Wednesday, July 18, 2007


As the latest and possibly final round of Pottermania reaches its climax with the publication of J.K. Rowling's newest epic, a rather unseemly dispute has arisen between the publisher, Bloomsbury, and Asda, the supermarket, who would no doubt be looking forward to some pretty good sales from the book.
The nuts and bolts of the dispute are not very clear but seem to revolve around Bloomsbury suggesting that the book should retail for £17.99 and Asda, who propose flogging it in their stores for £8.87.
For those outside of the publishing industry, it must seem incredible that a store could sell for such a low discounted price. But the fact is that distributors and retailers routinely demand a whopping 55% from the publisher for the pleasure of putting it on display on their shelves.
In addition, they often reserve the right to return unsold copies, a pretty unique arrangement for any retail industry.
The publisher shoulders all the costs of production and carries the risk of having a flop on his hands. The retailer simply trousers the profit.
The result of these financial shenanigans is that the amount of cash left over for the author becomes diluted. Not much of a problem if you're a Rowling or a Dan Smith but a bit of a depressing statistic if you're a struggling author whose sales figures are not going to be stratospheric.
Asda can probably afford to earn pennies on the sale, given the volume that they hope to attain. Not so the independent book stores, who rightfully can complain that they cannot possibly compete.
Once again, the bullying power of the supermarkets is aligned to destroy the small businessman.
Bloomsbury would do a great service to the consumer as well as to the whole publishing industry if they would refuse to allow the sale of their book at such a risibly low price.
And, given the success of the earlier Potter books (I haven't read one but my granddaughter, whose judgement I value, says they're jolly good), selling for a sensible price will hardly make a difference – except to the small bookseller.
England was once referred to as a nation of shopkeepers. If the supermarkets have their way, it will soon be no longer.
More's the pity.


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