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Newham Bookshop by Pete Fallan
Newham Bookshop, Pete Fallan, March 2021.

Discounting to the Death

Are the big chain bookstores fighting each other to death like retail versions of dinosaurs? Will Borderosaurus Rex kill Waterstonatops; or will they both be devoured by Asdaraptor? There now seems to be a clear divide in the bookselling trade – the large superstores on most high streets and in out-of-town retail parks discounting for all they are worth and their cousins in the pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap world of the supermarket, and behind a bush watching them tear each other apart, a few friendly, intelligent, furry mammals like Newham Bookshop.

Large bookshop chains have been discounting for the last ten years or so, during which time there has undoubtedly been an increase in spending on books by the British public, which has benefited both the chains and independent bookshops. The thing that we, and several commentators, do not understand, is why do they feel they need to discount books that will walk off the shelves because they appeal to the public? Just think about Harry Potter (which we were selling in good numbers before he was spotted by the media), Jamie Oliver (and Delia Smith a few years ago – is she past her sell-by date?) and Dan Brown. Not to mention all those diet, lifestyle and get-rich-quick titles.

We know that the chains buy from the publishers in massive quantities and at very low wholesale prices, and we know about loss leaders. But it isn’t the same as grocery – you don’t tend to go to a bookshop with a list, unless it’s Christmas or you’re a student with a reading list. And you won’t get much discount on academic books.

As you know, we have been selling books for 28 years. We hardly make a profit, and rely on the loyalty of you, our customers, and the goodwill of several volunteers. We can’t afford to offer large discounts, but we know that you like the chance to buy your Christmas books at our discount evening. We have just launched our loyalty card – by using this you can get a £10 voucher once you have spent at least £100 with us.

Like many independent bookshops, we have to play to our strengths: personal, committed service; knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly staff; and, last but not least, our speaker events and book signings. These events are very popular and we get good support from publishers, for which we are very grateful. Like the mammals, we hope to be around long after the dinosaurs have beaten each other to a pulp.

– David Ceen

This article was written in January 2006