Retailers hit out at Christmas pricing

Penguin has defended the £30 r.r.p. price of Jamie Oliver's new cookbook as "fantastic value" after retailers accused the company of "profiteering".

Many booksellers have noted the price of potential bestselling hardback books out in September and October in time for the Christmas rush "creeping up" from last year, with Martina Cole's The Faithless priced at £19.99, £1 more expensive than her 2010 title, The Family.

Penguin had record sales of Jamie Oliver's 30-Minute Meals, priced £26, over Christmas 2010 and into the new year, but it has set the r.r.p. of his new cookbook, Jamie's Great Britain, at £30, an increase of more than 15%. The title is due to be published on 29th September.

Commenting on the price of Jamie's Great Britain, one retailer said: "Look at the average price of each book. This is taking it to the next level. It is difficult to make that look like a bargain. I believe it is a deliberate strategy to make the hardback more expensive to push people onto digital books."

Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin, pointed out that last year's Oliver title had 280 pages and this year's has 400, an increase of about 40%. "I think £30 represents fantastic value. This is a 400-page book from Britain's leading non-fiction writer," he said.

Other fiction hardbacks bumped up to £19.99 in time for Christmas include Stephen King's 11.22.63 (Hodder & Stoughton), Penny Vincenzi's The Decision (Headline Review) and John Grisham's The Litigators (Hodder and Stoughton). A Hachette spokesperson blamed the rise in paper prices for the increase in r.r.p. of books. 

"We resist price increases for as long as we possibly can. The last time there was an increase for Martina Cole was in 2006," she said. 

"Where we can, we absorb additional costs without passing them on. However, the substantial rise in the cost of paper this year has forced us to increase some of our prices by around 5%–6%."

Other retailers have criticised the hardback prices in light of rising inflation and cost of living, which will have an impact on consumer spending at Christmas. Jasper Sutcliffe, senior buyer at Foyles, said: "It is indeed a shame to see publishers increasing r.r.p. in the middle of a recession, particularly as we're simply not able to match the heavy discounts they encourage. Furthermore, this level of discounting draws consumer focus to a relatively small number of new titles."

Another retailer suggested that the publisher and author "win" when the r.r.p. is set that high, because it drives up the margin and the author will earn more. He said: "Even retailers such as Waterstone's, Amazon or Smiths will do okay because they can afford to discount it. But independents will really suffer because there is no real way they can sell it."

Bookseller Sheridan Swinson, who owns Aardvark Books in Bucknell, Shropshire, said he would make "about £1" on Oliver's new title. "I have to have Jamie because my customers ask for it. I make about £1 and I just have to accept it because there is nothing I can do," he said.

Blog: the price is hard