Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let's Have a Debate!!


Price promoting, is it really necessary?

There, that should set felines amongst Trafalgar based tweeties.

I know a lot of authors read this blog, and I just wondered how you feel when you see money off stickers pasted all over your pride and joy, and don't just go for the "Well, it's the way the industry works..." answer. That's a cop out. I want to know how you really feel. (cue concerned look and possible knee stroking)

To the booksellers who read this blog, tell me how you feel about the whole price promoting issue. Do we think that books would sell just as well if they weren't money off. Do we think that some books would just wither and die without this extra help? (Dan Brown, I'm looking at you)

To the book buyers who read this blog - and let's face it, that's everybody - how much does a promotion really affect your decision to buy?

There is a reason for this debate. We've been checking out best sellers, and everything in the charts is price promoted. Did they get there on merit, or money off?

Go anonymous for this one. Let's have the truth.


In addition to Tim's interesting question, do you think that there's too much price promotion going on? I imagine that the less money that bookshops make on a book, then the less the publisher makes and therefore the author's percentage is likely to be less. It seems to me that it's now got to a point that the moment any interest is shown in a title, there's a kneejerk reaction by bookshops/online to discount it or stick it in a promotion. It almost devalues the book.
I might be talking out of Tim's hat, and the authors and publishers just want to see those sales figures going up and up, but I dunno.

you don't have to be anonymous...


Anonymous said...

You mean to say when you were at Waterstone's the chart wasn't entirely decided by which publishers had paid for chart positions? At another chain that will remain nameless it certainly is...

Anonymous said...

Waterstone's does not charge for chart positions - they are based on sales. Hello from anonymous Waterstone's person.

Steerforth said...

I'd like to say don't bother going down this road, but I think there's an expectation that certain titles will be price promoted. You have to weigh up the can't-be-arsed-to-go-anywhere-else factor against the I'm-being-ripped-off perception.

As you know, although the chains would never admit it, their policy is to sell books to posh people at full price because they can afford it. However if you want to sell the latest Martina Cole at the RRP you can dream on.

I think you should have a small number of 3 for 2s - yes it's 33% off, but sales of single copies bump the margin up - and a few prominent discounted titles to create a perception of value. I don't know where you intend to get your books from, but these days even the wholesalers are offering good deals.

Ultimately, your bookselling skills, passion and enthusiasm will win the day.

The Gutcher said...

I am personally in favour of less discounting but in terms of chain bookselling and bestseller lists I can see how it's needed Everyone is trying have all the market share, be it bookseller or publisher and at the end of the NBA discounting was probably the simplist way of getting there.

As a local bookshop though, if the stock is right there shouldn't be any need to discount at all.

I remember a couple of years ago Wottakar's of Wood Green was selling 50 copies a month of the new Chuck Pahlanuick at full price. Yes you could get it cheaper in the west end but the customers came to us because we were local and they wanted it.

However, if Smiths were discounting it I'm sure it may have been different.

Wobble said...

I'm torn between idealism and realism.

There's a newish bookshop near me (Black Cat in East Finchley) which is a wonderful shop and whenever I go in I see books i never even dreamt existed. It's full of beautiful books some new, some second hand but all at whatever price they choose to sell them at. They don't have any promotions and i really love that about them.

However, while it's the perfect place to buy presents or what have you, in reality, I haven't bought any paperback fiction from there yet. Most of it tends to get picked up in dreaded 3for2s.

I think it comes down to what you see as being your big selling items. Will you mostly be selling paperback fiction or other types of books?

Perhaps if people can pick up "disposable" books like the latest Martina Cole at Waterstones etc, you would be better off not trying to compete with them on price and concentrate on where you can add real value.

Paul Henderson said...

The discussion about whether books should be discounted or not is redundant (It is just the way it is), but I would say that many more of some books are sold because of discounting,and fewer of others - it's a winner takes all market.

The important question is whether or not you in Wood Green should discount, and with limited space you'll have to decide whether to stock those big selling but price sensitive titles at reduced margin, or not. I think you should do so with care, but more broadly use your experience and specialist knowledge of the local market to provide something different. If you are a Waterstone's lite (which I'm sure you won't be), but more expensive, then your customers will soon go to your cheaper rivals.

Tim West and Simon Key said...

thanks for the comments so far.
the Gutcher, Wobble and Paul, I tend to agree with you. Our range is going to be a mixture of titles that are a) familiar enough so the customer feels comfortable and b) interesting and different enough to excite and intrigue. We will be stocking Marina Cole but also George Simenon and Walter Mosely and I might have a couple of Fu-Manchus as well.
On a more general note about discounting though, it's getting to the point where customers are almost expecting a book to be on sale, which will lead to less books being published, and less choice. And the choice that's being shoved under our noses isn't that great at the moment as it is.

Dawn said...

Delurking from Ohio USA to say that as a buyer who also works for a publisher that as a shopper not at work the price off sticker does not matter...when I go into a bookstore I usually have something in particular in mind that I plan on buying if it's 25% off great if not no big deal.

Alis said...

OK, you asked what authors think. My book doesn't come out til January but what strikes me, looking at all the 3 for 2s in the local Wottaker's, is that the titles thatare discounted are the ones which were probably always going to sell in shedloads, so why do their publishers think they need this leg-up?
If you're going to discount I'd love to see you doing it on the books you - Simon and Tim - personally love. But preferably, for your good and the authors' don't discount!!

Vanessa said...

Based on 4 weeks experience as a bookseller, I'm not sure that discounting is necessary for a specialist shop like mine. Yes, I haven't sold a lot of the new Jacqueline Wilson or Anthony Horowitz which you can buy for half-price in the supermarket (although I have sold some) but I've sold a lot of lesser known titles like the marvellous Iggy Peck Architect and backlist titles.

In a general bookshop it might be better to have a few discounted titles but maybe they should be ones that you personally love rather than Martina and Dan? Mind you, we are going to try having themed weeks every so often and may have books reduced just for that week.

Just my thoughts - but I know very little!

Vanessa said...

Ooh, another thought - some books are priced at a high RRP because they will discounted so much. Take HP and the Deathly Hallows for example - £17.99 and the binding's cheap and nasty. But Bloomsbury knew that it would being sold for half price and so had to bump the price up to such exorbitant levels.

I have a copy because JKR is a neighbour and because as a children's bookshop one's obliged to have HP and the rest as core stock but I don't imagine I'll ever sell it at that price unless she pops in to sign it!

adambowie said...

I think Vanessa is right, in pointing out that some titles are only coming out with high RRPs since the expectation is that they'll be discounted.

So the latest Nigella is £25 cover price in the full knowledge that everyone's going to discount heavily. How many Terry Pratchetts or Sharon Osbournes are being sold for £18.99?

If for some reason I was buying one of those (only Pratchett appeals and I read him in paperback) I wouldn't pay full whack because I know that the hardbacks are just jacked up to allow price promotions. Just in the same way that the latest DVDs have "RRPs" of £20 and more. Nobody buys them at these prices.

That said, I wouldn't bother competing with whatever Smiths have at half price that week.

Anonymous said...

Paul is right...
You are all missing the point.
...Discounting is here to stay,even if it is a poor tool....
As a retailer you are going to have to have an offer...Worry about your offer,what ever you want it to be.

Tim West and Simon Key said...

i'm not sure which point of Paul's you think we're missing.
As a retailer we will 'have an offer', but that doesn't necessarily equal discounting. We'll offer something that no other retailer in Wood Green can offer. And that will include amongst other things a well chosen selection of books, excellent customer service, an understanding of the local market an inclusion of the local community. We will discount, but only very very carefully, and we have no intention of being a W lite!

Lindsay said...

I think what you've said about having a well chosen selection of books, customer service etc is key. The big chain stores are so boring!!! I love to read, and will pretty much read anything, but I find myself walking into the Waterstones and Borders of this world and just feeling so BORED with the endless, continual cycle of 3 for 2s. I know that discounting has introduced books to a wider market, and anything that has encouraged more people to read is a good thing, but where is that excitement that I used to get when I walked into a book store? The anticipation of picking up something amazing, so fantastic that I want to stay up all night reading it? Booksellers who would recommend fantastic things, rather than the stuff the publishers have shelled out most of their marketing budgets to get in the Christmas catalogue? It's not there any more and the constant discounting is killing it!

I really hope that publishing and bookselling will start to turn around and go the way that consumers are starting to demand from food retailing: quality, provenance, joyous, local, independent produce and shops which they will pay a fair price for. I think if the average reader realised just what the chains and supermarkets are doing to this once creative industry they might start to value books more and pay a decent price for them, the same way we have started to wise up to what they have done to farmers and food producers.

That's my late night rant over! And I'll definitely be popping over from Hackney when you open!

June said...

Actually the less a book seller makes from selling books, the MORE the author and publisher make, since less profit for them usually means less favourable terms from their own suppliers !

As for Wottakers and Borders - maybe they should change the spelling to BOREDERS !