aren't even faintly inspirational.
  • Great, stomping indignation can be heard at a publisher's charge of £12.99 for an ebook...and, do remind me, how many years of an author's life went into that thing?

I think an important question to ask here is: What about the emotional price? As digital entertainment media sweep over the imaginations of the land, does the emotional currency of books actually become devalued? Is there a chance that, in some form of fact, books are worth less than they once were to us, when a video can be carried around with us all day, a scrap of music can be set to auto-repeat all night, whole weeks are lost to gaming in great, hovering cyber-communities of competitive...emotion? 

What if we hear from someone that books just aren't worth what they once were emotionally? Can we handle that?

Quoting Shaffi here, "Lyons came up with the idea for #WhatsABookWorth during a live forum run by author and life coach John-Paul Flintoff, which was attended by authors and publishers...a discussion he had with Flintoff and Unbound co-founder and c.e.o. Dan Kieran about their personal relationships with books."

And it's "a sense of how much books mean to people" that Lyons tells Shaffi he's after — maybe with a pertinent emphasis on "people."

As in readers. Remember those people? Here's Lyons:

It would be nice if publishers thought more broadly and imaginatively about marketing the emotional value of books, but everyone has a part to play.

As far as I can see, pretty much all publishing marketing is trade marketing, pushing a particular title or series or titles. There doesn’t seem to be any big thinking going on. A national campaign across TV and print media with publicity materials celebrating books would be a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it?

But actually I think it’s the responsibility of all of us—publishers, bookshops, authors, the media—to talk more about value, both monetary and otherwise. I think many of us innately shy away from the subject. But it’s an important one from a consumer‘s perspective.

Lyons is looking to have consumers "enjoy sharing their thoughts and feelings about books that are deeply meaningful to them." 

I say, why give them all the fun?

Bring us your idea of emotional value in a book for #FutureChat.

  • Are there titles with which you've bonded in ways that transcend pounds and pence?
  • Is there something to be communicated to the readership along these lines?
  • Does everyone in a corporate-owned industry understand this kind of trade?
  • If not, should they be reminded? 
  • If reminded, will they be any different? 
  • Or are there two kinds of people in the world? — those who get it, and those who...?

There's a site for Lyons' campaign here. And it has its own Twitter handle, too, as all good campaigns should have. 


“There are so many of us for whom books are an integral part of our emotional lives. That really ought to be something to celebrate.”

See you in a double-hashtagged #FutureChat about #WhatsABookWorth.

Join us each Friday live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

We're interested in having your "Five-Minute Manifesto" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article, Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones renews his call for the FutureBook audience to reflect on five years of digital "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response is so robust that I've extended our deadline for submissions of manifestos to Monday (7th September). See below for details and a list of those published to date. Your statement, preferably no more than 500 words, should be sent to Porter.Anderson@theBookseller.com. Please send along a headshot and short bio, as well.

And mark your diary for The FutureBook Conference, 4th December, The Mermaid, London. More details are coming Tuesday 8th September.

#FutureBook15 manifestos:

Main image - iStockphoto: IPGGutenbergUKLtd