Trade greets end of Waterstone's 3 for 2

Trade greets end of Waterstone's 3 for 2

Publishers and trade figures have broadly reacted positively towards the scrapping of Waterstone’s 3-for-2 promotion.

As The Bookseller revealed earlier today [31st August], the offer is expected to be scrapped in September and replaced by discount off individual books. It marks the end of arguably the most recognisable book offer, which has been part of Waterstone's for more than a decade.

Ursula Mackenzie, c.e.o of Little, Brown and chair of the Trade Publishers’ Council at the Publishers Association, said Daunt's move was the right one as in difficult economic times customers are not necessarily looking to buy two books. She said: “Refreshing the offer will be a good thing, I’m not sure that the 3-for-2 is what people are looking for. They want one book, at the cheapest possible price.”

Kerr MacRae, executive director of Simon & Schuster, said scrapping the offer needed to be done. He said: “I don’t think anyone will mourn 3-for-2s to the depth and level that they ended up in Waterstone’s. When it started it was quite selective, sticking to specific authors or genres and it grew into a bit of a monster. It became the default position in terms of Waterstone’s front of store proposition. In scrapping it, it’s the first step for them to look at new and innovative ways to sell things differently.”

Scott Pack, publisher at The Friday Project and former buying manager at Waterstone’s, defended the offer on Twitter and said W H Smith would be "delighted" with its abolition. He said: “When we tried to reduce the number of books on the 3 for 2 offer it didn’t work financially, it didn’t make as much money. But that was a different time. This may be more of a cultural change...It is the end of an era. It is really fascinating how many people are talking about this – authors, readers, publishers. It is part of our cultural fabric.”

One indie publisher said: "If you get a book in the 3-for-2 offer it sells and sells and sells. Even though the margin is lower, it is a dream for us."

David Roche, former Borders c.e.o. and Waterstone's product director, said: “Love it or hate it, the 3 for 2 campaign became a treadmill that always resulted in a headache whenever you attempted to extricate yourself from it. It did sell a lot of books and over the years has boosted the career, or certainly individual titles, of many an emerging author.”

However, he added:  “Having said that, everything has a sell-by date and there should be no taboo in replacing the 3 for 2 with something that might be more relevant to the current state of the market/economy and for the variety of store locations that Waterstone's currently operates in. The magic is to hit on a formula and balance that works better, or to have a range of scaleable offers and incentives that help put a spotlight on a curated selection of individual books (be they frontlist or backlist) and different authors, be they household names or new writing talent that needs championing. Carrying on as Waterstone's were is clearly not the answer so James should be applauded for trying something different rather than doing more of the same."

Some Waterstone's staff were told of the move earlier this week, with one source telling The Bookseller campaign books would subsequently be uniformly priced at £5, while another suggested a more staggered offer for paperbacks, with £3, £5 and £7 pricepoints available.

Jonathan Lloyd, c.e.o. of Curtis Brown, echoed those who said three books is not necessarily what customers always want. He said: “3-for-2 often meant spending enormous amounts of time looking for a third book you didn’t really want. Like so many activities, two is more satisfying than three.”

The news has seen coverage in The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian. Writing in The Independent, David Prosser said: "In axing Waterstone's three for two offers, Mr Daunt is steering the bookshops towards the sort of philosophy that has worked for him in the past." But he notedL "The three for two deal is an effective way to shift the work of lesser-known authors, to expand their audiences and to turn them into the bestsellers of tomorrow. Without the support of being thrown into promotions featuring today's star-names, those authors may find the going tougher."

The Guardian quotes the author Robert Muchamore, who said: "Multibuys have never worked for me with books because you need to find three eclectic non-identical products."