Books are popular this Christmas, but beware of dodgy pricing practices

Cashmoney by Martin Kingsley (via Flickr)
Cashmoney by Martin Kingsley (via Flickr)

Great news for us book lovers–it seems that we can expect more books under the Christmas tree this year. Oh, yay!

Meanwhile, if you’re out buying books, make sure you’re comparing prices, because some retailers are actually setting prices above the recommended retail price (RRP).

Bookstore sales in November are better than last year’s

The Age reports that bookstore sales in November have exceeded last year’s numbers. Angus & Robertson has also said that their sales are up from last year. According to Chris Redfern of Avenue Bookstore, “books are seen as affordable and a reasonably priced alternative to high-end products.” The managing director of Angus & Robertson says much the same thing.

I don’t know about high-end products, but I’d certainly prefer a paperback romance by a midlist author than a random item of clothing which won’t survive an encounter with the dryer.

I wonder how the romance bookstores are going. I’ve read several articles that readers are expected to start moving away from misery memoirs in favour of happier reading fare to take their minds off the sad state of the economy. I wonder if that means Dymocks will put their romance books back in a prominent position, rather than relegating them to a wall that I can barely get to while pushing a stroller.

Borders and A&R are pricing some books above the RRP

I used to prefer Borders over Dymocks, but I’ve had a change of heart since reading this article in the SMH. Apparently, Borders and A&R are now selling some books over the RRP. Dymocks, as far as the article goes, still sells at RRP.

John Coote, Managing Director of Borders in A/NZ, justifies this as a way to recoup the costs of providing a “premium experience” for shoppers.

The RRP is set by publishers and is not binding. It has long been common practice to sell selected books below it, but until recently it was rare to mark above it. Angus & Robertson started the trend, initially with back list and slower-moving titles. Borders, which was acquired by A&R Whitcoulls in June, has joined Angus & Robertson in extending this [to] even new and popular titles

Now don’t get me wrong–I like to shop at Borders once in a while. Their range is certainly extensive, and their operating hours are very convenient. But as far as being an “experience”, I think it’s declined quite a bit in recent years. Yes, I can still sit in a corner and read a book all day, or pore over a magazine at the cafe, but to be honest, that’s the kind of experience I want in a library, not necessarily a bookstore. In a bookstore, I want to talk to staff who know about books, and in particular the books I love to read. (Mind you, my local library has those, too–I can’t say enough good things about our librarians.)

Getting a “premium experience”

In the past, I’ve been to Borders and Dymocks to check on new releases by J. R. Ward and Eloisa James, and have had staff tell me that the books hadn’t even been ordered yet, or that they would arrive in 6-8 weeks. That’s after the US release date. 6-8 weeks for the latest BDB novel? They have got to be kidding.

So now, I head straight to Galaxy for any new paranormal romances (they specialise in SF/F, and they have an entire wall and a blog for romance), as they often have new books in store before the official release dates. I know that other specialty stores, such as Rendezvous, try to get popular romance titles in store and out to customers as close to the release date as possible. The staff at both stores are also great at recommending books and authors to try–including being honest about whether or not they think I’ll like a particular book. I love that.

So if I were after a “premium experience”, I wouldn’t go to Borders for one of them, unless I need a break from shopping and would like to lounge around in air-conditioned comfort for a couple of hours. Or if I have $5 left in my wallet and all the time in the world. Mate, I can make that Gloria Jeans mocha last aaaaall day.

The real price of books

As far as getting my money’s worth… Well, I’m on the Borders mailing list, Shortlist, which gives me weekly discount coupons of up to around 30% off the full price of a book. That takes the price down to below the RRP, so it’s good value–assuming I remember to print out the coupon and bring it with me. Plus, Borders has a price matching policy–assuming I have a competitor’s catalogue handy.

Dymocks runs the Booklover Program, where I earn points for every purchase, redeemable for store credit. I think it works out to be a net discount of around 5%. I tend to use this more often by default, since I always have the card handy in my wallet.

The specialist romance bookstores don’t really try to compete with these schemes. I have a Galaxy card, which earns me points, but I’d have to spend at least $300 every 6 months to get any vouchers–that’s an average spend of $50 each month, and a minimum discount of just under 7%. However, they sometimes run events for members, and I’m told you can get good deals there (I haven’t managed to get to one yet). A friend of mine used to get free books from Rendezvous once in a while, as a thank you for being a loyal customer.

I’d love to know where you buy your books. Do you look for the best discount or the best service? And do you still shop at bookstores, or do you prefer to do all your book buying online?

Kat Mayo is a freelance writer, podcaster, Twitter tragic, and compulsive reader. Her reviews have appeared in Books+Publishing, and she was the winner of the 2014 RWA Romance Media Award. She believes in happy endings, and kills fairies with glee.

13 comments

  1. Marg says:

    I think it is pretty fair to say that I don’t buy any books from Dymocks or A&R – their ranges totally suck instore! I do enjoy going to Borders, but it is so far away from where I live that it really is a big deal to go there.

    If and when I buy mainstream books, I use Big W and Kmart simply because they are so much cheaper. For buying romance I use either Rendezvous or Ever After (usually Ever After), but mostly I buy from The Book Depository. It is based in the UK, but books are a lot cheaper in the UK to start off with, and then they have free postage to Australia, so it is generally much cheaper for me to buy from there than it is to walk into the specialist or chain book stores here.

  2. Kat says:

    Marg, you’re right! I forgot about Target and K-mart, which is where I buy my category romances. (There’s no Big W near me.) I will have to check out The Book Depository. Free postage!

    But come on, don’t you love walking into Rendezvous? Gives me thrills to open the door every time.

  3. Marg says:

    I do love going into Rendezvous, but it’s not something I can do very often as the 10 year old boy that I have with me starts whining approximately 10 seconds after we walk in the door. I also don’t really enjoy browsing in bookstores anymore. If I do go there it is generally to get something specific. Occasionally I will impulse buy – not often though.

  4. Kat says:

    I’m the opposite. I rarely impulse buy online, but I will in a bookstore. In fact, most of my bookstore purchases are impulse buys because I rarely remember what I have on my To Buy list. Lately, though, I’ve been going to the library more often. One of the librarians just put me on to Suzanne Brockmann and I’m totally hooked.

    And yes, leisurely book shopping is almost impossible with kids (or a husband) in tow! :-D

  5. Mia says:

    I prefer shopping online rather than going to bookstores. Fishpond (www.fishpond.com.au) is a great local site for buying books with over 1.5 million books available they’ve got a wide range of products and most of them are below retail price. And they have fast delivery and good service too.

  6. RT says:

    hello….

    i shop at amazon…even though you will need to pay shipping charges, i find that its heavily discounted and you have the option of buying second hand( that are as new or brand new ) so i find that buying in bulk even with the shipping averages out to be good savings.

    i also check out the local st.vinnes sometimes (horse wisperer) was the latest purchase

  7. Kat says:

    RT, I didn’t even think about op shops, but they’re actually very good places to look for hardcover books, I’ve found. Plus, there’s that huge secondhand bookstore in Newtown. I can never remember what it’s called, but it’s a book lover’s paradise.

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