Already high book prices in Estonia may increase even further

Books for sale at a book fair.
Books for sale at a book fair. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Book prices in Estonia started creeping upward last fall already, and still show no signs of stopping. Publishers are citing increasing print prices as well as retailers' growing markups as the cause.

Books costing €30 to nearly €45 are already reaching shelves in Estonian bookstores, sparking concerns in light of general price increases that book prices may reach as high as €50 by the winter holiday shopping season.

Kaidi Urmet, managing director of the Estonian Publishers' Association (EKL) hopes that prices won't reach quite that high, but won't rule it out either.

"I'd like to hope that won't be the case, but considering the current price of some books already, we can't necessarily rule that out," Urmet said. "That would be a shame, as high prices significantly inhibit book purchases as well."

Book prices began to rise last fall already, but issues with paper supply, which likewise drove up prices, date back to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted.

The cause of the increase in book prices is multifaceted. According to the managing director, pushing up prices are not just print and labor costs, but also bookstores, which are increasing their own markup as well.

"Stores have definitely increased their markup too, as their own costs are increasing as well, starting with energy costs," she explained. "We can say that we don't need such fancy bookstores, which could help save money, but if a bookstore doesn't interest anyone, no one will go there either."

As Estonia's population is so small, so is its readership, and smaller print runs won't allow for book prices to be reduced either. This is another factor driving up costs as well, Urmet said. Printing more copies of a book to bring down unit price isn't worthwhile either, as there just aren't enough buyers.

"Books' print runs have shrunk, as fewer and fewer books are being bought," she explained. "Otherwise these print runs wouldn't be so small. We can't go back to Soviet times, when some thousand books were published a year, but with print runs of 10,000, and as there were so few books, they as a scarce commodity were bought up. Maybe the issue right now is indeed the abundance of books — perhaps fewer books should be published."

Publishers, in any case, are currently very worried about how to publish books, how to cover costs and whether they'll have buyers, the publishers' association representative said.

"They're seeking cheaper solutions for publishing books and setting up their own online stores," she said, adding that the state could help out publishers by providing books with more funding for the purchase of items.

Publisher: €34 doesn't seem so expensive anymore

The price of paper began to go up last fall already, said Vallo Kalvik, CEO of publisher Hea Lugu. "Prices shot up, and if you didn't lock in the offered price immediately, then a week later you may not have been able to get the same price anymore," he recalled.

"In early May, I compared the cost of printing one book on year, and it had increased by more than 40 percent," Kalvik said. "When I asked again in early June, the price had gone up even further by some amount. There hasn't been any stabilization; rather, it's getting even worse."

The publisher CEO has likewise noticed that bookstores have increased their own markup on books as well.

"If you break down [a book's] sticker price, then compared with the mid-00s, when I first got started in publishing, the cut of the sticker price to go to bookstores has grown by 10-14 percent," he explained. "The bigger chunk goes to the stores; there's been no change the other way around."

According to Kalvik, publishers used to have a say in how much a book should cost in stores, but nowadays stores don't really take that input into consideration anymore.

"They don't assign totally arbitrary sticker prices either, of course; they make sure there's a reasonable comparison with recent sales and other books," he explained. "Rahva Raamat bookstores are of course absolutely terrific as an environment, but it's clear that maintaining such physical stores costs them quite a bit."

High book prices combined with other factors have had an impact on book sales as well. "People were buying fewer books last year already, although turnover increased briefly last year, and at the beginning of this year, but yes, people are buying fewer [books]," he said.

Kalvik expects the average price of books to increase to €20-25 by the end of the year, but added that bigger volumes costing €30 or more don't seem so expensive anymore either.

"We published Katrin Laur's 'Tunnistaja' in March, which cost €34 for members of Rahva Raamat's customer loyalty program," he said. "That seemed expensive to us, but the Excel spreadsheet was adamant. But that book was also 830 pages, and considering other things in hindsight, that doesn't seem so expensive anymore. It's also seen quite reasonable sales too."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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