Friday, June 29, 2012

An Argument for Reading Books

Forgive me, I needed to crunch some numbers...

Photo pulled from this site.
Last night I wondered aloud how much concert ticket prices had gone up over the last twenty years or so. I remember seeing Metallica (touring ...And Justice for All) and The Cult (touring Sonic Temple) in 1988 or so for about $20 in a general admission situation, so I went looking for anything that would confirm that. I found this article that tells me:

If it seems like buying tickets to your favorite concerts has become even more expensive and more complicated, you`re right. It has.

and later on says this:

``It`s not a trend,`` says longtime concert promoter Jack Boyle, owner of Cellar Door Concerts. There are different styles of promoting. We`ve been passing on some shows because we just won`t raise ticket prices that high.``

... Boyle promises that big shows to come, such as possible return engagements by GNR and Metallica, should hold the line at $25. 

Did you notice the dateline on that article? 1992.

So I went looking around on the web and found this site where someone had saved his concert ticket stubs and posted the prices paid for the show. The best one was this:

Van Halen's Monsters of Rock (VH, Scorpions, Metallica, Dokken, Kingdom
Come) - Giants Stadium, July 1988 - $22.50 

Even with Kingdom Come on the bill a metalhead got an overdose of anthemic heavy rock for a great price.

The article from '92 that says that GNR would stay about $25 and that rising prices were 'not a trend' was interesting as a complaint about ticket prices being too high for the time. Wanna know how much GNR tickets in south Florida were last year? They started at $79. My estimate last night was the prices had risen approximately 400% and that appears to have been borne out.

I didn't bother researching current Metallica ticket prices because their American shows are done for the year and - honestly -  trying to use TicketMaster's website to look at things is crazy. I will say that I looked into buying Van Halen tickets this year and found the cheap seats were $75 before fees and such. The nosebleed seats, those are.

Before you go saying I'm a cranky SOB, let me offer a comparison.

  1. Robert A. Heinlein's Friday came out in 1982 with a price of $14.95 as a hardback. (Source)
  2. The List of 7 by Mark Frost was published in 1993 priced at $20 for the hardback.
  3. For $26 in 2001 one could buy a copy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods in hardback.
  4. Last month, in 2012, I bought a copy of Alex Grecian's The Yard for $26.95 in hardback.

While these books range from SF to thriller to fantasy and back to thriller, they are similar in page count (not exact, mind you, but similar) and target audience. They come from three publishers: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston (Heinlein); Putnam (Grecian); and William Morrow (Frost and Gaiman). Isn't it interesting that over the course of thirty years, the price of a good read has only gone up 80%? I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I think this is probably a good cross-section of entertainment, similar to the music acts mentioned above. Books you can keep and read again if you like. Live shows (up to about the last ten years) you had to wait for the film or just relive in memory if you weren't drunk or stoned out of your mind at the show or both.

These are first editions, too, bought as they were published. I didn't have to stand in line to get them, either. I've done that just once and it was for a Harry Potter book and my wife made me do it, but that's another story. It's true that in '82 books were a considerable investment, but in '82 concerts ran between $12 and $20 so they're a good comparison. Well, reasonable, at least.

What I'm getting at is that inflation of prices is typical. It's more grossly obvious in the price of tickets for live music than it is in printed books. The Consumer Price Index tells us that there has been 95% inflation from '82 to 2005. That says to me that publishing, traditional publishing at least, has kept pace with inflation while live music has not. So a minimum of $80 per person for a one-time, two-hour show that may or may not start on time (and might cost you more than double that by the time it's all done) versus $26 for a book I can read at my leisure and read again if I really like it seems like a no-brainer. I don't have to wait in an improbably long line for the toilet, either.

You won't hear me complain about the price of books in the future. Probably. We'll see.

Is it the shared experience of a concert that draws people? I think it is. Can something like that be created around a book? Ask J.K. Rowling or any Harry Potter fan. Or better yet, loan some of your books to your friends and then talk about them over drinks. You can play Van Halen in the background if you like.

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