December 18, 2017

The Year in Inflation, Holiday Edition: Buttery e-books > figgy pudding


This holiday season, show your long-distance British significant other just how quantifiably much their love means to you, by buying them a yacht filled with butter. And maybe an e-book bundle?

As Patrick Scott reported in the Telegraph last week, the UK is experiencing its most significant inflation growth in five years, and the three commodities with the largest price increases during 2017 were the trusty triad of butter, e-books, and boats.

Scott writes that “price of butter is 23pc higher” than at this time last year (“pc” is how the Brits classily signify “percent”); boats are 19.4pc higher. But the biggest increase from 2016 to 2017?

That would be e-books, up by a whopping 36pc in the period from January through November 2017. Which is sort of crazy when you consider the decreased demand; earlier this year, the Guardian’s Mark Sweney reported e-book sales had dropped by seventeen percent, while print sales surged to a five-year high — a phenomenon he attributed to “screen fatigue.” Who’s buying these expensive e-books to read on thier private boats while they swim in butter?

E-books were added to the UK’s “inflation basket”—by which the country’s Office for National Statistics monitors consumer buying power—back in 2013, as Mark King reported that year in the Guardian. At the time, e-books accounted for roughly fourteen percent of all UK book sales. And in case you were curious, other goods added to the inflation basket that year included blueberries, stir-fry vegetable packets, and, very importantly, charcuterie.

Also in the Top Ten Items People in the UK Can No Longer Afford? Fresh fish (up 15pc), coffee (11.7pc), and strawberries (18.5pc) all appear on Scott’s list. But if you want to stock up on items with falling prices, boy oh boy are you in for a treat: you get to purchase all the margarine (“and similar spreads”) you want, with prices 8.9pc lower than one year ago. Eat that, Fabio.

All joking aside, this is pretty crappy news. Even though inflation rates these days are way lower than in the eighties, they’re currently at a six-year high, with wage increases lagging significantly behind. And while the wealthiest may not feel the pinch as they purchase charcuterie to enjoy on their boats, many UK households are struggling under increased food costs.

The governor of the Bank of England is legally obligated to write a public letter to the finance minister whenever inflation rate rises above three percent, explaining the Bank’s failure to keep to its target of two percent. We won’t know the contents of the letter until February, but this year it could probably consist of one word: Brexit. As Gavin Johnson notes in the Financial Times, the diminished value of the pound directly correlates with the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

On a more positive note, this is all potentially excellent news for the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculptors of the world, who may enjoy all kinds of opportunity in the new economy of the End Times.



Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.