Steep discounts reign supreme for Prince Harry's mega-marketed memoir Spare

Publishing experts say the highly discounted product launches for mega-marketed books like Spare are an entrenched method big booksellers use to get people into stores, especially in an era where online competition is only a click away.

Big booksellers slash prices for big-event releases like Spare, hoping they drive customers to stores

Copies of Prince Harry's memoir Spare are seen on display at a London bookstore earlier this month.
Publishing experts say the highly discounted sales of mega-marketed books like Spare — seen marked with a half-price sticker at a Waterstones bookstore in London earlier this month — are an entrenched method big booksellers use to get people into stores. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Stickers appear on many copies of Prince Harry's Spare, but they're not royal warrants.

The ones at Waterstones, the U.K. bookseller, say "half price" — reflecting the steep discount being offered to customers.

Yet with 3.2 million copies sold in its first week, the cut-rate price being offered by many booksellers doesn't seem to have hurt business.

Publishing experts say the highly discounted sales of mega-marketed books like Spare are an entrenched method big booksellers use to get people into stores, especially in an era where online competition is only a click away.

"These books are loss leaders," said Scott Steedman, a publishing industry veteran and lecturer at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., comparing them to promotional prices offered for certain products at grocery stores.

"It's all about volume," he added, saying the big players are counting on the fact these sharply marked-down, but heavily promoted titles will sell.

Discounting here, too

Jared Bland of Penguin Random House Canada — Spare's Canadian publisher — said the company could not comment "on pricing decisions made by individual retailers."

But a look at the websites of some of Canada's largest booksellers makes it clear the cover price is not what most people are paying.

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At Indigo stores in Canada, Spare is currently being offered for sale at 25 per cent off the list price of $47.

The company, citing time constraints, said it was not able to provide a spokesperson to comment on its approach to pricing Spare and similar titles.

Amazon is selling the book to Canadian consumers at a 35 per cent discount. As of Friday, it was the online retailer's top-selling non-fiction title of the week. 

In response to questions about its thinking on pricing, an Amazon spokesperson said its general focus has long been on "competitive prices," in addition to other customer-service considerations.

Some regional chains in Canada also appear to be selling Spare for less than the cover says.

The website for McNally Robinson, a bookseller with two stores in Winnipeg and another in Saskatoon, has Spare at 30 per cent off the list price. The company did not immediately respond to an email inquiry about its pricing.

At a Book City location in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, an online price of $42.30 appears to be a 10 per cent markdown below the list price.

Andrew Franklin, the founder and publisher of the U.K.-based Profile Books, said the low prices offered by big chains are a challenge for smaller independent counterparts to compete with. They consequently "sell very few copies" of Spare-type releases, he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of readers across Canada are looking to their local library to get their hands on the book.

The Ottawa Public Library's website showed more than 1,900 hold requests for a physical copy of Spare as of Friday afternoon, a week and a half after the book's release. Hundreds more were waiting to access an e-book version.

A slightly longer list of Calgarians, totalling nearly 2,000 as of Friday morning, were similarly waiting for their chance to read Prince Harry's story, according to the city library system's website.

Not the plan for every book

Franklin said the approach used to sell a book like Spare is more similar to books with very broad appeal, which are likely to sell to a wider audience. 

A bookstore staffer is seen putting a sticker saying "half price" on the cover of a copy of Prince Harry's recently-released memoir Spare.
A bookseller puts a half-price sticker on copies of Prince Harry's memoir, Spare, on the day of its release in London, nearly two weeks ago. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

Popular cookbooks and lifestyle-focused titles would be other examples of books that might be similarly discounted when offered for sale, he said.

Steedman said a small number of these highest-selling titles get the bulk of media attention, while so many other books struggle to get noticed.

A book being launched on the scale of Spare has had a lot of money invested in it, which is why Franklin said  "they have to create these big campaigns" to ensure they get the best return possible.

The amount of money Penguin Random House paid to acquire Spare has not been publicly disclosed.

Steedman said the kind of staying power Spare has will depend on how the book holds up after people get reading it.

"Are people going to be buying it at Christmas? Or is it going to be old news by April?"

With files from The Associated Press


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