Publishers furious over Asda price cut

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The Independent Online
The Asda supermarket chain yesterday cut the price of 12 newly launched paperback best-sellers by up to 20 per cent, saying that popular books should be easily accessible and affordable, writes Maggie Brown. But 10 of the titles are included in the Net Book Agreement, the pact by which publishers set the retail price of books. The price cuts mean that Asda, which has sold books since 1970, is throwing down the gauntlet to seven well-known publishers, including Harper- Collins and Penguin.

Penguin said last night: "Asda is in no position to unilaterally disregard the NBA. Any retailer which does will be subject to legal action."

Peter Kilborn, director of management services for the Publishers' Association, which represents book publishers, said yesterday that Asda's move had come as a surprise.

"It looks as if all the publishers will want to take some action to prevent this. They may decide to take out an injunction."

Tony Campbell, the trading director of Asda, said: "Our shoppers buy over 5 million books each year, and we want to give them the best value in the market. The Net Book Agreement is out of date and keeps prices artificially high. It's ridiculous that a small group of publishers should be allowed to dictate selling prices."

Asda's cuts mean £1 off the price of 12 best-selling paperback books. They include An Imaginative Experience, by Mary Wesley (cut to £4.99 from £5.99); The Power, by Colin Forbes (cut to £3.99); Frederick Forsyth's Fist of Gold (£4.99); Darkest Hour, by Virginia Andrews (£3.99); and Other People's Marriages, by Rosie Thomas (£4.99).

The move is the latest skirmish over the agreement, which publishers defend because they say it guarantees a wide and diverse range of books and protects profit margins of smaller independent book shops.