Conference concern over campus booksellers
11.03.10 | Catherine Neilan

Publishers and retailers should work together against excess discounting, in a bid to improve the perceived value of books, delegates at this week’s ASP (academic, professional and specialist booksellers) conference heard yesterday (10th March).

The 39th annual conference, which kicked off yesterday afternoon (10th March) and is being held in cloudy Bournemouth, heard a similar request made by a number of speakers. The keynote speech, made by outgoing chairman – Blackwell’s David Prescott – included the first call to action.

“To any publisher who thinks it’s just a retailer issue, I think they should realise that online retailers like Amazon are eroding the value of the book,” he said. “Now is more, rather than less, the time for academic publishers and booksellers to work together to address this problem.”

Andrew Hutchings, chief executive of Blackwell, later said bricks and mortar booksellers still had an important role to play, but were currently acting as “one of the biggest showrooms for Amazon”.

Alan Leitch, campus director of John Smith & Son, added: “We should all be concerned by the credibility gap of physical shops. It’s not good for John Smiths when Borders goes bust or Waterstone’s is not looking too good.” He urged delegates to give “a clearer and simpler message to customers” surrounding format, platform and pricing models. This would help improve “the perceived value, and relevance, of textbooks”.

Simon Marvin of Pearson defended publishers by saying the company was “not giving an competitive edge on discounting” to the likes of Amazon.

But Stephen Bourne, chief executive of Cambridge University Press, said it was already too late to fight back. “I don’t think the campus bookshop is sustainable, largely because of Amazon,” he said, highlighting the financial issues universities are, or will be, faced with.

Christine Fyfe of University of Leicester’s library, suggested that the value of the book was not questioned by students, but told delegates they already feel they have paid for the textbooks in the cost of the course, adding that the UoL was considering providing “key texts” from fees. “That may be one way to provide a better service to students,” she said.

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