A book’s price is determined in large part by manufacturing and labor costs as well as its intended market.
On the manufacturing side, the greater the page count of a book, the more paper is used and the greater the book’s cost to produce. Similarly, the weight of the book impacts the cost of shipping it. A hardcover costs more to produce than a paperback. Illustrated books require higher-quality paper, more ink, and longer time on press. Print runs also affect the per-capita cost of printing a book: a larger print run usually results in a smaller cost per book but a larger total expenditure than a small print run; however, the size of a printing is only as good as the sales generated—overprinting usually results in a much greater cost per book than underprinting.
On the labor side, the length and complexity of a book affect the cost of copyediting, design, and composition. Marketing, publicity, sales, and advertising also contribute to the cost of a book and its eventual pricing, as does the editorial and peer review conducted by university presses.
Market research and subject are also significant factors in pricing. Certain genres, such as photography books and reference books, can bear higher prices. Field guides, fiction, poetry, and other more popular genres must be priced lower based on sales history of like titles (“comps”). Likewise, some books may be priced lower to reach underserved audiences that might not otherwise be able to afford a work. Meanwhile, editions intended for institutions such as libraries, where multiple end users share a single copy, generally bear higher prices than those intended for individuals.
In some cases, institutional subsidies, grants, and other funding may offset some costs, allowing a book to be priced less expensively than a comparative work.
Although university presses are not-for-profit publishers, they (and their institutions) still expect a return on investment to recoup costs, especially if an author advance is involved. Books published by university presses can cost more to the consumer than those published for general audiences by commercial presses, which expect far greater sales and thus print in larger quantities at a smaller per-unit cost. University press books, whose audiences are more specialized, generally cost far less than those published by for-profit scholarly presses and niche publications created by for-profit entities.