The Angry Corrie 31: Mar-Apr97

TAC 31 Index

Stob Press Special - The steep, steep price of Lomond

READERS WILL RECALL an item from the last Stob Press (TAC30, p15) inviting submissions from anyone who had paid the full #25 for Lomond Books' recently published The Munros - Scotland's Highest Mountains, by Cameron McNeish. A free TAC subscription was up for grabs, since the book had been on "Special Offer" at #15 right from the 18/10/96 publication date: shiny gold dust-jacket stickers and numerous bookshop displays said so. The free subbie was a sideshow of course, since the point wasn't to indicate TAC's own customer-service generosity, but to flag up a bad case of sod-the-public-ism by Lomond. No claims arrived directly, but TA Corrie soon received a letter from one TA Maher, director of Lomond Books. Since s/he demands in no uncertain terms that we "retract", and since TAC is at ease with the concept of right-to-reply, the letter is reproduced as written. It was addressed to your Editor, in his official capacity:

Dear Mr Hewitt,

My attention has been drawn to a nefarious article in your January/February issue which is totally inaccurate, untrue and misleading. The Munro's [sic] - Scotland's Highest Mountains was on sale at the retail price of #25 at many outlets in Scotland prior to late October. I enclose a copy of a letter received from a customer complaining about the reduction after she had bought the book at #25.

The original published price of the title was #25 but it was then decided to run the title as a promotional offer at #15 to bring it below the main competitor's book price.

It is also claimed in your magazine that the book was aimed at our Bargain Books shops. This is also a gross calumny. We in fact restricted all our shops to very small quantities both in initial supplies and repeat orders because we did not see it as a main Autumn title for them.

The book has sold 15000 copies throughout the UK in the period November and December. We had to airfreight in half the second print run to meet demand. Lomond is Scotland's largest wholesaler as well as being a publisher. We service more than 1200 accounts in Scotland through our representatives and van merchandising service. Orders were received from major wholesalers in England - Cordee Books, Bertrams, Gardners and from retailers as far apart as Lancaster and London. Our own retail sales have accounted for less than 20% of total sales.

At least the public recognise "value for money" and quality when they see it even if your views are jaundiced. May I also take issue with the inference that John Smith or James Thin are "proper shops" and Bargain Books and Bookworld are not. Would you not agree this is a rather middle class reactionary view? Only a small percentage of the British public visit bookshops regularly - less than 10% - because they are often intimidating, patronising and catering for the middle/upper classes. Our outlets make books available to a wide range of the public at prices they can afford. They at least appreciate the service. What is a proper shop - beauty is in the eye of the beholder I would suggest. Are Kwik Save, Poundstretcher and State of Independence improper shops!

I would claim the prize for having the first sighting of the book on sale at #25 except a years subscription to Scotland's Rag Bag Bag Rag (apt name) fills me with horror. Would you give me a subscription to a proper outdoor magazine with colour pictures, informed text and balanced reviews. Although no expert in the field I am led to conclude that professional jealousy is portrayed in a number of the contributions in your journal.

We require a retraction of your false statements and inaccurate innuendo in the next issue of your publication. Meanwhile I shall indeed be searching for "higher things".

Yours sincerely,
TA Maher
Director, Lomond Books, Edinburgh

(The enclosed letter mentioned was from an Evelyn Reid of Paisley. Reid had written to Lomond on 13/10/96 - five days before the book was officially launched - having bought a copy in the Inverness branch of Bargain Books on 26/9/96 for #25. Within days she had seen it advertised at the lower price in TGO and The Sunday Post, and so asked for an explanation.)

Where to start? TAC's perceived remit includes exposing hypocrisy and customer-exploitation, and the magazine doesn't take kindly to being required to "retract" even at the best of times. But it's far from clear exactly what Maher perceives his/her gripe to be. Since the latter part of the letter degenerates into anti-TAC abuse, we'll leave readers to make of this what they will -commenting only that, given the strident views about "intimidating" and "patronising" bookshops, it perhaps isn't TAC which suffers "professional jealousy".

The first serious thing to note is Lomond's bizarre decision to forward a letter so completely counter-productive to their own argument. It's an amazing piece of foot-shooting in at least three ways: (i) The thoughts of Reid and TAC on Lomond's selling policy differ only in that TAC assumed the book never to be truly available for #25 - or at best momentarily, nominally - whereas Reid's letter proves otherwise; (ii) It shows Reid as doubly unlucky: she bought the book pre-publication, and from Bargain Books. This is ironic given what we've been told by other booksellers, since had the purchase been made from a non-Bargain shop or at a later date, a much lower price would have been paid; hence "Bargain" is a 180 misnomer here. And (iii), given the dating of Reid's letter, the whole advance-sales manoeuvring has been flushed out into the open, whereas previously it lurked in the shadows of conjecture.

These points bear examination in the light of Maher's bluster, since the claim of "totally inaccurate, untrue and misleading" relates to the validity of the full #25 price. The #15 "Special Value" offer was/is a clear case of truth-economy. Checks with friendly contacts in Smith, Thin and Tiso all confirm that each of these mainstream outlets began sales on or after the official publication date of 18/10/96, and never at anything other than #15. In order to be legally marked down as "Special Value", the book had to be sold for 28 days prior to the mark-down. This it was, being released before official publication, effectively in-house, since Lomond Press and Bargain Books are siblings who meet up round the back of the publishing world's bike sheds. TAC has no reason to suggest - and never has done - that this phase didn't run its full 28-day course. Indeed, this is how Reid came to buy her copy - 22 days before the "proper" (if that loaded word can again be used) launch.

Time to dig out the advance review copy sent to TAC - which already carried a #15 sticker. The covering letter, dated 7/10/96, said: "The book is being published by Lomond Books on 18 October 1996 at a retail price of #15." No mention of #25. Likewise, the accompanying press release re the Ben Lomond launch, 17/10/96: "Following this special launch the book, which has been produced for Lomond Books by Colin Baxter Photography, will be available from bookshops at #15." And delving back even earlier produces an Advance Information letter from Lomond. This gave no indication as to price, but the attached glossy flier (the thing which appeared in TGO) stated an unequivocal #15 with no mention of #25 nor of any special offers.

TAC has been passed a copy of the January 1997 in-trade Lomond Books flier. This includes the following section: "I must thank all of you who supported us so tremendously over The Munros - Scotland's Highest Mountains and apologise to those who sold out of stock and couldn't get anymore [sic]. The book exceeded our wildest expectations. In addition to the original 10000 which sold in just over four weeks the 4500 copies of the reprint we air freighted in sold out in just ten days. That's nearly 15000 copies in around six weeks of a #15 book ... ".

In late January Reid wrote an enlightening letter to your Ed. She had not been aware of Lomond having passed on her first letter - clearance had not been asked for nor would it have been given. She had however received an initial reply from Lomond, dated 1/11/96, again signed TA Maher: "The original published price of the title was #25 but it was then decided to run the title as a promotional offer at #15. This promotional price ran from 17th October but copies sold prior to this went out at #25." So there. But Maher did refund the #10 difference, something which presumably doesn't come easily to a commercial publisher, and which smacks of one of two things. Either (hopefully) unease/embarrassment at the credibility gap which led to Reid being fleeced; or (less charitably) an attempt to keep a lid on things by buying off a disaffected customer. Whatever: a precedent has been set, and anyone else who paid #25 pre-publication could do worse than to apply for a tenner refund. The address is Lomond Books, 36 West Shore Road, Granton, Edinburgh EH5 1QD, tel 0131-551-2261, fax 0131-552-1703.

Please also write to TAC and let us know your thoughts/experiences. Lomond clearly feels public opinion supports them in all this, and many a TAC reader must have bought one of the 15000 copies. Maher won't be getting the claimed TAC subbie (Reid of course won this); but any future issues containing relevant letters will, out of courtesy (oldfashioned concept, that), be sent to Lomond gratis.

One final point. Although TAC29 gave The Munros a pretty negative review, the complaint/dispute here doesn't at all pertain to writing or content: it's the selling policy which causes concern. Indeed, despite TAC29 having been forwarded at the time, Maher makes no reference to either the book's text or layout. This is spelt out not just because TAC's Ed is elsewhere in the employ of author McNeish, but also because, from its first issue, TAC has striven to maintain an independent, needs-to-be-said stance, and will not stop now just because of some wearing-two-hats awkwardness. Besides, McNeish is quite capable of perceiving the demarcation lines here, and will hopefully empathise with such as Evelyn Reid who paid good money in good faith for his work only to be let down by the messenger. It's interesting to note that his subsequent Wilderness Walks (from BBC Publications) is so much better in production terms.

It's not often The Angry Corrie gets genuinely angry, but be assured, thirty-one issues in, we won't stand idly by and watch rough justice. Money is what the statisticians call a zero-sum game: if someone gains, then someone else loses. When it comes to hills, this bottom-line belief can be seen in terms of quangos in committee, in landowners marching four-by-four, or, as now, in a commercial concern playing wide and fast. A tiny feeder fish such as TAC shouldn't really have to tidy up after a great big flounder like Lomond; but the customers, whether paying #25 or #15, are due a rekindling of faith in the outdoor publishing industry - especially since, in general, the industry is a good deal more caring than is evident here.

TAC 31 Index