The yearly Swedish book-sale
Every year, towards the end of February, the yearly Swedish book-sale takes place: All the bookstores in the country lower the prices on parts of their respective line of books, often considerably, for a fix time period.
Understandably, this sale has been very popular among book-lovers. Today, however, I read a Swedish articlee lamenting, among other things, that books that were “traditionally” a part of the sale are no longer so, and noting that its popularity has decreased considerably in just a few years (e.g. due to competition from Internet-based bookstores).
Well, the latter is easy to understand: The previous popularity was a direct effect of the overly high prices charged the rest of the year. In effect, the sale was an attempt to eat the cake and have it too: Prices were held artificially high through most of the year, giving a nice profit margin; and then dropped for a time to ensure that a sufficient quantity of books were sold on a yearly basis. While this scheme is dubious ethically, it is also quite clever—provided that cheaper books cannot be procured elsewhere during the rest of the year. With most Swedes having Internet access this condition is no longer true (in particular, as many Swedes are good at English, which makes online bookstores targeted to the UK or the US an alternative).
Obviously, the book industry has never admitted this scheme. Instead they try to deceive people with claims about getting rid of surplus or unsellable books, that the books sold off are often cheaper special prints, or similar.
The first may have been the historical reason, and to some part remains true today, but is certainly not the main reason—except to the degree that the system is rigged to yield such surpluses (cf. above). Besides, if an involuntary surplus was the problem, how come some books are sold off every year? Would this not imply a considerable lack of judgment?
The second points to one of the biggest lies of book selling everywhere: That the cost of printing makes out most of the book price. (Also used to justify the drastically higher prices for hardcover editions over pocket editions.) This simply is not true (with some reservations for luxury editions): numbers around 10 %e have been mentioned as realistic estimates. Even if we manage to cut the printing cost in two, e.g. by using cheaper paper, this would only allow a 5 % reduction…
Germany uses another somewhat perverted system to fool its book buyers: The “recommended” cover price is legally binding in Germany. Every bookstore must sell the books for this exact price, which eliminates competition and allows for an artificially high price. Instead, books deemed too poor sellers are eventually remaindered. In addition, long term price reductions can often be reached by issuing new editions of a different quality, allowing for some amount of price segmentation.