Sir: I hope I am wrong, but Bryan Appleyard could well be the prophet of his own doom. Excellent and intelligent writer though he is, the books he writes do not command whole racks at Heathrow Airport and are likely to be among the first casualties if the Net Book Agreement collapses as he predicts ("Blood in the bookshops", 7 June).
He also misses one salient point in his argument. Wearing one of my hats - I have been an independent bookseller for 30 years - there is no problem in selling bestsellers below the published price if you are lucky enough to receive 60 per cent discount from the publishers. The average independent bookseller must be content with 35 per cent, but our overheads take most of this, leaving me with around 1.5 per cent net profit at the end of the day.
The reason Asda can sell John Le Carre's latest novel at the knock-down price of pounds 8.99 is because first of all the price of the book was hiked to pounds 16.99 and then heavily discounted to Asda. The cost to Asda was pounds 6.79; the cost to me was pounds 11.04, a difference of some pounds 4.25. It has always been the practice to give the large multiples a trade discount of 50 per cent plus, while the rest of us struggle to provide a superior service on normal trade terms. I doubt whether Asda and the other supermarkets would bother to order a single copy of Mr Appleyard's last book to satisfy a customer, but I would and do, for two-thirds of my business consists of single customer orders.
The Net Book Agreement is not some cynical plot to make everybody pay through the nose, but a way of ensuring that good books get published alongside the bestsellers, that readers are given the widest possible choice and, dare one say it, value for money.
Virginia Water, SurreyReuse content