A Minor Book Rant

June 22, 2010

If you have purchased a book lately, perhaps you have looked at the inside front cover to check the price, and noticed this disparity:  US price–$24.99; Canadian price $31.99. What’s up with that?!! With the US and Canadian dollar at virtual parity (a Canuck buck is currently worth about 98 cents US), a $24.99 book should run about $25.50 north of the border, all things being equal. This example errs on the conservative side, actually, as one recent huge bestseller carried a $24.95 US price, and a whopping $37.95 Canadian price! One Canadian chain bookstore, in a move to address the disparity, now offers to sell books at their US cover price, but that is the retail cover price, and who pays that in the US these days? In fairness, the Canadian Copyright Act allows for an extra 10% to be tacked on to the price of books sold in Canada, over and above the US cover price, to cover the extra cost of shipping and handling associated with a cross-border purchase. Even at that, our $25.50 book referenced above rises to only $28.05, still well shy of $31.99. What makes this doubly weird is that both prices are listed adjacent to one another on the flap of virtually every book in print, so we Canadians can see just how much extra we are paying for the privilege of shopping in the Frozen North. We are used to paying more up here for stuff, but this is the only instance I can think of in which we are so blatantly reminded just how much extra we pay. Imagine the outcry from Canadian car buyers if both the US and Canadian prices were listed on the window sticker. A 2010 Mini Cooper S Convertible, for example: US price, $27,850; Canadian price, $36,350 (both prices sourced this morning from MINI factory websites). Yikes!

So, what is to stop Canadian buyers from simply buying their books from US bookstores and web sites? Basically nothing, and they are doing it in unprecedented numbers. Canadian buyers’ duty-free exemption for two-day cross-border trips recently increased from $200 to $400, so book lovers close to the border (and virtually everybody in Canada lives within spitting distance of the US border) can stock up and net themselves a nearly free international trip thanks to the savings.

However bad prices may be in Canada, they are amplified exponentially in Japan. Although home market books are quite reasonable (less than comparable US prices, for the most part), English language fiction is exceptionally dear. Two recent purchases, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart set me back the yen equivalent of $60 apiece. I am happy for two things at least: first, both books were eminently worth it on their literary merits; and second, the Japanese bookstores were kind enough to post their prices on stickers which covered the original US (and Canadian) prices, thus taking a (tiny) bit of the sting out of the sticker shock.