Tuesday, May 02, 2006

For Love or Money

I brought this up the other day when talking about Viswanathan, but I feel like the subject is of my importance than the use of parentheses suggested. The subject of which I speak: the cost of books. The reason why it’s is so important right now: the ever rising cost of gas.

They teach in science that every cause has an effect, and that effect can be multiple things. With gas prices rising ever higher people have less disposable income to use to buy unnecessary items, and while many of us here may feel that it is first books then food and rent, for most of America that is not the case. I’ve heard it said that gas prices will rise to $3.50 or more this summer, which means that the cost of one paperback book (retail $6.99 to $7.99) equals two gallons of gas, the cost of one premium paperback ($9.99) is then three gallons of gas, and the cost of a trade (retail between $12.00 and $16.00) equals four to five gallons. Figure in the average gas mileage of your car and you’ve got about how far you can go on the cost of one book. If you must drive to work every morning then the cost of a book might be more or less the cost of commute, something your work isn’t reimbursing you for your troubles, and you have to start budgeting for that cost.

And if you have choose between driving to work where you make your income and buying a book…

Well, I have a feeling you’ll be driving to work.

Already the change in gas prices has started to affect my business. Where most of my book sales used to be in hardback and trade, I’m now selling more massmarkets (trades sales continue to oscillate to the relatively same degree as they did before). Everyday I get more and more people complaining about the cost of their book as they ring up at the register and it is harder and harder to talk them into buying a second item or a third. Around me I’ve noticed the big chains offering deeper and deeper discounts to try to lure people in and drive sales. The idea behind this is if you can get the newest Patterson at sixteen-something dollars as opposed to the original price of $24.95, you’ll be more likely to pick up another (non-discounted) item.

Then there are the sales: buy two items and get the third (least expensive) free, or buy two items and get the third at fifty percent off. Every item in the store buy four get the fifth free, anything to get you to add another item to your cart or to lure you into staying a little longer in the store considering your purchases.

Coupons from the chains? Look for them to get bigger.

Discounts? Deeper.

Traditionally summer is when people buy lots of books to read on the beach, for their kids’ summer reading list, or just to kick back and relax with during the longer day. But with gas prices being what they are, this might be reduced, traded in for more trips to the library or buying that magazine subscription instead of just getting the magazine from the local store on your lunch break.

To offset this we’ll pull out all the stops, I’m sure, discounts, sales, special offers, but the problem with being a mall-based store is that people don’t come to the mall unless they have money to burn and mall-based bookstores are often not their destination, but merely a drop-by impulse. My customers during the summer are usually the kids coming home from playing in the fountain who want to pick up the newest manga, the mothers and daughters who are shopping for the summer and school wardrobe, the fathers and brothers who want nothing to do with the shopping so they hang out in the bookstore until they are needed to haul something large. These people won’t come in if they don’t have the money.

I have a feeling that is going to be a long, dry summer with me jumping through a lot of hoops to bring customers my way.

What do you think?


lady t said...

Price is a big issue:at my former job,we didn't discount books(unless it was a new Harry Potter or a big Xmas coffee table book)but we had a frequent buyer program where you would get a coupon after buying 12 items(the coupon would be worth 10% of what you paid for the dozen). This worked out but so many people found reasons to complain about it,nonetheless.

One of the reasons internet sales are so popular is due to the discounts-don't know many times I heard "Well,it's only so and so at Amazon",expecting some sort of instant bargaining,I guess. With the gas prices going up,the demand for discounts will go up,I agree.

Oh,and to slightly veneer back to Viswanathan,there are now reports than Opal Mehta also plundered from Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep A Secret and Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries. Looks like Alloy went to town on the mix and match there:)

Eileen said...

Price is becoming more of an issue. I think this will hit new authors hardest. Why risk the money- unless you know you like their writing? This has the potential to create a nasty cycle

robin brande said...

My brother is a musician (bear with me here, it will all wrap around in the end). Most of his clients are the big resorts, which in turn have as their major clients all the big corporations which like to send their people to out-of-state conferences.

Right after 9/11, my brother's business completely tanked. No one wanted to travel, the corporations didn't want to spend money, the resorts started laying people off, etc. And things continued that way for a solid year, and somewhat into the next year, too.

But then, human beings being what we are, people started emerging from their holes again. And they realized they didn't want to hide, they missed going places, they wanted to eat out and go on vacation and spend money again. And now my brother is so over-booked he can barely catch his breath.

So yes, gas prices are horrendous right now. People are freaked about their money. It's ridiculous what it costs to commute to jobs that still pay what they did when gas was a more reasonable $2.00 a gallon(ha!).

But people need books. People need to escape. They crave it like they crave sugar and caffeine. So while there might be a downturn in book sales for a while, it won't last forever.

Meanwhile writers should keep writing, book sellers should do what they can to keep putting books into people's hands, and let's all just keep breathing and wait for the cycle to turn.

Happy thought for the day.

Melanie Hayden said...

I admit, I am a sucker for coupons, discounts and sales. And I do frequent malls even when I'm running a quick errand, so maybe I'm not the customer you're worried about. However, I can definitely see where this is cause for alarm. I'm wondering if this will be of any help to e-books. Summer probably isn't the best time to try out an e-book, since it's tough to take them to the beach, but rising gas prices may keep people home in the air conditioning anyway.

Christina said...

I'm not sure if you're located in a big city or not. If you are, consider the commuters who take the bus, subway etc. I'm one of those, and I'm still buying as many books and other media as I did before. I don't suspect they'll be affected as badly as those who do drive. However, I imagine if you are located in surbubia, there will be a higher loss.

Noelle said...

The certain problem is the high price of gas will eventually cause the price of books to go up. Oil is needed for making the books and shipping the books, and pretty soon the publishers are going to parlay their rising costs into the book prices. Hopefully by then, gas prices will have either lowered or people will have acclimated as Robin assures us they will. Either way, it's damn hard to be an independent bookseller.

Marianne McA said...

I'm not American, nor do I drive, but I'm still bending my head round the idea that there's only 41 years of oil left at the current rate of consumption. I've been pondering this possibility since I heard it suggested a couple of weeks ago, and trying to work out what that would be like, given that I'll hopefully still be around in 2047. Oddly enough, while I've wondered many things like - 'Aren't plastics made out of oil?' (Don't laugh, I'm an Arts graduate), it had not, until now, struck me that soaring oil prices might impact on my book buying habits.
I could've lived in a world without Barbie dolls - but in a world where books are unaffordable?
[On the bright side, if we're all killed by bird flu, the oil will last that much longer.]

christine fletcher said...

Robin, I like your happy thought. As a writer--a brand-new baby published writer--I'm worried about the competition on the shelves, the fact that my book jacket has no blurbs, the fact that another new author with a book coming out the same time as mine has sold her house, bought a bus, painted it to look like the book cover, and is going on the road all summer to promote it, while I'm at home working 2 jobs and trying to write the 2nd novel. And now gas prices, for I'm sure BSC is correct and it will have an impact.

I feel like my word verification: UUHGV!

All I can do is keep my head down and keep writing.

Kate R said...

I think I'm going to cry, that's what I think.

Ms. Librarian said...

Although I really love e-books, I'm finding that they generally cost the same as a print book, so you're not going to save any gas money there! (I think it's a con game by the publishers! LOL)

The reason that I will buy e-books, though, is 1) the instant delivery to my computer (no going to a store or waiting for the book to come in the mail), and 2) the fact that some e-books are simply not available in print, and when they are, they're much too expensive compared to mass-market paperbacks.

Anonymous said...

Another independent bookstore worker chiming in, to say our customers are already complaining about the "Premium" mass markets with some refusing to buy them at all. I can only see that trend getting worse with gas going up, which means authors will end up taking the hit for something they have no control over.

Sam said...

I work in a public library and have noticed that we have become busier lately. Usually we don't pick up until school gets out for the summer and that won't happen for a few weeks. I'm not sure the rising price of gas has affected my book buying habits however. There are no bookstores in my town so I have to drive 30 miles to one, but what I do is just buy more books when I'm there to stock up. I have been trying to take more books home from work. You would think I could get all the books I want there, but the director can't order everything I want to read!

OyBoy said...

A little off the subject but a little comic relief with a book angle:


The song's not bad and the woman on the CD cover is author Prill Boyle who wrote Defying Gravity: a celebration of late-blooming women