Monday, August 27, 2007

Of Book Sales and Discounts

I'll admit that I'm a greedy person--but not too greedy that I'll skimp when it comes to book spending. However, there's a twinkle in my eye whenever I spot a book sale of some sort. Not only am I getting books, I'm getting them cheap! I've come to realize that unlike other consumer products, price isn't necessarily commensurate with quality (that's not always true but there's clearly some quality control when you're purchasing a Mac vs a PC, when you're buying branded products over derivatives or counterfeit wares). Some books that I'll never read in my life (by choice) might fetch a high price while favorite novels might be lying around in bargain bins for under P100.00.

One quick way to entice me to visit a bookstore is they put up their "on sale" sign. It had me wondering, why don't bookstores go on sale more often? Better yet, how is this different from the discounts they give to their regular customers?

Many businesses are familiar with the concept of a sale. On one hand, it can be a marketing tactic, a method in which you draw in more potential customers. This is typical of stores that are launching for the first time but that is not the only scenario. It could be a well-off store thinking that they need a marketing boost or even a textbook example of loss-leaders: one product that is sold at a huge discount so that customers might be enticed to visit but they are lulled to purchase other products available in the shop.

The other extreme example is when the business is closing down and they need to cut their losses. A printing business for example might need to sell their printer because the owner won't be needing it. Better to sell it at 50% off rather than not earn anything from it, and it removes the burden of storage. When it comes to bookstores, I think this is more appropriate. By no means is the bookstore closing down but they need to get rid of old stock. For every book that's been on the shelf for several months, that's one less newly-released book that won't be featured in the store. And if I were the manager of the bookstore, I'd probably be thinking that if this book wasn't selling six months ago, then it probably won't be selling today. Best to get rid of it and one of the more "profitable" ways would be to go on sale. It's either sell the books or dispose of them some other way (burning them is one extreme but another is selling them off to secondhand bookstores). Bibliophiles who "cull" their books should be familiar with this experience. Book aficionados might have only so much shelf space to store their books and so they give away old books or sell them cheaply. Space is something we might take for granted but it's easily a valuable commodity nonetheless.

Some businesses are quite seasonal. For example, many fashion stores at the end of a season declare that they're on sale because no one in their right mind will be purchasing summer wear at the beginning of winter (a more common example is a bakery selling their pastries at a discount in the evening). In such a scenario, it's best to get rid of old stock. In some ways, books behave like that. Newly released books are hot when they're just released but as the weeks and months pass by, chances are, if you haven't bought them initially, you're not going to buy them later on. This is even more pronounced if the book was initially released as a hardcover and the paperback version is coming out. The hardcovers must go!

Then there's the seasonal book fad. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, you can't deny that there's a sudden surge of a particular book when it's been adapted into a movie (i.e. Lord of the Rings) or it's the latest craze in town (i.e. Harry Potter even before the movies, or even something like The Purpose-Driven Life and The Southbeach Diet).

Aside from those, everything else in the bookstore seems ho-hum. A variety of books are stocked and while the shop has some consistent best-sellers, there's that token stock of books that are just there, seemingly dormant. Now the thing with seasonal books is that some of these "dormant" books could possibly end up being the latest craze. The Golden Compass has been around the bookstore for years but lately, bookstores are slowly stocking up on the book in preparation for the movie. I expect it'll be at the bookstore's entrance by the time the movie makes its debut. But The Golden Compass is an example of a ho-hum book (as good as it is) that's in the dormant state, at least here in the Philippines (yes, it's probably controversial over there in Europe). You'll find the book in a bargain bin years ago but perhaps by next year, it's going to be on the best-seller list. Unfortunately, few people (if any) can predict this phenomenon. Bookstore managers aren't aware whether a particular stock of books will be a great hit in the future. What they need to be concerned with is the present and if the book isn't selling now, out it goes. And this is the advantage of the bibliophile--they're ahead of their time and they'll judge a book by its quality (subjective of course) rather than by popularity. By the time the masses get a whiff of it, the bibliophiles will have their own copies of the book or at least read it already.

Membership discounts, on the other hand, are a way to reward regular customers, or at least incentives to make them return to the shop and buy books from you. Membership discounts rarely match up to the big discounts when a bookstore goes on sale but they're handy to have irregardless of the season. When bookstores declare that they're on sale, they usually don't give additional discounts to their members although the smart ones give the members some sort of promo. Powerbooks for example might give away a free umbrella for every P2,500 purchase but they'll lower the rate down to P2,000 to their existing members. A Different Bookstore, on the other hand, actually gives you extra discount (an additional 5%) so members still have a financial edge even if the bookstore goes on sale. One thing to bear in mind though is that banks charge a small percentage with each transaction via credit card and so people who pay via cash usually gets bigger discounts. Still, some credit cards have various promos and so paying by card might still be the wise financial decision.

1 comment:

Vernieda said...

Do Filipino bookstores not have remainders? That's what they do here to move excess stock off the shelves. It's why you'll find certain hardcovers for $5 several months after they first went on sale.

Granted, paperbacks usually don't get this treatment. Those get stripped, pulped and the ripped cover sent back to the publisher for a refund. (WEEP. All those destroyed books!)