As 27 years of bookselling crumbles into bankruptcy and I face an unknown future and probably closure, I was finally compelled to speak out after seeing that HarperCollins’ profit was down 66% last week (2nd January). Even though I realise the company said this was down to changes to its distribution system, I feel a drop in publisher profits finally brings home to roost the very problem that has decayed the book trade and caused so many decent, hardworking booklovers to go to the wall.
One of the biggest Christmas books was Demon Dentist by David Walliams, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books. Once upon a time I would have sold 30–40 copies of a book like that, but I sold barely three this year. Why? Because Tesco down the road was selling it for £5, from an r.r.p. of £12.99—a huge 65% discount I couldn’t afford.
How were they able to sell it at that price? Who wins selling a big-hitting title like that for £5? Not the real bookshops for sure. They, like me, probably popped to Tesco or Asda and bought a few for £5 and took the sticker off and sold them at £8.99 for a profit.
I question whether many authors or publishers even think about the long-term consequences of letting all the specialist knowledge booksellers possess go and having just a few big chains and online retailers at the top.
If booksellers cannot compete on price, one of the ways we can distinguish ourselves is by offering author events. However, I noted that last year certain shops had maybe 10–12 really big authors, which is great, but there are around 1,000 bookshops in the country.
I think there should be more joined up thinking, with more authors visiting more independent bookshops who have supported them, so that the wealth of words is spread in a fairer way. That might help some way to halting the decline in independent bookshops we are currently seeing.
Surely if we all work together on the greater good of the love of books and reading then we really shouldn’t need to offer discounts to entice.
Tony Higginson is the owner of Formby Books near Liverpool