Christian booksellers “up in arms” over restrictive trade terms on new Missal from Catholic Truth Society

UPDATE 04/06/2011:
Response from CTS

A report in today’s issue of The Tablet, p.37, quotes a response from CTS, citing reduced margins as their rationale for the short discount:

“Short discounting is not unusual for specialist books on which the margins are nowhere near what can be achieved on on a trade hardback or paperback. While aiming at high production and design quality, we have felt a strong obligation to reduce the margins as far as possible in order to keep the volumes affordable for customers and final users … mostly all of whom have to operate within limited resources.”

This begs the question, of course, as to how it is that the USA publishers (see comments below) appear to be able to manage their margins so much more effectively…?

INTRODUCING AN OPEN LETTER to the Rt Revd Paul Hendricks, Chairman of the Catholic Truth Society’s Board of Management, and to Mr Fergal Martin, the Society’s General Secretary, St Paul’s Bookshop describes Christian booksellers as being “up in arms” over restrictive trade terms on the new Roman Missal, due for publication later this year.

According to the letter, CTS have advised retailers that the new Missal will only be made available at a “non-negotiable” 10% trade discount, terms that completely undermine any viability for bookshops hoping to carry the books and, for those that do decide to stock them anyway, deny them the possibility of supplying church and school customers — many of whom might well be expected to place bulk orders — at a discount.

The letter points out that in placing such restrictive terms on the book, CTS have cornered the marketplace, giving themselves an effective monopoly on sales. CTS themselves stand to benefit enormously from the windfall of being chosen as the Missal’s publisher, but rather than respond in the generous spirit that one might expect — by sharing that windfall with their trade partners to maximise distribution opportunities through other outlets — CTS appear to have opted to capitalise on their good fortune for their own ends.

The letter appeals to Messrs Hendricks and Martin to “initiate immediate discussion and negotiation with the C.T.S. in order that normal supply terms can be established to the book trade.”

The letter has been signed by representatives of over a dozen Christian bookshops around the UK.

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17 thoughts on “Christian booksellers “up in arms” over restrictive trade terms on new Missal from Catholic Truth Society

  1. Let’s hope that decency will prevail as speaking to an RC Bishop two months ago, he was hoping that as many Christian bookshops as possible would stock the Missal so that people had easy access. Obviously his views have not been taken into consideration, and the ordinary customer may well be denied easy access if only CTS shops stock the books. They may think that RC churches will stock and sell them, but this is a big ask for the book agents who run the depositories in RC churches.

  2. I hate to have to go out of my way to not help my customers, but that is effectively what they are asking me to do.

    I usually have no problem telling a customer to “Go Direct” to suppliers if they need it quicker, or in larger quantities than I can supply. There are suppliers with minimum order quantities, or who require up-front payment, which I understand, and can accept because they offer good service elsewhere. However, I cannot, in good conscience encourage people towards CTS, knowing that they are undermining the trade so severely.

    So effectively, they force me to go out of my way to NOT help my customers… I can only tell them “I cannot supply” it, and can’t help them find it elsewhere either.

    Unfortunately, CTS seem to have decided that the whole Catholic church should not have access to it… only those who manage to discover CTS.

    My feeling is that if at all possible, I shall cut out CTS, and import them from the States (http://www.usccbpublishing.org/ are offering RETAIL CUSTOMERS 25% discount on pre-orders, using code RM-0311) and even if they don’t ship to the UK, a freight forwarder like bundlebox.co.uk will likely still work out more cost effective for me.

    • Or you can get it from Ingrams – of course the only problem here is that it’s the US edition and not the UK edition, and one supposes with a Missal used for church services this may perhaps cause problems though?

  3. The Liturgical Press edition of the US Missal will be available from Columba in Dublin. Whilst this will obviously follow the American liturgical calendar and therefore not have any of the English feasts in it, I will have no qualms about stocking it. We have many customers who visit from countries which use the US edition, why should I not service them (no pun intended!)?

  4. Report in today’s issue of The Tablet quotes a response from CTS citing reduced margins as their rationale for short discounting: have updated the main post with the quote – see above.

  5. See here http://www.veritasbooksonline.com/custom-pages/the-roman-missal.html
    for what Veritas, the publisher in Ireland, is offering over there for their editions of the books. Altar Edition is €250/£215 (CTS is charging £230 for theirs), Chapel Edition is €50/£42.50 (CTS is charging £115 for theirs). The Veritas offer is, buy one of each for €249/£215. Which means, buy an Altar Edition and get a Chapel Edition free. Columba, who are also distributing this edition to the bookshops in Ireland, are making the same offer available to them with between 25 and 30% discount.

  6. Pingback: Let’s Talk: Call for Christian Booksellers and Suppliers to drop private agendas at High Leigh « The Christian Bookshops Blog

  7. It is utterly meaningless to compare the US Catholic book market with that of the UK. It is like comparing an elephant with a mouse. The US market is so large that there are at least 4 publishers producing ttheir own editions of the Roman Missal.

  8. That is true Michael, but what about the situation in Ireland? The market there is even smaller than here and Veritas can still offer acceptable terms.

  9. It’s worth noting that CTS is also publishing for Australia: that makes it a much bigger marketplace than just the UK. My sources indicate that the profit margin for CTS could be as much as £1M; if that’s correct, there’s certainly room for fairer trade terms.

    Once again we’re left with the question of how it is that US publishers seem to able to manage their margins so much more effectively — and so much more equitably for their trade partners?

  10. While US retailers are used to getting somewhat higher trade terms than the UK, that does not make the UK insignificant by any means.

    Yes, US retailers are used to trade terms of above 50%, while we often struggle to push suppliers up past 40%, however this doesn’t mean that a “Non-Negotiable 10%” is at all comparable.

    I still usually get more than 30% on print-on-demand titles, the single most expensive titles ever produced.

    The only titles I would consider getting with such a low margin are academic ones… however universities do not expect discount on research papers etc. and know that they are such a niche market that prices will be high.

    This is not, as they claim, a “specialist” title. It is required for each and every one of the thousands of catholic church in the UK, it is recommended for each and every member of the catholic clergy to have their own, and a significant minority of the lay population will also want to have one.

    It has a guaranteed 5000+ Sales, not the 10’s-to-hundreds of copies we usually hear about when discussing ‘short discounted’ titles. In fact, given that the average print run of a popular title is somewhere between 1500 and 2000 there is no reason at all that this title should be anything other than standard discount, if not a high-discount title.

    And if, as they claimed, they really cared about “[keeping] the volumes affordable for customers and final users … mostly all of whom have to operate within limited resources.” Why haven’t they produced a cheaper, hardback or paperback edition? Why, for that matter, are they not actively pushing it as an eBook, or online?

    Perhaps i’m wrong. Perhaps they do cost disproportionately more to produce in the UK compared to elsewhere. Perhaps CTS are selling them practically at cost, and it is the best possible price they can do.

    But personally, I’m not convinced.

  11. Shall we all apply to become Parish Distributors?
    Then we would get 25%!!
    So they will give Joe Public, who register as Parish Distributors, 15% more discount than retailers.
    Come on CTS, we do not run our shops to become worldly rich, but serve our Lord. Why are you trying so hard to hurt Christian Booksellers in the UK?

    • John,
      is that a definite confirmed 25% to the parish distributors or is that just the standard they normally get in the same way that bookshops normally get 35%, but on the Missals they will only get 10%?

      • Mel,
        Having seen the Order Form sent out to Parishes, Schools and Religious Orders, I can confirm that the 25% IS the standard parish discount, with 10% being given to schools. To quote their website, “Parish Distributors receive a 25% discount on orders from us, rising to 50% discount for booklets and leaflets ordered at the same time as a display unit “.

        The 25% and 10% discounts apply to all of the ancilliary materials CTS has produced to accompany the new missals INCLUDING the people’s Sunday and Weekday Missals. The 25% does NOT apply to the Altar Editions.

        The ancilliary materials are, to quote Fergal Martin’s letter to us, “the 27 other Missal-related items…. at our normal trade discounts” which “…we do hope will offer good opportunities for retaliers to sustain their sales during the next few months, particularly in these difficult economic times.”

        • Thanks Stephen,
          So basically they aren’t getting a better deal than that being given to the trade at least, though one could assume (always a dangerous proposition that as the addage points out) that given they are likely to be given the same discount deal as the trade on the Altar Missal that it negates even the few sales we may otherwise have been able to pick up!
          This offer though does of course ensure that on those items Fergal said would be ‘good opportunites’ for bookshops they are now not even a decent proposition as we will have to match, no actually not even match but have to better the 25% they have told all parishes and orders they can get going direct anyway – thus wiping out any chance of making even 10% on the items we were being offered as a sop for the very sad showing of 10% on the Altar Missal!
          Wow this whole thing just keeps getting more shiny by the day!

  12. No, depending which combination of Altar Missals they purchase, they stand to get in excess of 12% discount. Therefore, parishes are getting a better deal than the trade. Thankfully, we have a number of very loyal customers who are purchasing thier Missals through us (in the full knowledge that they will receive no discount – and the reason for us not being able to give it) for which we are very grateful. They simply refuse to deal directly with CTS.

    Not only was Fergal’s comment patronising in the extreme (as one retailer put it, we should “be satisfied with crumbs from the Master’s table”), if CTS is giving them 25% on the ancilliary materials, it shows no intention on their part to support the trade in any shape or form.

    Pope Benedict wrote in his Encyclical Letter “Caritas in veritate”:
    “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

  13. Pingback: CTS – Are they actively working against physical bookshops? « The Christian Bookshops Blog

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