The book trade has a phenomenon called 'megasellers'. They are highly orchestrated, globally released bestsellers where the authors and publishers make truckloads of money but the retailers none at all.
Harry Potter is the perfect example. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, released yesterday, is the latest.
Random House's ARP is $49.95, an outrageous piece of price gouging if ever there was one. Similarly, the US and UK prices are at the very high end of the scale. They are all hardback editions, so the consumer is tricked into thinking that there's extra value and quality in that binding and therefore the price must be justified.
This is garbage. What's really happening is that a quintessentially mass market title is being offered in an elite package simply to screw more dollars out of the author's expectant fans.
Most Dan Brown readers came to The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Deception Point late into the life of these titles and were buying them at paperback prices of around $18 - $25. So The Lost Symbol is finally released and they walk into a bookshop and are confronted with an expensive hard back and a price that absolutely turns them off.
The retailers, who know and respect their customers, are on the front line. They sacrifice their own margins to get the business and keep faith with joe public. A&R/Borders is offering it at $29.99 and Dymocks has it at $32.99. Independents Readings and The Avenue in Melbourne have it at $39.95, the best they can do because they simply don't get the sweetest terms from the publisher. Most other smaller independents can't discount at all, and have stuck to the RRP of $49.95. So if you buy from them you're being ripped off - not by them but by the publisher. What a treat for loyal customers!
I'd like to buy the book, so I'll go to Dymocks. And I'd be silly to buy from an independent, despite my usual habits and preferences.
What irks is the cynicism of Random House. A mass market product like The Lost Symbol should be produced, first up, in a paperback edition for no more than $32.95, which would then be discounted by retailers. Independents would get their usual share of demand because we're not talking big dollar price differences between stores.
But the real issue is meeting customer expectations and not alienating them. And just being a bit ethical, if that's not too difficult a concept for a global corporation to understand.
Random have printed over 600,000 copies for the Australian market. I'd love to see them eat half of that because of consumer distaste.