Friday, May 11, 2012

The Cost Of Book Deflation

When 95-Cent Books Are Overpriced and $120 Million Art is Not

Would you buy a painting for $120 million?  How about a book for 95cents?  Which one is actually overpriced?

An 1895 painting, Edward Munch’s The Scream, recently was auctioned for a record amount of money.  But before you can question whether it -- or anything -- is worth that kind of money you would have to only wait to see it resell for a higher price at a future action. 

No doubt that painting or any piece of art is ever worth that kind of money if you judge it artistically.  If one wants to see the image they can make a poster of it or commission a painter to make an expert replica.  But art, when integrated as a speculative commodity, as an investment, the sky is the limit.  Really, the process of selling art at the level of The Scream is more like a pyramid scheme, where someone eventually is left holding a worthless bag.  But for now, the sky seems to be the limit as it gets passed along to the next person.

Then we look at books.  In the last few years books have been devalued.  A colleague of mine just published a novel.  The retail price is 95 cents—less than a pack of chewing gum.  I fear the commoditization of books will be a lasting change that will doom the industry.  There simply are not enough readers or time in the day for all of these low-priced books to be purchased or read.  We need to reinforce books have value.  Both art and books are being sold, increasingly, as commodities, but if a 120-million-dollar painting can rise in value, it’s not a problem.  Yet, when a book struggles to sell, even at 95 cents, it’s a problem.

Maybe one should publish a book about The Scream.  What would you pay for it? 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer.  You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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