Zondervan, STL and Price Stickers: and the price is…?

Pre-printed prices on books have long been a bone of contention in the publishing world, with the issue cropping up repeatedly in the pages of the Bookseller both before and since the Booksellers Association (BA) issued its guidelines on re-pricing back in 2005, Code of Practice – Price Stickers. The guidelines for Publishers and Distributors are very clearly laid out as follows:

  • If the book is likely to be priced for life, then all stock leaving the warehouse should be priced, either printed on the jacket or on a non-removable sticker bearing the publishers name, which should preferably be placed on the back cover.
  • Some titles may be subject to price increases before the next reprint and may use the same cover; therefore the most appropriate method of pricing should be by non-removable price sticker only.
  • Some specialist titles, eg educational material in binders packs not for direct sale to consumers, may be exempt.
  • Price stickers overlaid on prices printed on the cover should be non-removable and the old price should be obliterated. Price stickers should be opaque.
  • In exceptional circumstances where new stickers are overlaid on existing stickers, the new sticker must completely obliterate any previous stickers and must non-removable.
  • If the sticker absolutely has to be of a removable type, then it should be possible to remove it without damaging or marking the cover/jacket.
  • The price sticker should always bear the name of the publisher.

Many publishers have solved the problem by discontinuing pre-printed prices, leaving it entirely up to retailers to price stock themselves. Zondervan, however, have yet to follow suit and STL seem to be blissfully unaware of the BA’s Code of Practice, resulting in considerable embarrassment for us as booksellers:

Geoff Wallace, STL Blog Comment, 23/12/2008:

In the last few days we are receiving copies of pre-priced books at greatly increased prices.
E.G. Purpose Driven Church priced at £8.99 now £10.49
Girlz Rock priced at £4.99 now £6.99
Jesus I never knew priced at £8.99 now £10.49.

While I agree that the publisher can set the price I also think the publisher has a responsibility to permanently obscure the old price so that customers do not fee that the shop is over charging them.

I do have a copy of Purpose driven Church where a new barcode label has been permanently stuck over the existing code and prices. This is so much better.

When we have complained to customer services all we get is a tiny peelable label sent to us with ‘publishers price’ on it. As soon as a customer peels this off they see a cheaper price underneath.

Andrew Lacey, STL Blog Comment, 24/12/2008:

Geoff, I have discussed this on a number of occasions with Ian Matthews, the Zondervan UK rep, as it is the Zondervan books that are presenting the main problem. My understanding of the UK price marking legislation is that the practise of ‘overpricing’ in this way is illegal, and even if it isn’t, the practise presents our whole trade in a very bad light. My policy here has always been to sell the books at ‘marked price’ unless it has the permanent sticker over it. The peelable stickers sent from STL are worse than useless, as they shout ‘Peel me! Peel me!’ at the customer, and I’ve seen several curious customers peeling the things, actually on the shop floor, to see what lies beneath…….As a result of these discussions, we have had a helpful agreement that we should contact Customer Services at STL when we identify a problem, and they have then refunded the difference by creditting & recharging at the marked price. My understanding from Ian Matthews from several months ago was that Zondervan were going to discontinue the practise of UK pricemarking. However, it doesn’t sem to be happening yet!

So a simple plea to Zondervan and STL: please either do away with pre-printed prices OR stick with the prices printed OR — if you really must change them — sticker over them properly, as per the BA Code of Practice, BEFORE they leave the warehouse.

Thank you.

14 thoughts on “Zondervan, STL and Price Stickers: and the price is…?

  1. Further to this, a couple of thought provoking posts on the STL Blog

    Paul L said… (09 January 2009 11:30)

    I see that the up pricing of books has spread with to Monarch books as “Walking Taylor Home” (an excellent book by the way and highly recomended) is now coming through at £8.99 rather than the pre-printed £7.99. So it seems as if this does not only need raising with Ian Matthews at Zondervan but with other publishers as well.
    Is this practice legal? and if not whose responsibility is it.

    It would also have been interesting to see what price Marston are charging.

    It would be good to hear what others think and if there has been any negitive comeback from customers who after all are the ones who keep the food on our tables and keep us in jobs

    GLO Bookshop said… (13 January 2009 14:48)

    To confirm that Marston price on the Walking Taylor Home book is currently £7.99. Watch this space!

    [Updated to format quotes and link to the STL Blog – Ed]

  2. “Is this practice legal?” — good question! I suspect that it’s not illegal but it’s certainly questionable from an ethical standpoint: the simple fact is that the books were produced at a certain price — the print run is history, a fixed cost has been incurred, the only ongoing cost is that of storage/warehousing. So on what basis are higher prices now being charged? Surely the best way to reduce/offset warehousing costs would be to reduce the price to encourage higher take up by retailers, to get the stock out of storage and onto shop shelves?

    More to the point, however, in the case of Walking Taylor Home, Lion Hudson themselves are advertising the book at £7.99 — perhaps in this instance it’s a simple mistake and someone entered the wrong price on STL’s database?

    On the Zondervan front, I’ve invited both Mark Hurley and Ian Matthews to comment…

  3. Phil, glad you are so much more forgiving and glass half full than I am!
    On the postive side – Gardners don’t seem to have the same not stickering Zondervan stock issue that STL does! or at least not on the ‘Jesus I never knew’ that came in today – and I got it from them as they are selling it 99p cheaper than STL’s.
    I’m not entirely sure that the changing prices aspect of things wouldn’t actually fall afoul of misleading advertising and pricing regs these days. Particularly in relation to new legs and regs as came in last year. But then it strikes me that a lot coming out of STLD seems to be a little hokie these days – and thats not all attributable to changing systems and the like problems, but is likely to be contribute to their downward trends and certainly ain’t likely to help matters.
    I, after a goodly number of weeks now!, am still awaiting a response from someone at STL in relation to the latest edition of Select in which again they advertise promotional items they haven’t been able to supply since the first day of the promo being live for ordering – yet again causing me problems with my customers – and this one certainly falls afoul of the new regs and legs in regards to advertising and misleading.
    It is another promotion where due to the number of stock items not being available at the start of the promo that I am having to withold distributing in shop! I almost wish I hadn’t sent it out in my usual mailout as it’s now biting me again with goods I cannot supply to customers yet again! Oh and it’s certainly lessening the ability to spend money with them even when I want to!
    Perhaps I should send a copy of the email to you?? actaully I think it is one the STL Blog may well see in the next few days as maybe that will get an answer when actaully emailing directly to appropriate people doesn’t seem to.
    Ahh well! I am sure that this will all be sorted soon and all our confidences restored and the downward trends turned upwards.

  4. Phil, thanks for picking up the information from the BA Code of Practice. Very interesting!

    On the ‘legal’ side, I’ve found it diffcult to find any definitive answer to this issue. The practice did seem to be specifically forbidden under the Price Code provisions of the 70’s (Google turned up a fascinating incident where Renee Short challenged government ministers with an overpriced packet of Sainbury’s bacon during in a debate in the House of Commons in 1975, the offending packet being duly passed from one side of the House to the the responsible minister on the other…..maybe we should all appear with our feebly stickered books at the next STL/Zondervan meeting in Carlisle?). However, I think this has all been replaced by the Price Marking Order 2004. But this comment is maybe relevant-

    ‘The Order requires that prices must be “unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible” but it is not prescriptive about the way in which those requirements are met. It does, however, require that consumers should not have to ask for assistance in order to be able to see a price.’ Birmingham City Council and a number of other Trading Standards websites refers. It seems to me that £8.99 price printed on a book with a semi-transparent, peelable sticker for £10.49 plonked over the top hardly fulfils the spirit of the law!

    So I’m with you, Phil. If it is commercially neccesary to reprice the stock-then it must be done with permanent ‘Proper Publisher Price’ stickers at point of distribution- not relying on the shop staff to put on these rediculous labels that the customers hugely enjoy peeling off.

    Now, what’s that I hear Zondervan et al & STL saying? That’s a huge extra expense in terms of staff time in the warehouse? (But presumably it’s OK for the shop staff to have to spend time to identify from the invoices, make the phone calls, ask for the labels, put the stock to one side in the shop until such time as the labels are posted……) OK, how about this as a simple solution for the trade? Why not honour the price printed until such time as the books clear through, and save us all (warehouses & shops) the hassle?

    We await your response with interest, Ian & Mark!

  5. Hi Guys
    Slightly off topic, but does anyone else find that they order new CD’s from STL, they don’t arrive at time of launch and when they do arrive they are covered with Wesley Owen pricing stickers which are horrible to remove?

    We’re finding more and more titles are delayed coming to us until after they’ve been returned from WO.


  6. Have been told that an official joint response from STL and Zondervan to the re-pricing issue will be appearing on the STL Blog soon…

    Re. those messed-up CDs, Mark: my response would be to return them as substandard and request mint condition replacements, return and replacement carriage at STL’s expense.

    STL’s returns policy is very clear: all shop stickers and labels must be removed prior to returns, and as far as I’m aware that rule applies just as much to Wesley Owen as to the rest of us — I’d suggest contacting Steve Mitchell (WO’s representative on the BA CBG) if this is a frequent occurrence.

    This too is covered by the BA’s Code of Practice:

    Books returned as ‘green box’ under the Industry Returns Initiative (IR), are expected to be fit for re-sale and therefore should be in mint condition. This also applied to other returns outside IRI. Some price stickers used by booksellers can render returned books as unsuitable for re-sale (this can also apply to prices handwritten in pencil). Care must be taken to ensure all books returned as supplied by the publisher.

    Unless otherwise authorised under IRI or has been negotiated with the individual publisher, books bearing security stickers applied by the bookseller, are not usually acceptable for return and re-sale.

    OK, the Code of Practice refers to books, but I think other products are included by implication.

  7. Zondervan/STL have now responded on the original post where this conversation started:

    With the fluctuations of the pound against the dollar over the last eighteen months Zondervan, after consultation with STL Distribution, have decided to remove UK prices from their books. As Zondervan sell all their product at the dollar price, this enables STL Distribution to respond to the fluctuating currency exchange rate accordingly in setting the UK sterling price. All new books released from Autumn 2008 onwards have not had prices on the books and a programme is in place to ensure that all books have the UK price removed at reprint. In the meantime, Zondervan and STL Distribution are committed to stickering all books with UK prices on. In some cases, however, this may be missed, and STL Distribution have committed to crediting retailers.

    Both Zondervan and STL Distribution apologise for any inconvenience caused by this, and want to assure all of our customers that this is a temporary transition.

    Thanks to Ian Matthews for following this through.

  8. As posted on STLD blogspot in reponse to statement from Ian Matthews.

    ‘I think we are all grateful for that (statement). So (the GLO Bookshop) will certainly be contacting to claim the credit that has been refused over the last few weeks. On the point of principle, we have continued to put the stock out at marked price. I think I would rather lose a few quid here or there, rather than losing the goodwill of my customers.

    However, the statement does raise this question. I can only recall seeing several (more like a very few) Zondervan titles with ‘permanent stickers’ attached coming through in recent weeks. To say ‘a few may be missed’ surely does’t reflect the position bookshops are seeing as they process their deliveries. If this is what Ian is being told, then I can assure him that the situation needs to be urgently reviewed. The real position is more like ‘there’s an odd one or two that have been properly done but there are an awful lot still to sort out….”

  9. Slightly off topic, but on a similar theme. And as a bit of a warning to others!

    As an independent, we usually use the various ‘promotional lists’ that we get from our reps to give our shop (and website) some decent looking offers. Last year, we updated our website to reflect the Nelson Supersavers list, and were delighted when a customer came in to look at some of the items he had found for a Sunday school prize. Imagine my horror to find the Bibles had gone up from £5.99 to £9.50- a bit of a jump!

    We are still working our way through this with the customer. Who, although understanding, is not exactly pleased. So i am going to have to lose a bit of my precious margin to pour oil on the troubled waters.

    And a request to suppliers who are doing ‘offers’ to please put a ‘Finish Date’ on them as per Engage or Select. At least then, we can manage the return to the ‘correct’ price. And, if, out of the goodness of their heart, the supplier decides to keep the promotion on for another month- they can let us know!

  10. Hmmm, I thought as much! Having had a look at my delivery today, I’ve found that out of 13 Zondervan items, 11 of them have been charged at higher prices than shown on the book. So working on that sample, that means that over 85% of Zondervan items are coming out of the STL warehouse not complying with the BA guidelines………… Worth having a think about, our friends at STL & Zondervan?

  11. Same applies to our latest deliveries: seems to be a very hit-and-miss business.

    I note in passing that my question to STL remains unanswered:

    … could you confirm, please, that STL is aware of the BA’s Code of Practice and will be training staff as necessary and making every effort to comply with it in future?

    I also note that the carriage charge gremlin is still running rampant around the backorders dept…

  12. For your information, I have copied this response from STL- As posted on STL Distribution blog.

    ‘Having followed up on your comments with regard to the pricing issue on Zondervan books, it has been agreed that titles will now be stickered in Grand Rapids before they leave for the UK. Here at STL Distribution we will endeavour to sticker all Zondervan titles we have in our warehouse. This is, however a large job and will take time to complete meaning some Zondervan titles may continue (in the short term) to be sent without pricing stickers. If you do receive product without pricing stickers, please contact our customer services team who will credit you for the difference.’

    STLD Blog Team

    09 February 2009 10:44

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