Three for two doesn't add up, says book chain

The offer, which saw purchasers splash out on impulse buys for a decade, will come to an end next month

To some, it devalued the printed word, to others, it provided much-needed value during tough economic times. Now, the high street bookshop Waterstone's has axed its ubiquitous three-for-two offer from tables in its 300 British stores, in a bold move by its recently appointed managing director, the independent bookseller James Daunt.

Staff at the country's biggest book chain were informed of the news yesterday, marking the end of one of the most recognisable deals in publishing history. The offer, which saw purchasers splash out on impulse buys for just over a decade, will come to an end next month.

Mr Daunt, who founded the independent book chain Daunt Books in 1990, intimated that change was afoot in an interview in May. He claimed Daunt Books does not "despoil our books by putting stickers on them. We don't use price as a marketing tool".

The 47-year-old Cambridge graduate was parachuted in to run Waterstone's in June after the chain was sold by HMV to the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut.

The book trade has welcomed the news that three-for-two is no more.

"I think it's hugely significant," said Curtis Brown literary agent Jonny Geller. "When the offer first started I was against it because it seemed illogical. You walked away with three books, meaning it was longer before you came back to the shop. The flip-side was that consumers would be more likely to try something new. However you just got all the same books in all the three-for-two deals, with books by Katie Price stuck alongside the Man Booker shortlist."

Philip Downer, the former chief executive of Borders UK, which went into administration in November 2009, said it was the "right time to make this sort of change".

"At Borders we tested various pricing mechanics, but we tended to the get the strongest results when we used three-for-two," he said. "But the economic climate has changed. In the last 18 months we've had the Kindle, the iPad, and continued recession on the high street."

"The offer has been going for a decade and this is a clear sign that Waterstone's is under new management," said Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of The Bookseller. "To me it's a positive sign that they are moving away from price to sell books. I think the company became dependent on three-for-two and neglected other parts of their brand, including their stores, because the three-for-two offer was so good for them."

The three-for-two offer is likely to be replaced by discounts on individual titles. Publishing sources told The Bookseller that future options included £5 deals or staggered offers of £3, £5, or £7 for paperback titles.

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