Skip to Content

Deep discounting as publishers cut lists

5 December 2005

There s mixed news from the UK book world as the trade moves into the crucial last few weeks before Christmas. With the still unanswered question of whether Waterstone s bid for Ottakars will be referred by the Office of Fair Trading, massive uncertainty still hangs over the trade. In the meantime W H Smith and Waterstone s have been engaging in a Christmas price war, focusing on non-fiction. Half-price offers on hardback books have pushed sales up 5.1% ahead of the same November week as last year, but at the cost of an average selling price for the top 20 non-fiction titles which is down by a massive £1.61.

There s grim news from the book club front, where the giant Book Club Associates has just announced 64 staff are to go. It is cutting its book clubs from 20 to 8, including folding some of the most successful clubs, such as TSP, Mystery and Thriller, and QPD, into other clubs. These two news items are closely connected, as it is the ferocious price discounting on the high street and elsewhere that has inexorably stripped away book clubs original selling point of discounted prices.

On the publishing front the UK offshoot of Simon and Schuster has just announced four redundancies, a cut in titles from 350 to 250 a year and a swing back to focus on more commercial publishing. The management buyout of Chrysalis has recently gone through, but with further layoffs and reductions in the list. HarperColllins UK, on the other hand, has announced an increase of around 30% in both profits and margin on static turnover in the year to June 2005. The big publishers, with backlist which in this case includes both Tolkien and Narnia, can survive and even flourish in a difficult bestseller-focused market.

None of this is very good news for authors, and the cuts in the list make it even more difficult for them to get that first break into print. On the plus side, Macmillan s New Writing initiative seems to be going well, with the first eight titles publishing in April with handsome covers, abandoning the original no-frills uniform look. But no-one knows how they will they sell.

As the Christmas tills ring, we can all hope that hard times in retail will lead to a Christmas boom in book sales, traditionally good in times of recession. But the likelihood is that Amazon will benefit most, as it consolidates its hold on the book market.