London College of Printing (The London Institute)

Project Description

I am writing an MA thesis on the effect of price-cutting on the book industry, looking specifically at how it affects consumer perceptions of the value of books

Project Abstract


To examine the effects of the price-cutting on the publishing industry.

The ending in 1995 of the Net Book Agreement stimulated record-breaking sales of best-selling hardbacks, and sales of the best-selling paperbacks have since also gone up. Sales channels have multiplied, with the arrival of supermarkets and the internet as significant booksellers. Yet the book market overall has not shown an increase to match these developments. The main effect of price cutting seems to have been to alter the distribution of revenues. and distort the consumer's perception of the value of books. Discounted frontlist best-sellers get more sales, while midlist titles get fewer. The large retailers who can afford to give the biggest discount are dominating the market, while small, independent booksellers are struggling to remain in business. Publishers give greater discounts to booksellers, and most agents and authors struggle to maintain the levels of royalty percentages.

The majority of these changes can be seen as positive developments for the book industry: allowing the reading public greater access to cheaper books, and giving publishers and retailers the opportunity to sell enormous numbers of best-selling titles are surely good things. Indeed, the fact that there has been no significant rise or fall in the revenue generated by book sales since the NBA’s abolishment suggests that it has not had a sizeable impact on the industry, in a positive or negative way.

I am interested in ascertaining whether or not the abolishment of price maintenance has, in fact, changed the industry in a more fundamental way. The huge sums of money which publishers must now spend in order to market their potential best-sellers so that they are given the prominence and publicity they need mean that publishers are increasingly wary of publishing first books by new authors, or anything they see as a risky investment. This gives rise to a situation when the diversity of new books entering the market is seriously threatened, and commercial appeal becomes much more important than literary merit. Therefore, has the abolishment of the NBA contributed to the rise of a book industry in which literary merit means very little?

If this is the case, it is no wonder that the editor of The Bookseller feels it possible to express the opinion that ‘price-cutting in the pursuit of market share is a reckless policy, which is devaluing books in the perceptions of consumers, which is allowing profit to leak from the industry, and which is bringing an unhealthy strain to negotiations between author/agent and publisher, and publisher and retailer.’1

I intend to find out whether aggressive price-cutting by retailers and the aggressive promotion of commercial rather than literary books by publishers have devalued books in the perceptions of consumers.

Research will primarily consist of a review of the existing literature on consumer behaviour in the book industry and industry developments since the abolishment of the NBA. The focus of the research will be on the UK consumer book industry, looking at both the consumers and members of the industry.

As the objective of the research is to find out what people’s perceptions of books are, the main research method will be based on surveys and interviews carried out on a wide cross section of the public. Examination of secondary data will also be carried out, mainly from sources on the internet.

Surveys released for this project:
Attitudes to book discounting 36
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