Monday, June 11, 2007


A recent article here LINK on how the last Harry Potter book is costing the industry shows how bleedin' ludicrous things have gotten in the world of publishing in the UK. With this last installment of HP, it should jolly well be feast time for booksellers - selling the book by the wheelbarrow for loads of loverly profit. Instead, everybody seems to be competing with each other to hand copies of it over to the the cheapest price, and the greatest loss.

How did this industry allow itself to get so silly?

By comparison, lets take a look at how some other industries cope with a hot product that everyone wants.

Video games: The Wii, Nintendo's latest console is taking the world by storm; everyone wants to grab a Wii. But, do we see GAME giving the console away at a below-than-wholesale-price? Nope. Instead, they're making a nice healthy 50% margin there. And in fact, in Tokyo, where demand is ridiculously high, retailers are charging for well over the RRP for the console. LINK

Movies: the Lord of the Rings trilogy were the must-see movie three years in a row. Did cinemas suddenly decide to halve the price of entry to see the movies? Of course not.

Music: iPods....everyone wants one. Are they being given away at half price?

So why is it booksellers are shooting themselves in the foot? Well...the loss leader theory is usually trotted out in answer. Which goes along the lines of...Joe Punter comes in to buy his Harry Potter book, and whilst he's there making his purchase, he's supposed to be seduced by all the other books lying on those central tables around him and spend loads of luverly dosh on a stack of novels he wouldn't otherwise have considered buying.

Hmmmm. Not sure that's actually happening.

Joe Punter isn't doing that. Joe Punter has come in specifically to get his fix of Potter, will grab it, pay for it and bolt back home to read it. In actual fact, he's not even likely to put a single solitary foot inside a book store to buy it anyway - preferring instead to grab it whilst shopping with mum at Tescos. Or he'll just order it online from Amazon.

So surely, the smart thing for a bricks-n-mortar bookseller to do, is to stock a few copies of the latest Potter, (after all, you can't not). Stock say...a dozen hardcover versions, sell them at the RRP and simply accept you aren't going to shift hundreds. Which is fine...let someone else lose money on two hundred units of product sold below cost, and have a little snigger at their expense...suckers. See, I'm really not convinced by the loss leader argument that booksellers are putting forward. I've got a deep suspicion that your average Potter fan is not that much of a book worm. Nor for that matter is your average Dan Brown fan. I suspect they're the one-book-a-year-beside-the-pool type of customer.

Now...why the hell is this trade bothering to chase people like that? Does one book a year from each member of this category of customer really amount to that much money in the coffers? Especially, I might add, when they're getting the book virtually given to them?



LeoMagnanimus said...

Hi Alex, I'm reading your book and I can tell you that it's great! I love it. My wife says that I should be looking more at my daughter but it's impossible, I need to go on with my reading (on the bus, walking, at home till 1 AM...)
One of my greatest interests is WWII, I'm also writing a book about it but, of course not as good as yours!! You are on top!
Right now I'm investigating on uboots, I'm going shortly to willhelmshaven to enter the last XXI class. in fact last saturday I went to the Imperial war museum (very impressing) It's very inspiring your book and Biography.
If you have time some saturday I could go to Norwich and invite you a cup of coffee at starbucks or a pint of Guinness!, I could be really honored. Anyway if you don't have time there's no problem :)

Thank you, look forward to read more of yours.

Alex Scarrow said...

Very kind words Leo. Tell me, are you reading the English language version? Or Portuguese?

I tend to work in Norwich most weekday mornings (the Starbucks at the back of Borders book store in the Chappelfield centre). If you see me, come over and say 'hi'.

You'll know who I am...I'm the guy staring aimlessly into space, when I should damn well be writing.

LeoMagnanimus said...

Wow! Thank you Alex! I'm reading the english version. Obviously I would prefer to read it in Spanish but I couldn´t find it in Waterstones.

I´m living in Reading so it´s quite far but I will definetly try to say hi some day!

By the way, I like the way you provided Max with a brave but human personality, somehow it remeinds me of Kurt Steiner from The Eagle has Landed.

Thank you for answering!