An aged fellow came into Books & Books on Wednesday to buy a copy of Michael Lewis's Big Short. He told bookseller, part-time intelligence officer, art, photography, and architecture aficionado, and all-around gentleman George Henry that he had called earlier to put the book on hold.
The aged fellow hadn’t, which happens more than you might think. People call a different Books & Books, or the Barnes & Noble down the street, then come to the Gables and say they just spoke to so-and-so, so-and-so being a Beach employee or someone we’ve never heard of.
Being the senior bookseller that he is, GH was unfazed. He pulled Big Short from the bestseller shelf and handed it to the customer.
“Alright, what are you going to charge me for this thing?”
One moment. If you have a book nearby, I’d like you to take a look at it. If it’s hardcover, open the front cover and look at the upper corner of the dustjacket. If it’s paperback, look above the barcode. See that? That’s what we in the book biz call a “price.” This “price” is determined by the publisher, and printed on the book for all the world to see. Discounts publishers offer are negotiable, but the price does not change.
When you order a bottle of Samuel Adams in Miami, Seven Seas will charge you $3.50, Books & Books will charge you $5, most restaurants will charge you $6-$7, and snoot bars and clubs will charge you $8-$10. If the label said, Brewer * Patriot * $4.00, would you pay $10 at the Shelborne?
Unlike every other retail business, prices of new books are not determined by demand (apart from a few artisan lines once their limited runs sell out). If they were, we would’ve charged $100 a pop for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Back to our aged fellow, asking GH what he was going to charge for a book marked $27.95.
“My son just bought this book on Amazon for…”
I’ve been relegated to the buying office, where all my customer contact is by phone or email, because if you mention Amazon to me in my bookstore, you get slapped. In the face.
GH, on the other hand, is a professional. He calmly explained what Amazon’s margin is versus ours. The guy didn’t care; he brought up free market, democracy, his service to the country, etc. etc. GH said he was a republican, too, with a family chocked full of veterans. The man was not impressed. GH determined there was really nothing to be done for the man, because the price he wanted to pay was less than it cost us to buy the book from the publisher. GH told him to go into Starbucks and barter for a latte and see how far he got. Just kidding! But GH did offer to buy the man’s book for him.
According to Upton Sinclair, “It’s impossible to make a man understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
Okay, so putting myself in the old party’s shoes… we’re trying to get him to pay full price for something he could get cheaper almost anywhere else. In this economy, if it’s not signed, and it’s not exclusive, how long can we expect to get away with that?