Thursday, January 06, 2011

Book Pricing Madness?

Today we took these pictures in Adsa, Island Gardens, London.
Just in case you can’t see it the price of the majority of the books is £1.

Yes £1 on the sticker.

So what can you get for £1?

Jack Higgins, Jeffery Archer, James Patterson, Catherine Cookson, Reginald Hill, Jackie Collins, Ian Rankin, Danielle Steel, Michael Connolly, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler and much more.

So we went to Amazon UK and Waterstones to see just how these deals faired and looked a few at random:

James Patterson, ‘Four Blind Mice’ RRP £7.99, AMZ £5.03 Waterstones £6.79
Ian Rankin, ‘A Good Hanging’ RRP £7.99, AMZ £5.59 Waterstones £5.59
Jeffery Archer, ‘Shall We Tell The President’ RRP £6.99, AMZ £4.94 Waterstones £6.39
Michael Connolly, ‘Black Ice’, RRP £6.99, AMZ £4.11 Waterstones £7.01

We wonder how anyone can compete with discounts so blazen and so deep. These prices are probably below those in the bargain market and equal to the Wordsworth classic prices. Forget whether these were bought in for clearance or are just being sold at a loss, the consumer perception is the only thing that matters and that it says books are cheap and the place to get them is the supermarket.

Interestingly we didn't see people fighting to secure these bargains and as you can tell from the pictures the aisles were exactly bustling with browsers. We obviously didn't also see anyone flipping to the copyright page to check the age of the books.

We had a look at Asda’s online offers but failed to find the same depth of offer although they did boast 80% off and have a significant range of titles available.

So it is just sale time madness or book pricing maddness?


Sheila Bounford said...

Like bread, books have become loss leaders for supermarkets. Which is good news in the very short term for supermarket customers, but disasterous in the long-term for everyone: authors, publishers and consumers because it annihilates any sense of the inherent value of books and their contents. These books are for sale for less than the price of a greeting card. It's not a case of sale madness or book pricing madness. It is just madness. Period. Everyone involved in making this sort of pricing possible (be it by over-printing, over-discounting, over-selling...) needs to pause for a long deep breath and reflection on what the real value of books is.

Anonymous said...

The £1 paperback book offer has been a fixture at Asda in January for a few years now (4 or even 5?). Seems limited to the period just post-holiday.

It's certainly a signal to consumers about the affordability of the wider selection of books (even if they don't buy in the sale).

Martyn Daniels said...

your comment re greeting cards is very apt and frightening that a mass merchandised highly ranged piece of card can now be valued more than a book!
However the other issue is with respect to authors who may have already earned out and be A list but by these special sales are screwing it up for others

Martyn Daniels said...

the £1 book may have been available as a 'fixture' in Asda post holidays but that is not the point and accepting this is as the norm is part of the problem within the industry.

If Amazon did it there would be outrage, If Waterstones did it there would be outrage but because its Asda there seems to be an acceptance that's OK?

This practice is bad for authors, bad for retailers and its questionable whether the cost to shelf has even been covered.

A concious decision has been taken to either over produce and feed special sales, skim stock to reduce inventory, or just pamper to supermarkets buying clout.

Is it not hypocritical to enforce agency pricing on ebooks and allow 'pulping by special sales' or stupid pricing on pbooks?

Chris Nichol said...

Is it any more madness than giving away a million books for free?

Leigh Russell said...

I hate to to add another note of gloom but perhaps the real question is not the price of books or even the hard copy vs ebook debate, but how robust the reading public will remain. As long as people are spending money on books, someone will be producing them. So how many youngsters under 18 are avid or even regular readers? A 17 year old girl told us recently she wanted to study 'English Literature' at university. 'Who are you favourite authors?' we asked, as you do. 'I don't read books,' came the prompt reply. 'I like writing stories.'
In another generation or two will anyone be buying the books everyone (myself included) write?

Martyn Daniels said...

a very interesting point raised about reading and writing. One of the changes we see is this change fron listening to music and watching TV and movies to making them. Writing is no different and there are huge issues on copyright, reward and channels that we haven't even started to grapple with.

There are only two people that matter in this value chain; the writer who puts creativity in and the consumer who values it and 'pays' for it. Everyone else should add value in line with the cost they add. As we start to 'give away' content we face a massive issue which is about value.

People will not read or pay for things they don't value. What we are doing today is wiping the value off books for a few pieces of silver.The impact is not about retailers, publishers, agents etc it is about rewarding authors in a way that is productive.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Sheila Boundford's comments. Books have been devalued, no doubt about it and there is no going back unless steps are taken by Publishers to reduce discounts. If you look at Amazon and the products they sell you will see that they are not selling other goods at 50% discount. The fault lies squarely with the Publishers and unless some sort of viable Net Book Agreement is brought back then the book trade is DOOMED.

Martyn Daniels said...

you raise a very emotive subject and one we should all ask ourselves. Some would suggest the imminent one million book give away promotes books and reading to stimulate sales. Yes the word was sales not reading.

Others would suggest that this just means lost sales, as everyone who gets a book potentially has to read it, to benefit from it and in doing so, will not buy another until they have finished it.

The cynic may suggest that it makes little sense in these numbers and further devalues books as we are hardly a third world country or qualify for 'Reading Aid'. The ultra cynic may question whether its tax deductible as a charitable donation.

We are not abreast of the set up of the great give away details, so would have to bow to others who may be able to offer the detail.

Martyn Daniels said...

we do not support the return to the Net Book Agreement nor the current Ebook Agency model.

Anonymous said...

The comments above are right, and point to the dangers of going down paths that lead to the cliff edge. It is also certain that supermarket sales are a factor in the decline in bookshops.

But I am far less pessimistic about the future. This is because the market is really a host of markets, and the 'mass' market, which the loss leaders aim at, does not define publishing.

While it does give some an idea of cheapness for books it also 'hooks' people on reading, and on reading books, especially print.

The issue of 'cheap' is also being fought out on ebooks, and the realities are forcing the same split as has been around since at least the turn of the 20th century, when the low price accessible series, like Everyman, came into being with new technology and machinery.

So I urge a keen watch on all the things that undermine the viability of our industry, but also a clarity on the effects of each one. The economic downturn is hiding the fact that the print book is holding up well.

Joseph Harris

Martyn Daniels said...

We like you are actually optimistic about the future, but just feel that it will be different and today's model's will change.

The supermarket is changing things but we should not think this is just about mass market as we need to also understand that the same was said about their entry into wine and their entry into Pharmacy etc. Today Walmart sells more physical music than anyone.

From today’s Bookseller:

'Spending on books in the UK fell by more than £56m last year…Sales during the 52 weeks to 25th December 2010 totalled £1.696bn, down 3.2% on 2009, with volume sales falling 4.3% to 225.5m.…The total is the lowest since 2006 when £1.692bn was spent on printed books …Retail Market panel of booksellers, Nielsen's best indicator of high street performance and includes all branches of Tesco and Asda, reported sales in 2010 were down a shallower 1.9% year-on-year, to £950m.'

Books are holding up well but the price in many of its sectors and across formats is going one way today.

Anonymous said...

The publishers who sell their titles through supermarkets for a £1 will be the same ones lining up to complain about the death of the high street bookstore. These books exist because they are printed as part of a huge run and no actual demand for the title has been accounted for. Consumers percieved value for books will be that all books should be priced at a similar rate. We all love a bargain but this madness is unsustainable, environmentally unfriendly and will ultimately lead to the collapse of publishing and the infrastructure it needs to survive.

Martyn Daniels said...

the point about a sales driven print run is valid. Some have said that publishing is a VC or gambling business and print runs are where the stakes are raised, or the terms defined.

We do not believe in the death printed book and believe it has a strong future for many years.

However we appear to be in an era where some speak environmental, supply chains, support the trade and libraries and act somewhat differently

Lee said...

Perhaps celebrity authors getting £100k advance and then having their copies sold for a £1 in ASDA keeps worthy new authors from getting a deal from publishers. All are to blame, the public looking for a cheap 'anything' the publishers going for 'popular' 'ghost written' books and the poor authors getting nowhere!