CTS – Are they actively working against physical bookshops?

Further to the post earlier this week on the situation from CTS in regards to the low trade discount more worrying news has been highlighted for the wider trades attention.

Comments posted by John Gaines of Footprints first raised the issue:

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?

and then followed up by Stephen Mosling of St Pauls:

… 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.”

it would certainly seem to appear that CTS are not only not working with Bookshops in a favourable way but actually actively working against them. This really is a sad state of affairs and tarnishes the illusion of any sort of support of Christian Bookselling through physical shops across the UK – Today The Book Depository was still showing a 25% discount off an item claimed to be a non-negotiable 10% to the bookshop trade in the UK.

The sad thing is this worrying situation is just the short end of the long tail it would seem, as became apparent when the MPH hymn book situation was also raised by Andrew Lacey of Glo Bookshops earlier this week. One really begins to wonder when some of the publishing companies, be they books or other, are going to actually come out, be honest and actually admit that they no longer see the physical bookshops as a partner and instead see them merely as competition in the pursuit of  of profit.

I would again call on all publishers and suppliers to head over to the Christian Retailing facebook page and read the suppliers pledge, to look at the words and think long and hard on what it means to work together, to be stronger together as was once proposed.

This especially at a time when the the PA and IPG have started to work together to oppose the Amazon takeover of The Book Depository and  according to The Bookseller are:

Going further, Mollet said more should be done to investigate the fairness of the market share internet-only retailers have in comparison to physical bookshops. He said: “Whatever the decision in this particular case, we feel it is high time that competition authorities took a closer interest in the developments of the book retail market”

Though the particular situations we are discussing here do not totally revolve around internet only retailers the ethics at the heart of the situation surely remains the same and is something that must be questioned by any that espouse to believe in fairness, right doing and integrity I would propose.

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16 thoughts on “CTS – Are they actively working against physical bookshops?

  1. A case of using booksellers to stock and promote your “fringe” publications while direct selling the bread and butter, must have items directly to customers/churches. Booksellers might like to ponder how many titles from these publishers are really essential for their shops, and if the answer is “not very”, don’t buy them and see what the publishers do then. Vote with your wallet.

  2. You raise an interesting point and one I have pondered before. Should we just stock the bread and butter items? After all that would give us a better profit margin. Doesn’t the 80:20 rule suggest that 80% of our sales come from just 20% of our products.
    However, how do you know what your best products are going to be? Do you only order them once others have discovered that they sell well? I have been bookselling for a long time and still have a shop full of books that when the rep showed me I thought they would sell – and didn’t. And I have also jumped on the bandwagon of the surprise sellers too late in the game and lost sales.

    Then there are the customers. They want choice, breadth, variety and they don’t take too kindly when the shelves are thinly stocked and all faceout.
    So it is a constant dilemma. As far as I can see the only answer is for publishers to adopt the Lion Hudson strategy. Everything is returnable at the end of the year for a replacement order of higher value. Yes, some others do a similar scheme but for me the Lion one is a ‘no hassle’ one. They realise that if we have tried to promote a book then it won’t go back in a pristine condition. It has probably been on bookstalls, in the window, face out on display and dare I say handled by the customer. That is the sort of scheme that I want, not one that insists that the books are in pristine condition before being returned.
    The bonus for Lion Hudson is that when the rep comes I don’t have to be so careful in what I order. I can take risks, give things a try, experiment. And if the publisher wants me to push the boat out a bit then I am prepared to. All with the safety net of the end of year stockist return. For me that should make Lion Hudson Publisher of the year every year.
    Dead stock is the main reason that I am always having to be cautious when I see reps. That’s why I am less inclined to order the high risk product anymore.

    • Totally agree with you in regard to Lion Hudson, thumbs up for them indeed – not only is their return policy excellent but so are the terms they give. Some others now like IVP are awakening to this too and that can only be to the good of all I really think. I also commend people like Obooks that say no returns but you do get 50% on everything regardless of if you want to order just one – that works for me too.

      I also in part agree with what Carole is saying – at the end of the day if a publisher is going to act against the bookshops in such a way as CTS seems to be demonstrating on this issue – and also perhaps as MPH seem to be doing with the new Hymn Book, do we not in effect reward their behaviour by continuing to support them after such action?
      Like Stephen said it’s a bit like accepting the crumbs from the masters table when we should be saying erm excuse me I’ve been invited to dine AT the masters table, do you mind fetching him over please so we can clear this up! And if they won’t then do you stay… I know I wouldn’t, my Master already told me I’m entitled to equal shares, not more, not less, and that if they don’t want to support or listen to me than I shake their dust off my feet.

      Yes we need to stock what the customer wants, we need to keep our shelves full, diverse, well represented but there are some instances where to continue to do so becomes more and more to our detriment but to their gain.

      How many times now do we carry material from publishers such as these ones, and many others I can think of when we move into the church resources range of titles and Media product, just to hear the customer say – often directly to us – that they just wanted to look at it but that they had recieved an offer be it leaflet/email/website with a discount off the price that is hard or vitually impossible for us to match, and if we do match to retain the customer then we sell it for next to cost at best – thus the publisher loses nothing and we lose out totally with the misguided idea that we at least kept that customer so that’s ok, we can cope with the odd loss leader – but can we?

      That’s why I am now thinking that in many cases instead of just stocking items we should get together and start asking and negotiating for an advertising fee from some of them,
      yes, we’ll stock it at low margin off rrp for you so you can’t be said to be ‘cheating’ on the price…
      Yes we’ll stock it so customers can touch and flick through it first before getting their 20% off from you directly…
      but only if you pay us x amount a month/quarter/promotion/year as an advertising outlet for you!
      Sort of like the supermarkets, amazon, waterstones, whsmith etc do with their shelf space buying/top of list promotion ideas!
      Because largely the truth is it seems to me that we are little more than advertising hoardings and display showrooms for many of these organisations through their own actions and attitude to us.

      I do wonder if we weren’t here then have they considered how much revenue would they eventually lose?
      After all the loss of SPCK bookshops and WO seemed to have a major impact and not just because of debt’s accrued – I am not sure that the sales levels have ever really increased to what they were before the loss of so many bookshops, and this when there were still quite a lot of independents out there, but these numbers too are slowly declining with others not so keen to replace those retiring or needing fresh vigor!
      Sure they think the internet makes the difference up from them – however what they aren’t accounting for are how many shops are using that internet with the offers they don’t match to us as a wholesaler?
      How many of those internet/direct purchases by joe public are only made after a visit to the physical bookshop first – whether it be because while browing the shelf that’s where they first came across it and decidde they wanted it or because they first went there to actively check the book out and if they can’t do that they won’t bother taking the risk on buying it.

      I’d propose it’s an awful lot more than they think – and no survey’s ever going to accurately tell you that because you can’t be sure the right people take part in your survey, that they aren’t embarrased to admit to something they might secretly think is wrong, human morality is a funny thing and it’s amazing how that can skew survey results!

      If there’s one thing that’s true, it’s that bookselling’s a hard place to be right now – the cliff edge we walk is indeed jagged and with much potential for a painful fall or injury with just one mis-step.

  3. I would prefer to have something like the Dutch situation. I’m sure that they seem to have a period of time where everyone has to sell the book at the published price. Only when that period is past can they price promote it. That puts everyone on a level playing field and people support their local shops because they know it will be the same wherever they buy it.

  4. Under the old terms of the Net Book Agreement, if after a year in stock books hadn’t sold and you couldn’t return them under normal trade arrangements, you wrote to the publisher and offered the list of titles back or you would be reducing them in price. Amazing how many publishers wanted the books back!

  5. Sorry, Stephen, I’m confused. Does this mean HarperCollins AND Catholic Truth Society will both be publishing the same new Missal, or different parts and will HarperCollins give proper trade discount? Are the Murdochs really RC’s?

    • Looks to me like HC will be publishing the people’s sunday and weekday missals (the one’s you can currently get from them).

      Murdoch is a business man first—If funding the UK papal visit will help him win contracts he’ll do it—however it does appear that Murdoch is a churchgoer and his previous wife (Anna Torv) is a Catholic, which may explain the link.

      Regardless, If I can secure them with a reasonable discount as I normally get from Collins, I will happily go then to do so. Just because they are owned by NewsCorp, i’m not going to banish them from my shelves.

      I wonder how many of us cancelled out Sky subscriptions in outrage?

      • Lol – Some of us don’t have sky subscriptions as we disagree with monopolies and strangleholds and vote with out feet so it was never an issue when this all blew up 😛

        However to be fair I also didn’t advocate boycotting and banning news corp things en mass as i’m not convinced they were alone in what they did, they were just the ones doing it the most often and that got caught.
        When we boycott and ban completely then we sometimes run the risk of hurting the innocent along with the guilty and I think we have to weigh these things up carefully before any action. After all who is without sin?

        That said I think we do have an ethical responsibility to seriously consider where the goods we buy come from and to work to ensure that they are ethical trade partners and that what we buy are ethically traded goods to the best of our ability.

        To my mind this with News Corp owning HC/Zondervan gives us a number of things for us to think on, when I first found out about the news corp connection I was struck by the issue of greed and how we can all fall into the trap of making money an issue at hand, it connects with the idea of empire building and again it is something that we all need to consider if we are based in business, and of course as raised above is the ethics of fair and right trade. All these things are things that in the last few weeks we have seen represented in our trade to some degree and not just in news corp – so perhaps we need to think more on this than we would like to think we do.

        One thing is clear though to me – just going to church does not make us righteous and being Christian is not ever something we can or should put forward as an excuse or justification when daily, family or business behaviour would seem to disprove the fact.

        Matthew 16:26ff speaks strongly to me here.

        • I (like you) don’t have a Sky Subscription… though for far less noble reasons—Our sky signal is near useless in our apartment.

          However, my feeling on most of these things is relatively straightforward. Is the product beneficial for the Church, and Christians, and can that product be supplied to me in a way which helps keep christian retailing viable on the high street.

          If a “christian” book is being published by a “secular” company like News Corp., that book is beneficial to Christians, and is supplied with reasonable trade terms, then I am more than happy to use them to my benefit.

          If a secular publisher like Harper Collins is acting in a more moral and ethical way than a so called “Christian” one like the Catholic Truth Society, I will go with the secular one every time, i’m afraid.

          If money from the sales of copies of “News of The World” is helping to fund the Bible Translation and christian publishing work Zondervan is involved in, then, I’m actually okay with that… Not that it undoes the bad that they did, but… Well, in the slightly out of context words of Genesis 50:20

          “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)

  6. Carole, Rupert Murdoch is not a Catholic, in spite of having been made a Knight Commander of St Gregory. As Luke rightly says, HC will be publishing the people’s editions of the Sunday and Weekday Missals, as indeed CTS are publishing editions of these books and at full trade discount (but also at 25% discount to parishes). I am confident that HC will give proper terms.

    However, when we were invited to tender for the Altar Missals, we were told quite clearly that the Bishops’ Conference wanted it to be produced by a Catholic publisher, thereby preventing Catholic liturgical books being produced by multi-international organisations, like Murdoch’s.

  7. A bit of price comparison on the Altar edition:
    CTS = £230

    American editions:
    Midwest Theological Forum $350 = about £215
    Liturgical Press $169.95 = just over £100
    Liturgy Training Publications $175 = just over £100
    Magnificat $199 = just over £120
    Catholic Book Publishing Company $159 = just under £100

    Australia AU$460 +Tax = over £330. This is not published in Australia but is the CTS edition distributed out there.

  8. Apologies for those now not able to read the original posting on our blog but, after being contacted by a member of the Bishops’ Conference today, we have been forced to change the wording.

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