“Pay What You Want” Books

In February 2021, almost a year into the pandemic, we published Britton Shurley’s Spinning the Vast Fantastic, a joyful book at a time when people desperately needed a little extra joy. In order to make sure that the book was shared as widely as possible, we began offering signed copies on a “pay want you want” basis. Here’s what we said at the time:

We believe this joyous book is a healing balm, and we want you to have it. While regular copies of the book are $12.00, copies signed by the author are available on a “pay what you want” basis. If you can throw several bucks our way to cover printing and shipping, that’s great. If you can’t, we understand, and we want you to have the book anyways.

And you all came through. Readers who were in a position to support the book did so, and readers who weren’t still got their books. A number of readers paid more than the $12.00 with notes indicating that you wanted to support copies for those who couldn’t afford them. A lot of readers paid enough to cover printing and shipping. We broke even, which means that we made enough to support the next book.

Now we’re dreaming of a future where books cost what you need them to cost.

We aren’t to the point where we can afford to make all of our new titles “pay what you want,” but we’ve added several other titles to our “pay what you want” lineup, and we have several new releases planned that will utilize this model. We don’t know if this will work indefinitely, but if it does, we hope that it’ll provide a path forward to a new way for small presses to interact with readers and ensure that great books are available to anyone who wants to read them. We’re not yet able to offer this service internationally, due to the high costs of international shipping, but that’s also on our radar. (If you’re an international reader and you want a copy of a “pay what you want” book, contact sales bullcitypress [dot] com.)

We’re volunteer-run, so our overhead is low. Any contributions you make to a “pay what you want” book are used to keep our site running and to fund the printing of new books. But what’s most important is that readers—all readers—have access to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.