Independent booksellers have slammed the heavy discounting of new hardback titles by larger retailers as “pretty close to chaos” and “enormously detrimental to authors” ahead of the release of Philip Pullman's first Book of Dust novel.
The debate was sparked by Tamsin Rosewell, bookseller at Kenilworth Bookshop in Warwickshire, who penned a blog about the difficulties of stocking big hardbacks such as Pullman's highly anticipated La Belle Sauvage (Penguin Random House Children's and David Fickling Books). Indie booksellers have said they've been put in a "ridiculous situation" because it costs them more to stock the title than it is being sold for at other retailers.
La Belle Sauvage is being sold on pre-order at Waterstones, Amazon, W H Smith, Tesco and Foyles for £10. The r.r.p. is £20.
Rosewell told The Bookseller that she was prompted to pen the blog post when she realised that there was "no financial point" in stocking La Belle Sauvage because it was “so heavily discounted we can’t even buy it into the shop for the price that it’s being sold to the public elsewhere”.
“We realised as it stands at the moment, that there was no financial point in us stocking The Book of Dust, which is ridiculous situation to be in - what kind of bookshop would not stock the latest Philip Pullman? It’s a hugely important book", Rosewell said. "This is something we’ve actually been aware of for a very long time… We’re aware of our position on the high street; we know we can't compete [on the big titles] but this book is different and is really a kind of crunch point on this [issue], because it’s such an important book and author in the cultural canon of this country that we felt that we really needed to say something now.”
Rosewell lamented the abolishment of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 which fixed the price of books. She said the current approach, which enables retailers to choose their own prices, is "actually pretty close to chaos" and "enormously detrimental" to authors.
"It’s hugely insulting to authors as well and we need our authors and illustrators more than ever now in our society. It’s healthy to have commentators of that sort and they are the great cultural commentators of our time. And yet, we’re pushing their expertise, their knowledge, their brilliance down to a level of discounted food - it’s ridiculous”, Rosewell said.
Marie Moser of the Edinburgh Bookshop, agreed, saying that the practice was “deeply frustrating” and that authors "deserve better".
“The big publishers often take what are going to be good titles anyway, and discount them, to people like Waterstones or Amazon, because they know they’ll sell the volume. And I find that frustrating… it devalues books and the brands of the authors. Books are cheap anyway. A paperback is the price of a takeaway pizza. The more we do that, the more we say to customers that a hardback isn’t worth £20. If you’re talking the big mass market authors, we very rarely stock them in hardback, because our customers are going to pick them up somewhere else at half price, and we can’t afford to discount and I’m quite opposed to it. How are [the publishers going] make enough money to fund younger writers if they’re discounting their bestsellers now.”
Moser added: “I know this isn’t all driven by publishers, it’s also driven by the retailers. Sometimes you have to give them the big deal. It’s a deep frustration, I can often buy a new paperback in my supermarket, cheaper than I can buy it from my wholesaler. That’s how silly it gets. Frequently in Tesco you can buy a new paperback for £3; and it costs me £4.25 to buy from the wholesaler. So that’s why it frustrates small booksellers. We know these guys get the discounts because of the volume they’re buying of the books but also means we can’t make the money on those big titles. My biggest frustration is that I think it distorts the market, and distorts the perception of what a book’s worth and I think authors deserve better.”
Meanwhile, Octavia Keravla of Octavia’s Bookshop, said while she intended to stock Pullman's book, that "with all the pre-order deals [from the bigger retailers], we're sort of already behind before we've started".
She said she also agreed that heavily discounting hardbacks devalued books, but that "there's nothing [indie bookshops] can do about it".
“I agree devaluing and insulting. It devalues [the discounted] title as well as the one next to it. [But] there's nothing you can do with things like that. It is what it is and you just accept it".
The publisher has been contacted for comment.
Last week, retailers predicted Pullman’s first Book of Dust title would be among the highest selling this Christmas, along with new Harry Potter releases and Dan Brown’s next novel Origin.
Katharine Fry, trading buying manager for Blackwell’s, said: “Our Christmas number one will be Pullman, a publishing event every bookseller can celebrate which is bound to see amazing sales. Children’s is looking great, with Pullman publishing just after John Green and Harry Potter to follow.”