One of our mantras at this Book Fair, repeated on dozens of sets of lips in July, is “the upper right hand corner of the first white page.” This is, of course, the answer to the question, “Where are the prices in the books?” We will not take a detour at this moment to discuss books in Hebrew, Japanese, or other languages reading back to front. We can discuss that when you’re older. For now, rest content that MOST books are priced in pencil in the upper right hand corner of the first white page.
This answer in general satisfies the questioner, but the Newberry attracts Seekers of Knowledge, as well as Unpaid Advisors. And some of these go on to ask “Why?”
Well, Bran Bon Bon, it’s because although there are many ways to mark prices on books, most of them are not friendly to the book or the buyer. My mother went to a secondhand shop for many years in which they felt the easiest way to mark prices on books was to take a felt marker and write the price in big numbers on the cover. This IS one of the easiest ways to mark a price, of course, but they didn’t mark clothes that way. It took her some time, but she eventually convinced them that a book was nicer WITHOUT indelible ink covering a quarter of the front cover. (There were holdouts, of course. “The inside is what they want to read! What difference does the cover make?”)
They switched to a great big sticky label. It wouldn’t damage much to put the price on THAT. This is also true, but ignores the basic principle of not doing damage to the merchandise. Books are bound in many substances, and several of them can suffer serious damage when a label is ripped off of them. See, SOME people don’t want a permanent reminder of what they paid for a book.
Which explains the question “Why in pencil? Pen would be harder for scoundrels to erase.” The problem is that rain falls on the just and the unjust. Pen would be harder for the nice people who paid full price to erase, too. Kinda sad, but some people like to get their books home and remove any sign that we ever existed. Not making a permanent mark in a book makes them happy (which makes it likely they’ll come back next year.)
This is also the reason we use the first white page, no matter how hard it is to find. (It’s the trend now, in graphic novels and books designed by elite designers, to frame the pages in black. In this case we try to find a white spot somewhere in the text.) Sometimes—not always—when a pencil price is erased from a colored page, the eraser takes off the color as well as the price. Yes, they have been able to remove the price, but they have left an ugly scar to show where once the price was. If we stick to white pages, there will be fewer nasty marks and remarks.
We can skip over some of the more exotic and disturbing ways of marking prices. I have had one book where a hole was punched in the back of the book so a price label on a string could be inserted. And we had half a dozen once which had been bought from an outfit which glued small books into cardboard covers and marked the price in marker on the cardboard. (Ten points for not marking it on the book, but five hundred points off for not explaining how to get these collectibles out once they’d been glued in.)
People sometimes forget that the point is NOT to come up with a foolproof method of making sure customers pay the right price, especially if that method uglifies the product. The point is to sell a lot of books by making them desirable (that is, saleable), giftable, and collectible. Hence, a light pencilled mark in the upper right hand corner of the first white page.
We’ll talk about the people who want to argue that it’s more logical to price books inside the back cover some other time…perhaps some other century.