Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Defeat into victory, a continuation of my thoughts on secondhand bookshops and the Amazon effect.

Sitting behind the till in my bookshop, the books immediately beside me are the ones on military history, fortunately most of the books on this subject sell fairly well, so one of them should help to explain the situation.

OK “Defeat Into Victory” sums the situation up as good as any, the Pan edition came out in 2009 priced £9.99, it is a military classic and has been in print in various editions since 1956, it is an average seller and will probably go on selling indefinitely.

Once upon a time in the UK we had a thing called The Net Book Agreement, this lasted from 1900 to 1997 and fixed the price of new books, causing the UK to have the cheapest books in the world and causing a flowering of literature.

This is a post for readers, so here is a party trick – can you name three famous American novelists? Difficult isn’t it although easy to name three from the UK.

One of the results of the net book agreement is that books have prices printed on them, these used to be the real prices, but now something funny has happened – and not funny ha ha – the prices don’t really mean much any more.

So whereas once we would have priced a secondhand book like this one that said £9.99 on the back at £4.99, now if the book is in nice condition we look at the thing and try to work out what a realistic new price should be and price it at half of that.

So in this case the book is priced on the shelf in my bookshop at £3.99.
Looking on Amazon the book’s RRP has now gone up to £12.99 i.e. 30% inflation in three years, but this is fine because Amazon are selling it new for £8.96 and this means our guess at what the full price should be wasn’t far off the mark.

I should stress here that I don’t want to to buy this book at the moment because I already have it in stock, you can however sell a copy in nice condition to Amazon for a £1.90 Amazon gift card.

You can buy the kindle download from Amazon for £4.49 or you can buy it in book form, secondhand from Amazon for about £7.50

You can of course look elsewhere on the internet, the cheapest I could find it was on Ebay at £2.99 including postage, however the copies there at this price were described as being in “good” condition, which in the bookselling world translates as “not very good” finding a seller with no mentions of dreadful condition in their feedback takes you back to around £7 including postage. 

A bit of a "bird in the hand" situation.

Anyway I have been re pricing the general fiction in my bookshop, working along the shelves, trying to make sure that what I have on the shelf, in terms of secondhand paperback fiction, represents better value than can be found online.

I was fairly surprised that in about half the cases, what we had on the shelf was better value than what you could get online and having now done it I am fairly confident that most of it is.

There are a lot of books listed on Amazon a 1p, yes a penny, but in practice because of the £2.80 postage allowance this doesn’t mean they are the cheapest copies on Amazon, most of the potboilers are available on Amazon, secondhand for about £1.50 including postage.     

So something to consider here when someone says to you “I only paid a penny for it” this may not have been the cheapest option.   

Another interesting thing here is that the Amazon app on my mobile phone didn’t bring up the cheapest copy available nor did the Ebay app. What got the price down was spending a considerable amount of time delving online.

This is the area where the difference between finding the price of a book you want to sell and making some sort of effort to buy the thing cheaply comes into play. A bit of advice here; if you are considering selling a book, look it up as though you were trying to buy it cheaply.   

I will ramble on here.    


  1. You are too mean to US authors - I could name a dozen, mostly still alive... what about the ubiquitous Stephanie Meyer? To say nothing of Chabon, Saffron Foer and Franzen, Anne Tyler, Marilyn Robinson etc.

    I still tend to buy books in second hand book shops and charity shops, because there is more of an element of serendipity. I recently went to London and thought I would go to a famous bookshop in Picadilly - only to find it was now a partially disguised Waterstones - with a stock of the usual suspects. Now that libraries have followed the bookshop example of only stocking the latest titles, a second hand book shelf is the only place where one can browse and be surprised by something interesting - although sadly if the bookshop's suppliers are still mostly reading Danielle Steele one doesn't get many surprises!

    There are other views about competition - one local bookseller is much cheaper, because they prefer people to buy more books, and some of the charity shops are offering reasonable choice for very little money... I came out with an armful of good modern writing from the US and the UK for about £2 recently. Amazon is one source of second hand books - there are others, boot sales are often fabulous at providing the unexpected title or filling the much missed, out of print gap in one's bookshelves. But if most people are buying their books on Amazon, then I guess that's the place to compare yourself with.

    1. Schmoozyschlepp, apart from Saffron Foer, who is a man, I grant that they are female and have written novels, can you name any feminist novels they have written? Or for that matter any really famous American novel that explores feminism. Off the top of my head I can only think of Garp, which was of course written by a man.

      Where is America’s Well of Loneliness?

      Granted Canada has it’s Edible Woman, but Canada isn’t America.

  2. I was told [by the lady of the till] that you do not stock any business books. I admit that this is probably a tiny niche market in Thanet when it comes to text books, but I was looking for books about successful businesses ... e.g. Anyone Can Do It [Story of Coffee Republic] ... something similar about Starbucks and even Ian Gregg's biog of their family business. The Gregg book is currently on sale at their Margate branch for £5, paperback, brand new and cheaper than amazon.
    Maybe you should start selling rolls and snacks as a way of countering this competition?

  3. From Mick Tee on facebook:

    INTERESTING-Heard tonight [Wednesday] of a 'New' of like minded people in the town setting up a committee, who are fed up with various people not wanting progress and investment in Margate because a few do not like it, also going out of their way through the media telling residents not the truth.
    eg: The proposed Tesco is NOT going to be built on Margate Sea Front.
    The group opposing this and many other projects in Margate are costing you the council taxpayer a small fortune.

    1. I'd LOVE to get involved with this!

    2. I guess Mick Tee is Cllr Mick Tomlinson? In which case as a long-standing TDC Planning Committee member, why has he not provided clarification about the siting of the store before now?

    3. Yes, legendary former Dreamland DJ Mick "Mr Margate" Tee. He recently came out of retirement to ensure that Margate Carnival goes ahead this year, as no-one else came forward to take over from him (I guess carnivals don't quite fit in with the NIMBYs very narrow "galleries and cafes" vision!).

      As for "clarification", that was there from the beginning. It's only the "No" brigade who have unclarified things.

    4. Oh yes. your Mr T is, as you say, "legendary" in more ways than some of us will ever know.

    5. Was Mr T a one man committee then, did none of the other members want to take over or where they also NIMBYs?

    6. Your comment Peter "as no-one else came forward to take over from him (I guess carnivals don't quite fit in with the NIMBYs very narrow "galleries and cafes" vision!)." lead to my comment "Was Mr T a one man committee then, did none of the other members want to take over". Why would I need to ask him when you comment on his behalf. Maybe you didn't join the dots up very well in this discussion.
      Your opinion was no one came forward, were you on the Carnival committee so you speak from experience or are you just guessing? remember "never let the truth spoil a good story"

    7. Your opinion was Nimbys don't take on Carnival mantle!! so maybe you should ask why no one from the Carnival committee took up the job.
      You have some experience of being on the Carnival committee perhaps!!

    8. Nope, only photographing Carnival queens! ; )

    9. So photographing Carnival Queens gives you the experience to comment on who does or doesn't run the Carnival committee. Maybe you should reserve your comments where you have some knowledge like cycling or photography

    10. I'm not going to argue with you. You're right and I'm wrong! ; )

    11. Allan MallinsonJune 20, 2013 6:51 pm

      Well said, Peter, and I am with you. Far too many like Barry, Louise and Christine around Thanet for my taste which is why nothing ever gets anywhere.

    12. So Allan what part of the above conversation would imply that I either approved or disapproved the new development. I have no opinion either way. And as Peter said "You're right and I'm wrong" would seem to be the end of that part of the conversation.

      What life's experiences do you bring to the debate that gives you the right to criticize the opinion of others.

    13. Once again James turns up, sprinkling irrelevant and pointless comemnts around in the hope of being taken seriously.

      Here's a question James won't be able to answer, who amoungst the nimbys has contributed anything of value to Thanet...

    14. Hammy maybe it would help if you could name some nimbys so the question becomes relevant. As I personally don't know anyone named nimby the question is impossible to answer in its current format.

    15. I think they have been refered to often enough that everyone is aware of the usually nimbys that Thanet so despise. I wouldn;t offend Michael by naming names as i know he seeks to defend a lot of these poor poor people.

      I'm sure you can work it out all on your own James, go on, try and post something relevant and correct, just once, it will be a whole new experience for you :)

      If you REALLY need the help, try any of the "executive" of FORS, or even any of the admins of the "NO to Tesco" page, that should help you, blees.

  4. Peter: At last!
    If I was 36 instead of 76 I'd be signing up.
    Every good wish for success.

    1. I think it's excellent Col, though there's already people complaining:

      "are we talking about a councillor getting a group together against residents in margate?" (Louise Oldfield on twitter)

    2. A classic example of why I avoid twitter, facebook and similar arrangements!

    3. The answer for Ms Oldfield (as i don't do twitter either) is no, we are talking about someone getting a group together against to represent that VAST majority residents in margate against a tiny minority of nimbys, and those with vested interests


      I am happy to offer the services of my blog , and the "Yes to Tesco" FB page that I help to admin, to Mr Tee :)


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