Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Independent bookshops fall prey to cut prices

Not unnaturally, the small independent booksellers of this world (e.g. Clive Keeble) get steaming mad when the likes of me provide a link to an online bookseller and forget to mention that you can, of course, order the book in question from your local small guy and get it just as quickly.

The results are plain for all to see. But if you want the painful details, the Observer has an article by David Smith, describing the closure of several small independent firms (link from booktrade.info).

As for why such shops are closing: it seems to be mainly a question of price. The UK supermarkets are able to slice huge sums off the nominal price of a book. And, if you want to compare online prices, you can go to FetchBook.info and get a quick rundown of the various options. Currently, for instance (ignoring postage), the cheapest place to buy How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous is a third-party trader working through Amazon.co.uk.

Please note one slight oddity about the FetchBook site. Once you have got your list of prices, you will see that the Store Rating column offers a number of reviews. So, for instance, Amazon.co.uk Market has 8 reviews. These reviews, and their associated star ratings, you will soon discover, relate only to the supplier, and not the book. More to the point, they relate only to specific traders working through, e.g. Amazon.co.uk. So Amazon.co.uk Market gets both five star reviews and half-a-star bitter complaints. And both are no doubt true, depending on who you're dealing with.

3 comments:

Clive Keeble said...

Sadly, I found the David Smith article in The Observer was both shallow and very lacking insight. (Bath, for instance, still has an excellent "indie", Oldfield Park Bookshop, run by Harry Wainwright)

The terrestial bookshops accept that "we" are being severely endangered by the predatory pricing from the supermarkets and Amazon.

What we, the terrestial bookshops, will never be able to understand is that when a publisher has a quality product such as Wisden 2006 that leverage was presumably given by the publishers for it mugged away on the launch date by Amazon at 60% discount (free delivery). (Currently 40% discount + free delivery). This title is traditionally supplied to the terrestial bookshops on firm sale at standard discount terms. The Amazon price considerably undercut even Wisden's own website. Something stinks.

It is time for a little honesty from publishers in this country : we the terrestial bookshops, we "us" Waterstone's, Ottakar's, or even Grumpy Keeble demand a more level playing field in the supply chain.

Oh yes, at the Bookseller's Association (ongoing) Bournemouth Conference yesterday the Henley Centre apparently were suggesting that bookshops should be making more of the premium titles (I wonder if anyone in the hall dared mention Wisden 2006)

Andy Laties said...

In the cited article one bookseller notes that customers will pay for today's low low prices in the future, when they'll have fewer book-buying options (due to store closures). Here's a 1999 study on the U.S. marketplace, showing that in the early 90s when we underwent a similar explosion of illegitimate deals between publishers and big corporate retailers -- with concomitant deep deep discounts offered by these big retailers which helped drive thousands of indie bookshops under -- the longer term upshot over the next 5 years was a decrease in the number of books sold (after an initial jump in book sales numbers of the sort Britain is now seeing--said jump causing commentators in the press to go gaga about how the new price competition was good news for all despite whiners from the indie sector).
http://www.bookweb.org/news/btw/1932.html

Clive Keeble said...

One great way in which the independents can put added value on their stock range is working with authors for the titles which we heavily promote.

This morning a lady returned to my shop having browsed a number of gardening titles yesterday. The lady had decided that "Making Wildflower Meadows" by Pam Lewis would be an ideal purchase. Is the price as marked (£16.99) ? Yes madam. But Amazon have the book listed at 34% discount ? Yes madam, but all my copies are signed by the author and of course postage must be added.

Thankfully when Pam Lewis came over to my shop in November 2005 I had greatly over-ordered both the above book as well as "Sticky Wicket". It snowed that morning, the book signing bombed, but Pam willingly helped out by signing all copies.

My customer left with three books, one secondhand, one bin end heavily disounted, and "Making Wildflower Meadows" at full cover. She also left somewhat the wiser about the problems which we indies are facing with the predatory pricing from the internet.

The sun is shining, ain't life grand.