2010 retailer discounts total £600m

Retailers slashed a total of £600m from the price of books in 2010 as book-buyers enjoyed their best year for bargains since records began.

The average discount given off a book's r.r.p. last year was 26%— slightly deeper than in 2009, when books were discounted by an average of 25.5%, according to Nielsen BookScan data. This means that for the ninth consecutive year, since BookScan Total Consumer Market records began in 2001, discounts have deepened. In 2001, discounts averaged a much shallower 17%.

In value terms, the £600m given away by retailers last year was relatively flat in comparison to 2009 (when £602m was shed) although inflation is not factored into the totals. However, record discounting wasn't sufficient to boost overall book sales, which fell 3% year on year, to £1.696bn, in value terms, and fell 4%, to 225.5 million in volume.

Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-minute Meals (Michael Joseph) was the most discounted title in value terms as retailers gave away £14.5m on r.r.p. sales of £30.4m. The £26 hardback sold at an average selling price of just £13.59 last year, or a 47.7% discount. The book was also the year's bestselling title.

Sainsbury's buying manager, Phil Carroll, said that Jamie's 30-minute Meals was "by far" the supermarket's bestselling book over the Christmas period. The store sold the book for £8.99. Despite this, Carroll said the retailer's average selling price across all books rose. "We actually increased our average selling price last year overall by 11%, so we cannot be accused of being the worst (i.e. highest discounting) at all."

More than £10m was also given away by retailers on sales of the latest edition of Guinness World Records (Guinness, £20), which sold for just £9.65 on average, and Nigella Lawson's Kitchen (Chatto, £26), which retailed at £13.84 on average.

Fiction was the most discounted genre in percentage terms last year, with an average of 30% knocked off the price of novels, for a total giveaway of £199m.

Adult trade non-fiction and children's titles were discounted by an average of 26% in comparison, while adult specialist non-fiction titles were discounted by a far -shallower 17%.

Keith How, who has run The Bakewell Bookshop in Bakewell, Derbyshire, since 1977, is worried publishers are deliberately putting up the prices of stock in order to allow larger retailers to make sizeable discounts. He decided- not to stock Oliver's book because he said the book was too expensive to sell at £26 when customers could buy it much cheaper elsewhere or on the internet. "I am concerned publishers are guilty of overpricing to enable discounting. It is destroying the independent book trade."

Marketing consultant Damian Horner said that discounting the most popular books over the festive season was an "unsustainable model". "Most of the books discounted over the Christmas period are the books people most want to buy," he said. "Therefore the price of the book should reduce over time and be at its highest when people most want it."

Leading retail analyst Nick Bubb, of Arden Partners, said heavy discounting was just a fact of the marketplace. "The worth of books has been devalued. Few people want to pay full price for a bestseller now."