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The Great British Book Giveaway

By Gary Dobbs

On the surface it looks a good thing and for the consumer it is - at least in the short term. Supermarkets are offering consumer deals to book buyers that defy belief.

Take a handsome box set of the entire James Bond series by Ian Fleming, in identical editions to those selling for £7.99 in bookshops up and down the country. And all for £15. That's 14 books in all and they come in a nice presentation box.

Or if Jack Higgins is more your style - ASDA have a Jack Higgins box set of three paperbacks for £5. One of the books in the set, The Iron Tiger I saw only yesterday in Wasterstones for £7.99 and the books were identical.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter for £1 (ASDA), Tomorrow Never Dies novelization by Raymond Benson is in ASDA's for £1. Or current bestseller Michael Connelly, three novels in one massive book for £4 (ASDA). Morrisons and Sainsbury's are also in on the act and the average price for a brand new current hardback book varies between £8 and £10.

What's wrong with that? Books being so cheap may even help to encourage lapsed readers back into the fold or actually create readers. However the business model the supermarkets use is not sustainable. The supermarkets are using the same tactics with books they used with groceries all those years ago. And look how many corner shops have gone forever since the supermarkets started to pop up in every town centre. To the supermarkets books are loss leaders and they've got the buying power to buy and then resell the product as cheaply as possible. Traditional bookshops can't do that and many are feeling the pinch as the inevitable happens and supermarkets begin to take business from them.

Supermarkets are also only interested in bestsellers - named authors, celebrity books or high concept works and would never take the time to break a new author, where sales would initially be slow but build up over several books. When the only places selling books are the supermarkets then publishers will no longer be able to afford to take the risk on new authors.

"By selling so cheaply the major three supermarkets in the UK are creating a monopoly by stealth that will drive small publishers and book shops to the wall."

What can be done? Boycott the supermarkets? That ain't going to happen. I try and support bookshops as much as possible but when the new hardback comes out from a bestseller that I follow, I'm in the supermarket. I can save anywhere between £5 and £8 this way. That makes this article, hypocritical I guess and I won't deny that. But money's not that easy to come by and no-one, no matter how much of a book lover, is going to spend pounds more on a title he/she can get cheaper. Mind you The Tarnished Star is £11.64 at Tescos.

And books for a pound - Velocity by Dean Koontz £1 at ASDA.

But if you've read it here are some other things you can currently spend a pound on in the UK:

A quality newspaper and probably get 10p change.
Three quarters of a can of Red Bull.
One and a half tins of Heinz Baked Beans.
A lottery ticket
A quarter of a jar or decent coffee
Two rolls of toilet tissue
Much less than a litre of petrol
Use the public toilets at Harrods - a pound to spend a penny.
A large bag of salted peanuts (caution may contain nuts.)

But on the other hand: INSIDE BOOK PUBLISHING REPORTED IN 2008:

"The first myth is that these giant retailers use books as a 'loss leader' - discounting below cost price to lure customers who will then pick up (more profi table) groceries. A few blockbuster books are sometimes used in this way, but the supermarkets actually make a profit on 99 per cent of the books they sell - even on those £3.50 paperbacks and yes, even on Harry Potter."

"The second misconception is that supermarkets only stock a handful of bestsellers. That may have been true a decade ago, but now any large Asda, Tesco or Sainsbury's has a surprisingly deep and varied book range (Tesco's biggest stores have up to 5,000 different paperbacks). No less an authority than James Daunt, founder of the upscale London bookshops Daunts, once remarked to me that he personally would be happy to read nothing but books from the shelves of his local Tesco for the rest of his life."

"This brings me to the third myth, namely that supermarkets are only interested in commercial fi ction by brand name authors, trashy celebrity autobiographies or 'misery memoirs'. They certainly do a roaring trade in these areas, but they also shift big numbers of literary classics, cookery, history, biography, children's picture books and even cult fiction. Tesco sold more copies of Ali Smith's experimental novel The Accidental than Waterstone's; in 2007 it promoted the Man Booker Prize shortlist."

However since the above points were made those £3.50 paperbacks have now become £1 paperbacks - can there possibly be a profit there? The claim that supermarkets also stock much more than the big sellers I would also refute - I regularly visit both Tesco and ASDA and although their range is wide it is in no way comparable to a dedicated book shop. It's an interesting debate and I'd like to know what Archive readers, book lovers one and all, think of this i

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