Comments on "cost"

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How much does a book cost?

The room I’m in right now contains approximately 1800 books. The shelving on which those books (along with not very much else) are stored cost, I think, about £1500 or so. (You can get bookshelves that cost a lot less, if you don’t mind them sagging and/or looking unsightly. You can get bookshelves that cost a lot more, if you want beauty as well as quality.) So, crudely: shelving a book costs £1.

That room, though. It didn’t come for free, and if we had drastically more books we’d need a bigger house to put them in. (I’m fairly sure that every time we’ve been through the soul-destroying business of buying a house we’ve rejected some houses on the grounds that they didn’t have enough spare wall-space for bookshelves, so this isn’t a purely theoretical concern.) A quick look at house prices in our area suggests that one decent-sized room typically adds something of the order of £40,000 to the price of a house. (Less for smaller houses, more for larger houses; larger houses have larger rooms.) So, crudely: housing a book costs £20.

I’m not sure I wanted to know that.

Of course there’s lots wrong with that analysis. For instance, this room contains not only books but also computers, desk space, etc., and we can fit quite a lot more books into our house before it’s so full we have to buy a new one. Even so, I think it would be quite difficult to justify an estimate of the overhead cost per book that’s below, let’s say, £5. But do I think of that in second-hand bookshops? Why, no, I do not.

There is presumably a broader lesson here.

On 2010-04-14 at 09:53:44, Gareth Rees said:

You're not just looking at the cost of housing the books, though: you're looking at the cost of housing and displaying them. Put the books you use least frequently in boxes, catalogue them, and stick them in the attic.

Two other options that are cheaper than buying a new house:

• Buy a BookSnap and a couple of big hard drives and scan the books that you would be happy to have only electronic copies of. Then dispose of the physical copies.

• Sell or give away the books you don't need to have immediately to hand and buy them back if you want to read them again. In effect, treating the second-hand book market as a lending library. It seems to me that competition in second-hand books is good enough that you're probably losing £5 or less each time you have to re-buy a book that you previously owned. Cheaper than £20, especially since you'll probably find that for most books you could in fact do without them.

P.S. You have a missing semi-colon in your HTML: let&#8217s for let’s.

On 2010-04-14 at 11:09:17, Clive said:

My calculation a few years ago was that floor space in Cambridge is £400 a square foot. A bookcase is 18" deep, six shelves high and needs another 36" free to stand in front of it, so shelving books costs £300 per shelf-foot, £25 per shelf inch. That coincides uncannily with your figure, despite being computed differently.

However, the densely-packed cost of housing books is only £100 per shelf-foot, if one doesn't have to budget for space to stand in front of the shelf.

I can see two ways to effect that cost saving:

  • Use the space in front of the shelves for something else as well as accessing books
  • Access the books without having such a space

In the first case, I'm aware the downstairs of my current house is very wasteful: the lounge contains a serious hi-fi with speakers that must be positioned away from the walls to work effectively. The dining room has been recycled into a library, with books around the edges and dead space in the middle. If I instead had a single large room downstairs, say 30' by 20', I could surround the walls with bookcases and have the hi-fi in the middle, making much better use of space. As a bonus, a foot thickness of paper is an excellent audiophile wall covering for avoiding acoustic reflections. (-8

In the second, you know those contraptions where a bunch of bookcases slide on runners, so there is only one "corridor" at a time? Although I've never seen one installed domestically, it would clearly be cost-effective to spend many thousands of pounds on such a space saving. I'm not so sure about the aesthetic appeal, though...

On 2010-04-14 at 18:10:51, g said:

The value of a book in the attic is much, much less than the value of a book on the shelves. (Not because of "display", although of course I could be fooling myself, but because of convenience.)

Scanning books also takes time, of course. I don't know whether it's £5 worth of time. So does finding books in a second-hand bookshop.

Yeah, the runnery bookshelves are a nice idea, but I share your (Clive's) concerns about aesthetics and I'm not really convinced about the cost-effectiveness.

On 2010-04-15 at 11:09:37, Mr A Writinghawk said:

There is presumably a broader lesson here

Yes, and it is what a heartless fellow you are, giving books to charity shops when you have too many! (Assuming you do.) You are effectively charging the poor and needy £5 for each book you get rid of.

On 2010-04-15 at 23:32:24, g said:

Too many? Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you; could you run that by me again?

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