Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Warning to readers: some booksellers overcharge,
and some lie about it.
In the United States, in general, retailers can charge whatever they want. Some states set minimum prices for liquor and cigarettes or maximum prices for milk, but there is little government involvement for other products, such as books.
Until around 1980, it was common for manufacturers to dictate minimum resale prices to their dealers. Cynically, the system was called "fair trade." Today they can't control the actual selling prices, but they can control -- or influence -- the minimum advertised prices ("MAP").
You may have noticed that certain products are almost never "on sale." On e-commerce websites, you may have to do some extra clicking to see the "special low price." Some products can be promoted -- but not actually sold -- online.
Now, when discounting on everything from airfare to cars is widespread and expected, consumers may assume that hardly any dealer would charge the suggested retail price.
Actually, lots of products are sold for "list" or even higher prices. Selling at prices above list is generally legal. Years ago New York City enacted a law aimed at controlling the ubiquitous tourist traps that sold luggage, rugs, jewelry, cameras and electronics at inflated prices. The stores could charge whatever they wanted, but were required to display signs that told prospective shoppers that prices were above suggested retail.
Books are routinely discounted both online and in bricks-and-mortar stores, but not always.
Some dealers create phony list prices and then provide phony discount prices to entrap the unwary.
HotBookSale.com and the nearly identical DiscountBookSale.com lie about “great discounts” and “wholesale pricing.” Discounts are small and their prices are NOT wholesale. The screenshot at the top shows a fraudulent list price for one of my books— it was really $29.95 not a stupid $36.54.
The company offers a phony 26% discount if you join their “Best Brand Values” plan for about $240 per year. Customers have called the company a “ripoff” and complained about being “hoodwinked” or “tricked” into joining the expensive plan.
Amazon prices are lower than prices at HotBook or DiscountBook, and you don’t need to pay a membership fee to Amazon to get their best prices.
Amazon, however, doesn't discount all books all of the time.
My new book, Become a Real Self-publisher, went on sale last weekend. It has a $19.95 cover price, and that's what Amazon sells it for. Barnes & Noble, however, sells it to "members" for $17.95.
On the other hand, A1 Books sells It for $22.30. All three booksellers, by the way, pay the same wholesale price for the book.
My first self-published book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, has a $15.95 cover price. Prices charged by independent booksellers on Amazon.com range from a meaningless discount of $15.94, to an absurd ripoff of $29.29 (plus $3.99 for shipping.)
Several dealers are offering USED copies for $29 or more -- nearly twice the price of a new book. High prices for used books make sense if a title is out-of-print or rare. But only an idiot would pay extra for a used book when a new one is readily available.
Books-A-Million is a major offender. I have never been to a BAM store and can’t comment on their physical environments. The book listings on their website show that there is absolutely no reason to buy from them unless you have no other choice.
BAM’s web prices are higher than other online booksellers’ prices. They use phony, inflated, “retail prices” and then offer alleged discount club prices that bring the purchase price to just a few pennies below the cover price. Their prices are typically a few bucks higher than Amazon, B&N, or Target.com.
To make it even worse, shipping takes much longer than with other online sellers. They want two to three days to process an order and then four to 10 business days for free shipping. They say the total time from ordering a book to receiving a book could be six to 13 business days.
One of my books has a $19.95 cover price. Amazon and B&N usually sell it for $17.95. BAM falsely claims that the “retail price” is “$21.95 and the “club price” is $19.75. They state that club members will “Save 10%.” In reality, club members will save 20 cents from the list price— a huge ONE PERCENT. They say it “usually ships in 5-15 days,” while competitors ship within 24 hours.
This is not an isolated incident. Another book of mine has a $29.95 cover price and is frequently discounted to $26.95. BAM claims the “retail price” is $32.95 and “online price” is also $32.95. The “club price” is $29.65— YOU SAVE ONE PERCENT.
This is not a new problem. The ancient Romans advised, Caveat Emptor ("Let the buyer beware"). It's still good advice.