Friday, August 19, 2011

The (Un)Importance of Price

We tend to think of price as the defining characteristic of bargain books and remainders. If you're an experienced buyer, you probably have a built in formula for what sells at what price and what cost it takes to get there, including factors such as percentage of list price, weight, heft, look and feel. An ex-bestseller is known among remainder buyers as a hard sell if the cost is over 15% of list price (meaning you're probably selling it at a 65% discount or cheaper). Wonderful coffee table books, cookbooks, course adopted classics, endlessly favored children's books, and scientific-technical can take a higher cost if you have the customers for them. Impulse buys tend to be lower cost and price. Rules? 25% is the limit. Only large print. Never large print. No, there are no rules here, but you know it when you see it, especially if you've been doing this for a while.

Yet… Most buyers will pay more for a book which has a unique combination of qualities that defines it as exactly what fits in a particular way in their store or on their site. They have not seen it anywhere else, or around much. Or they buy it whenever they see it, with any wholesaler. It was never a great seller when it was front list, but sales have gradually picked up over the years, and now, at 60% off on the back table, near the coffee bar, you can't keep it in stock. You have a reading group that always prefers everything in trade paper, and here it is, finally, in trade paper at a bargain price.

If you are a customer of mine you have probably noticed that many of my lists are effusively highlighted with what I call "sellers," some are not. These are titles and authors which my customers buy. I don't go with what I think should sell, just what my customers buy. I also don't highlight anything under a combined sale of 20 total within the last 90 days. Have you noticed how many titles are highlighted? If I have been working with a wholesaler for a while, it might start getting annoying as sales build to the point that every few lines are highlighted. But it's an education. You wouldn't have guessed what sells without paying attention to this stuff. All buyers, without exception, are humbled by their sales reports. Nobody can predict what their customers will buy, outside their in-house bestsellers lists. One year, many years ago, there was a run on dressage titles. Every bargain book on dressage remainder guys could find would magically sell, at costs up to 25%; retailers selling them for up to 40% off. Then they died. Now they muddle along between travel and literary criticism. 

Another interesting thing, for me, is that most of my customers will order off my lists at the asking cost. Very, very few orders are for high quantities at lowball offers. A few more will make offers on a few titles of a few points off the asking, while paying asking on everything else. I will write about the pros and cons of this approach in later posts, but the point is, again, these are widely different offers for very different titles, every time.

The bottom line is, if you know your customer, your source, and your timing, bargain books can work at low or relatively high costs.  Your first priority is to get what you and your customers need.

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