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Should bookstores be able to raise book prices?
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  • March 17, 2012
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  • News   |   UK
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On The Bookseller’s blog, Ed Handyside of UK publisher Myrmidon Books complains that the price of a standard paperback in the UK has not risen with inflation—six years ago it was £7.99, and today it is still £7.99 (US$10.52). Since the publisher’s recommended retail price is printed on the cover of the book, this means that booksellers cannot raise prices to account for inflation—so they take their margin out of the publishers’, writers’, and agents’ share instead.

Handyside writes:

Book prices must be allowed to rise organically and incrementally. Booksellers themselves must be allowed and encouraged to spearhead that rise whenever they perceive an opportunity to do so. This is a necessary prerequisite for gradually enhancing the public perception of the value of books as and when trading conditions permit. Publishers are ill equipped and insufficiently responsive to do this.

He adds:

If we are serious about increasing the real and perceived value of bound books (and e-books too, since the price of the one is largely derived as a proportion of the other) then UK publishers and retailers, acting in concert, must take the first and necessary step of removing the printed publisher price. It’s not too late to do this, providing we start now. When we do, we begin to eliminate the very notion of ‘discount’ from the vocabulary of the consumer; there can be no discounting without something from which to discount.

I’m not so sure this proposal is really helpful. The reason that so many people are eschewing their local bookstores in the first place is that on-line retailers have lower prices. And he’s talking about “saving” the publishing industry by allowing brick and mortar bookstores to raise theirs? Even if Handyside succeeds in removing “discount” from consumers’ vocabulary, “cheaper” will go right on being a major part of it.

As far as I know, there’s nothing stopping UK publishers from deciding to add a pound or two onto their suggested retail prices every so often on their own. Perhaps that would be a more realistic goal for Handyside to work toward.

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