Book publishing companies versus the expectation of low prices

By | 2nd July 2019
Fallen Rook Publishing

When I was teaching at HEMAC Dijon 2017, there was a wonderful sight. In the hall where people left their baggage and where all the vendors set up their stalls, there was an entire wall of tables dedicated to publishing companies within the HEMA community. Five separate publishing companies had stalls next to each other, and it was incredibly rewarding to see that not only is there such a vast choice of reading material available to practitioners now, but also that most event participants lined up to look at the books and many people made purchases.

With five publishing companies setting up stalls next to each other, one might think that there would be competition between them to make book sales. In fact, there was very little such competition, because each publishing house tends to focus on a slightly different type of book, so the five companies together covered quite a broad spectrum of options for different people.

Fallen Rook Publishing, my own publishing house, did not need to compete with the other publishers at the event, and in fact I tried to help them sell their books where I could, a support that they returned in kind.

Instead, the greatest competition and difficulties in making sales that I have experienced (outwith events, and usually in discussions online, I have to say) are when people try to bargain with me and beat me down in price, so that they can buy a book for £5 or £7 instead of its £15 RRP.

We have set printing costs, we have certain overheads and legal obligations, and of course, we do need to make sufficient profit from sales to make the whole thing worthwhile. If it becomes not worthwhile, then we stop producing books and stop making research available to the community.

If it only makes sense for me to sell a book at a given price, and someone tries to tell me that they won’t buy it from me unless I can match the Amazon price (or the price at whatever other vendor, over whom I have no control) at half the RRP (or less), then I have a choice: make the sale, reinforce problematic behaviour, and at best break even on the sale (perhaps even accept a loss); or turn down the sale and tell a customer that I won’t compromise on price just because another vendor wants to undercut me.

There are different schools of thought on the matter, but coming from the perspective of a small business that is trying to do a good thing for the community and needs appropriate support in order to continue, turning down such custom is probably the best option.

If people value the information and research that is contained within a book, then the RRP will be fair. If people do not value the information and research within a book, and have no interest in supporting the authors or publishers who created the book for the community, then this is quite a different situation. I would suggest that the individual who does not value the information is the problem, rather than the price of the book.

In short, if people are willing to support publishers by buying books through the publishers’ website or at the publishers’ book stalls, or from vendors who buy in stock from the publishers, then the publishing companies will be able to continue working with authors to produce quality research work and materials of benefit for the community. By supporting small publishing houses, the community as a whole will benefit, as well as the individuals within the community.