Mackenzie hits out at 'Wild West' trade

<p>"I am on your side," Ursula Mackenzie of Time Warner Book Group yesterday told 40 independent booksellers at a Small Business Forum event in advance of the official opening of the Booksellers Association conference in Bournemouth.
As part of a panel debate with speakers from Bramhall independent Simply Books and wholesaler THE, Mackenzie mounted an attack on discounting by the chains. She said she "hates seeing endless three-for-two offers and deep discounting". She said the UK trade was "like the Wild West" compared to the US.
Mackenzie said that deep discounting by the chains was "all about market share", with last Christmas' price war initiated by W H Smith's three-day blitz promotions. "No one told us what they were going to do and we did not contribute to it," insisted Mackenzie. Waterstone's followed WHS with "awful" discounts of more than half price.
A buying group of independent booksellers aiming to gain better terms would be supported by publishers, she said. "It works well in America and Australia. You wouldn't find any publisher who wouldn't support it. Buying as 1,100 [shops] must give you more margin than as individuals."
Mackenzie suggested that independents could be given more margin on a selected group of titles from publishers each month. One bookseller from the floor questioned the amount of margin that could be expected from more buying clout. Mackenzie said 60% would be unrealistic. "I don't know what kinds of discounts could be achieved; that would be all up to negotiation."
THE's Graham Rand added that there was "an opportunity for independent booksellers to use their wholesalers more than they do. If we represent your interests, we are in a stronger position ourselves."
Mackenzie responded to criticisms of recent moves by publishers to increase cover prices on bestselling autumn books. She argued that Time Warner "downpriced" new authors from its "standard hardback fiction price of &#163;16.99 or &#163;17.99," but a novel from a popular author such as Patricia Cornwell would be &#163;17.99 as "it would be discounted so heavily". Time Warner would take a decision to price at the higher end of the scale if the publisher was not making "sufficient margin."</p>