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What Difference Does It Make?

November 13, 2007

Hear that low, angry growl coming from up north?  It’s the sound of Canadian bookbuyers who are fed up and not going to take it anymore.

Why the fury?  Certainly having the pathetically-named “Mighty Ducks” hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup had to be a low point for the nation.  But this issue is affecting the average Canadian more directly, and where it counts – in the wallet.

Right now, the US dollar and the Canadian dollar are at parity, for the first time since I can remember.  Now, take a look at some new books on the bookshelf.  I happen to have a few surrounding me right now.  Turn the book over or look at the flap to see where the price is listed.  In most cases, you will see that the US and Canadian prices are not the same, with the US price being lower than the Canadian.  And that’s where the conflict is arising.

The Canadian consumer is asking why they need to essentially pay a premium for a book.  Why can’t they save a few loonies and get the lower US dollar price?  It’s not affected other areas of consumer goods, because most consumer goods are priced by sticker in a store and don’t have multi-national pricing right on the package.  USA Today reported on this some months ago, and the situation hasn’t gotten much better.

This doesn’t help book buying in general, and certainly is a blow to the Canadian book industry, which has been doing well after being in decline for many years.  I’m certainly not going to get into the economics of the situation or the philosophy of international pricing schema.  I am going to say that it’s important for this situation to be addressed.  I’ve seen a couple of Canadian publishers give quotes to the media about how they are looking into the situation, which is important.  But it’s going to take more than that to satisfy the customer.  Shelf Awareness today talked of an “eyewitness” account to “book buyer rage” in an Edmonton bookstore. 

Heather Cook, a freelance writer, editor and photographer, writes: I have personally witnessed book rage in Calgary, Alberta. At a local Chapters that I frequent several times a week, an older man walked up to a store associate and held out a book, asking, “How much?” The associate calmly looked at the book, found the correct price and responded, “$36.95.” The man, who acted as though this was the first time ever he’d noticed a different price, rudely insisted that he should get the book for the cheaper, U.S. price on the cover. The employee handled it wonderfully: he whipped out a flyer from his back pocket saying, “But here’s a flyer that gives you a discount if you spend more than $35 today.” This diffused the situation somewhat–at least enough so that the customer swiped the flyer out of the employee’s hand and skulked off, book in hand to the till.

I’m interested in how publishers and booksellers deal with this as an ongoing issue, because by all accounts it’s not going away, and could get worse if the US dollar weakens. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2007 2:55 pm

    I saw a post about an hour ago that says that Penguin’s already promised to abandon the practice for all 2008 releases. I think it was Dear Author who had the post? I can’t remember… I’m supposed to be writing right now!

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