To discount, or not to discount? And did any bookseller make a profit on the hottest book of the year?...
You could buy the book for $17.99 from amazon.com, and less than $20 at stores all over town. Independent bookstores offered small discounts or none at all, so maybe the question is, why did anyone pay full price?
Consider the screwy economics of publishing, where selling 150 books might be more profitable than selling millions. And where personal service occasionally trumps price.
"The retail book business is sort of unusual," explains Dan Neale of Brazos Bookstore. "If a book becomes real popular, the major retailers cut the price."
Brazos Bookstore, like many other independents, did not discount Deathly Hallows, charging the list price of $34.99.
Unlike most retail goods, books have a finite upper price — the price printed on the cover — but no minimum. Deals vary, but retailers generally pay 50 percent or more of list price to get the book from publishers; they also pay shipping charges....
With free shipping and a $5 gift coupon, Amazon offered Deathly Hallows at less than the wholesale price paid by most retailers. (Barnes & Noble and Borders discounted 40 percent, offering it for $20.99; people with store memberships paid as little as $18.89.)
"Amazon was selling the book cheaper than we could buy it," Neale says. "I guess they chose to do that in the hope that folks will maybe buy something else. But we're not in the refrigerator business or the wide-screen TV business. We're in the book business."
Executives at both companies (Amazon and Barnes & Noble) admitted even before the book's release that the big sales numbers would not translate into profits. Instead, the pricing was a competitive ploy and, in the case of Amazon, a chance to prove it could deliver when it promised — midafternoon July 21, within about 15 hours of the official midnight release....
But even stores that charged full price may not have made much money after producing the Harry Potter parties customers had come to expect....
All booksellers hope to capitalize on what Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers, calls "the trickle effect. They come in to buy Harry Potter, but they buy Harry Potter plus one, or Harry Potter plus two."
That's real, Jordan says, although whether it can offset steep discounts isn't clear.
Murder by the Book touts the breadth of its inventory and the knowledge of its staff, rather than price, and Thompson directs his ire not at discounts but at online sales.That's pretty much what I expected to hear from the various segments of book retailing. It was next to impossible for any of them to make much money off of Harry Potter but they could not afford, either, to just ignore the release of book seven. The big guys, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders, all evidently took losses on the big party night, and the little independents were very lucky to make a few bucks. Despite what any of them might say about the effects of Harry Potter on reading trends for children and on future books sales, I suspect that deep down inside they are all quite relieved that Harry Potter is finally gone for good.
"People go into Kroger, and if they can get it for 50 percent less while they buy their toothpaste and their lettuce, I say, 'More power to them,' " he says. "But if people buy from Amazon, that takes money out of Houston and sends it to Seattle. The state misses out on money (through sales taxes) for education, roads, prisons."