What is going on with book prices?

In a recent PASS IT ON (the Australian children’s writers’ on-line, networking newsletter), Val N* posed the question… What is going on with book prices? Like when Big W and Coles and their offshoots slug it out by discounting the popular, mass-market new releases; and cut the ground out from under Dymocks, Borders and all, as well as the independent bookstores.

My answer to the question? It’s called CAPITALISM. Y’know, the system our society lives under where the big get bigger by eating up the smaller (in terms of companies, I mean).

There are only so many people in a country who can consume, and we consumers are limited by the amount of money we have. So the biggest retailers will try their damndest to make sure we consumers buy their products.  Note: Dymocks also competes with Woolworths and Coles, even though they joined in a quasi-coalition with the name, ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ in the Parallel Importation battle recently.

Coles and Woolworths are able to buy huge consignments of new popular books – and sell them through their outlets all over Australia. They also get massive discounts from publishers before they even start pricing those books for their shops.

Do you think they’re worried about how this will affect the smaller bookshops? Not on your nellie … this is capitalism at its best.

Of course, the problem with this theory of the big eating the small to get bigger is that the biggies (Coles and Woolworths) try to take customers away from each other too … the result? A price war that sells Larsson’s book for $13 less. This type of activity will eventually destroy some of the smaller independent bookshops.

*Val N. asks:  “What IS going on with book prices? I notice that my local Big W store in Western Australia has current titles at greatly reduced prices. For example, Stieg Larssons The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, paperback, is $19.95 compared to Dymock’s $32.95. Barry Humphries’ latest offering, Handling Edna, hard cover, is $29.95.
Dymock’s regular price is $49.95, currently on special at $39.95. A whole range of titles is available – probably cheaper than Amazon and of course there’s no postage to add!
Presumably it’s the same at other Big W stores. It doesn’t appear to be a special as the prices have remained the same for at least two weeks.  Now I see that Target, advertising through the Women’s Weekly also has these cheap prices for books.
Does anyone know what this is all about?”

As customers we face a quandary – do we buy the cheaper version from the major discount retailers? There is after all, only so much money we have left after the essentials to splurge on books.

Or do we support the smaller booksellers who can’t afford to give these massive  discounts, but who know about books and will stock titles other than the latest international best-sellers and the latest dieting fad or celebrity chef craze.

On this issue, I suspect, as authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents we stand with our legs straddling a barbed-wire fence. Ouch!



3 thoughts on “What is going on with book prices?

  1. Thanks for commenting, Martine. I’ve now added the example Val N gave into the blog to make it clearer – the Target copy was advertised through the Women’s Weekly in Western Australia. Coles is part of the big discount retailers who generally undercut the price of books.
    And you’re right, Readings Bookstores appears to have made a very good deal with the publishers over the set of The Millennium Trilogy.


  2. So true, Sheryl – especially when it comes to bestselling authors – the price difference between Coles and Woolworths and a genuine bookseller can vary by $10 or more – yet I bet the bookseller can tell you where to find other books by the author, other authors you might like – and all sorts of things you won’t find in Big W – where the sales people don’t even know who Matthew Reilly is.



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