What Price Culture?

A few days ago, a customer approached our counter. She had in her hand the just published, new edition of that wonderful reference work ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.’  Endlessly fascinating, it is an idiosyncratic treasure trove of word history, culture, folk lore and legend – and one of my favourite books. At £45.00 the price was rather more than our customer was expecting. I encouraged her saying that, running to 1600 pages, it’s a monster of a book and one that will be used time and time again. For the right person it will become a loved friend in the bookshelf for a lifetime. Looked at in those terms, £45.00 seems less daunting – more an investment for a lifetime resource.

However, it seems a less worthwhile investment when the Book People and Amazon are selling it for £12.99.

I am well aware that since the demise of the Net Book Agreement every retailer can set their own prices for all books. I also recognise that, like supermarkets, some retailers of books might sometimes choose to sell at an unrealistic price as a ‘loss leader’. However, we also all know that there is some relationship between the discount a publisher gives and the price that a company can realistically sell at.

I think it is clear that selling new book at over 70% discount (plus free postage on a heavy book) is way beyond normal discounting of new titles and one can only presume that the publisher, Hachette’s, John Murray, has given a discount which allows this. If so, then surely it is short sighted. It undermines sales through High Street shops which are under enough pressure anyway. Shops who support and sell across the range of John Murray’s books.

If you consider the publisher’s earned income from a title across different market sectors, then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that in reality High Street bookshops are subsidising the discounts given to online and ‘direct to consumer’ operations like the Book People.

We and our customers, by paying the full price, are treated like mugs.

‘Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ might be a relatively recent addition to the list but I believe at least six generations of John Murrays will be turning in their graves!

Published in ‘The Bookseller’ magazine November 2018.