How do warehouse book sales manage to offer titles at such low prices? And why can’t we have those prices every day?
WHAT a time it’s been of late for book lovers in the Klang Valley! We’ve had huge warehouse sales by book wholesaler Crescent; the cheaper books people, Pay Less Books; and Big Bad Wolf Books.
The last was particularly memorable for me: I picked up more than 100 books for about RM600 – this means I paid, on average, RM6.50 a book and this includes hardback picture books (retail price at least RM60) and Nigella Lawson’s best-selling cookbook Nigella Express (also in hardcover)! In fact, prices at the sale ranged from RM5 to RM20. It was a heaven-sent event for book-buyers who were seen leaving with bulging canvas bags and loaded cardboard boxes during the five days of the sale.
How can the organisers of such sales afford to sell their books at such wonderfully low prices?
There are three situations that knock prices down: when books are “remaindered”, that is, they are no longer saleable for various reasons including over-printing and the release of new editions; overstocking, when a publisher might simply wish to reduce stock while retaining a quantity for herself; and returns, when titles are returned to the publisher by bookshops that have overestimated the number of copies they can sell.
There are occasions when customers will find the same book being sold at a regular bookstore at its stated cover price, and at a remaindered store for half or less of that. When this happens it’s probably due to the varying “shelf-life” practised by different book markets.
For example, in Britain, a book may be given six months in a bookstore before its saleability is evaluated, whereas a Malaysian bookstore may keep a book for a year. Titles “retired” in Britain may end up as remaindered stock and find their way to the shelves of a remaindered store in Malaysia. The same book may, of course, still be on the shelves of a regular bookstore.
Authors receive reduced or no royalties for books sold at remaindered stores and warehouse sales, but the upside is that they may find new readers at these places.
For example, Jacqueline Ng, one of the organisers of the Big Bad Wolf sale, says that The Gift of Rain by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng sold very well at their sale. “Unfortunately, Malaysian readers are still not confident enough about local writers and would hesitate to buy a book like The Gift of Rain for the usual RM36. However, at RM8 they are happy to take the ‘risk’.”
If these readers like Tan’s book, they might pay the full price for his next novel the moment it’s published. After all, many of us have discovered favourite authors at second-hand bookstores and then gone out and bought all their other books at retail price.