Alarm at textbook price hikes

Alarm at textbook price hikes

Booksellers are warning of major disruption to the “back to school” season.

The fears come after three major publishers—Wiley, Cengage and Pearson—moved to implement a global publishing strategy in order to limit the threat of cheap local editions infiltrating the core US market.

In some cases the move has led to textbook prices rising by as much as £150, or delays, as new international editions are published.

Waterstones range manager Nick Maddison has warned that the chain retailer may have to recommend “alternate, more affordable” titles to customers where prices have risen.

Key books such as International Economics by Salvatore, published by Wiley, is now £192.99, when last year it was £54.99. Management Science Modelling by Christian Albright, published by Cengage, is £160, when last year it was £50 and Biochemistry, 4th edition, by Donald and Judith Voet, is £180 (Wiley), when last year it cost £61.99.

The moves follow the US court case involving Wiley and Thai student Supap Kirtsaeng. Kirtsaeng was sued by Wiley after buying its textbooks at lower local market prices in Asia and selling them back to students in America at a rate below the US price. In March, the US Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of first sale, which allows legally acquired copyrighted works to be resold by their owners, applies to works made overseas.

The Bookseller reported in June that Cengage would implement a global pricing strategy in order to protect its core US market. Pearson and Wiley have also now followed suit.

Pearson is to introduce new international versions of its US works to customers at what it called “locally competitive prices”, but booksellers have warned that some titles may arrive too late. Pearson said it was “accelerating plans”, with 500 titles already available and  “many hundreds more in the pipeline”.

Wiley told The Bookseller it was “in the process of finalising a series of pricing guidelines for print and digital products that will be appropriate for the needs of students in their respective regions”. The Bookseller understands that Wiley is offering retailers large discounts of up to 80% so that bookshops are charged roughly the same for texts as they were last year, and can price accordingly.

But the lack of clarity and disruption is causing frustration for booksellers at a vital time of year. Jacqui Gadd, owner of Marylebone Books in London, said: “It has changed so suddenly at the worst time of the year. Each publisher is doing a different thing and the consequences of that are only just becoming clear. The academic staff will come back in September and expect the bookshops to be clued up . . . We are going to have to do an awful lot because it is going to have a huge impact.”

Gadd added: “There is no way on this earth a student is going to buy a book for £150. It is hard enough to get them to spend £50. I have some textbooks come in at £170, some at £117. I am hoping it will get sorted out quickly, the publishers do not want to lose sales in the UK for the autumn market.”

Dan Johns, manager of the University Bookseller in Plymouth, said that academics would be “blissfully unaware of what is happening until they see the price increases.” He said: “It would have been much better if this had happened in February, when we would have had time to explain it, and it wouldn’t have been just before the key academic bookselling season. The US prices are much higher . . . Some books are £40 more expensive and so you have got to talk to the publishers and say ‘at that price, what would you rather have, no orders or some orders?’”

Waterstones’ Maddison said the retailer was “committed to supporting our academic market as best we can”, but added: “Obviously we would prefer this situation not to have arisen, but we shall adapt as necessary and with our customers’ best interests in mind at all times. We will work with publishers to ensure we maintain the best approach for all involved, whether that involves pricing or suggesting alternate, more affordable titles.”

Rossella Proscia, marketing director for Cengage Learning, said that while prices of selected US editions have been aligned globally, the majority of its textbooks sold in the UK remain priced “to market and will continue to be”.