Collapse of the U.K.'s
Net Book Agreement

Change, it's safe to say, is one of the fundamental conditions of the business world. One recent example of this truism is the disintegration of the U.K.'s Net Book Agreement. Last September the agreement, which gave publishers the legal right to set minimum retail prices for their books, collapsed, changing the way publishers, including Wiley, do business in Britain.

There are many reasons why this happened, but perhaps the most powerful influence has been the enormous growth of bookseller retail chains - like Blackwell's, Dillons, and Waterstones - which have grown to take 30 percent of the U.K. market. These chains are likely to be the pacesetters in the new deregulated market that has emerged. They are now free to launch full-scale retail marketing of the sort that has only been seen in U.K. supermarkets until now, such as price promotions on certain brands (or imprints, in Wiley's case), loyalty cards (like the Waldenbook Preferred Customer Program in the U.S.), and database marketing based on analysis of what customers are buying.

These new marketing strategies will only benefit certain types of Wiley product. STM books are generally so specialized that price reductions will not stimulate enough extra sales to cover the profits lost from lower pricing. Likewise, college textbooks are already aggressively priced in order to attract the maximum number of individual purchasers. It is from Wiley's trade publishing areas - business and management, computing, popular science and the like - that most of the benefits will come, as Wiley starts to negotiate deals on individual titles and across ranges of books. Booksellers will be looking for promotions to stimulate business. Not only will booksellers have greater freedom to maneuver but Wiley will also see the extension of sales channels into more active direct selling.

Clearly, the demise of the Net Book Agreement makes the U.K. book market more like that of the U.S., and it can be viewed as yet another step toward globalization. Has this sea change made selling books easier? No, but neither has it become more difficult. There are just new circumstances to deal with, and there's nothing new in that.

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