Does Your Bookshop Have a Firm Pricing Policy?

A guest post by
P. J. Grath, Dog Ears Books, Northport, Michigan

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“To Hold or Not to Hold? That Is the Question”

Pamela Grath

Dog Ears Books was Dog Ears Used Books when it opened in 1993, with rows of titles culled from our home library–all good books but duplicates or books we knew we wouldn’t re-read. That and the fact that we’d just adopted Nikki from the Humane Society inspired the name. What a beginning like that, questions about price are nothing new to me.

“Can you do any better?” is the question often asked. Sometimes it’s “What’s the best you can do?” Although I understand the intent, the phrasings rankle a bit. “Better” for the buyer is “worse” for me, obviously, and I already work without health insurance, taking extra jobs on the side when necessary! If the person wanting to haggle can well afford the price marked, why should he have an extra drink before dinner at my expense?

Then there’s the guy “on a fixed income,” and here again what is meant is very different from what I can’t help but hear, i.e.: This person knows how much money he’ll have next month! What a sense of security that must give! I have no idea what my future income will be, and he wants me to lower my prices today? How is this supposed to make sense to me?

Years ago, frustrated by people mistaking my bookstore for a weekend garage sale, I wrote up a lengthy explanation of my prices and discounts (trade credit, volume and dealer). One bookseller colleague with whom I shared the statement posted it on her sales counter.

I’ve relaxed since then, and that’s where I am now on my prices, firm but relaxed. With established customers—or anyone who buys so many books that we need boxes to carry them out the door—I sometimes offer a discount without being asked or throw in one or two titles as “bonus” books at no charge. On those occasions, it’s nice to see smiles and hear thanks. In general, however, I rarely come down on the priced marked. Instead (1) I price carefully at the outset, (2) never overprice, and (3) if something has been around for years and I’m eager for it to find a new home I mark it down myself, either before someone brings it to the counter or when someone does.

I’m very clear in my mind that how much to charge for a book is my decision. Whether or not to buy a given book is up to the customer. As I explained recently to someone surprised by this policy, “That’s why I’ve been able to stay in business for 16 years instead of closing after three or four.” The important thing is to say it firmly but gently, and with a smile. There’s no need to take anyone’s head off for asking.

Most people understand my answer. Those who find my bookstore are generally glad it’s here and want to see it stay and flourish. Bless them, every one!

Pamela Grath
Dog Ears Books

106 Waukazoo Street
P.O. Box 272
Northport, MI  49670


5 thoughts on “Does Your Bookshop Have a Firm Pricing Policy?”

  1. The important thing is to say it firmly but gently, and with a smile. There’s no need to take anyone’s head off for asking.

    Well said.

  2. I think the best thing to do is to put a sign on the counter that says, “The price marked is the lowest I can afford to sell at on my income.” Shut them down before they even ask, because if they get started, it’ll be harder to get away from on a positive note.

    • I think the sign is a good way to go if you find yourself getting testy at the questions or if you want to minimize talk. I did it during my grumpy phase–now try to do a little educating when the questions arise. But that can vary from day to day, too!

  3. I had a bit of a “Black Books” moment yesterday. A customer asked “Can you do better than this $40 on Deverahi’s Synthesiser Guide?”
    I replied, “Yes indeed. I believe I can get $70 if I put it on ebay.”
    The customer recovered pretty quickly and said “No, I mean, better for ME?”

    I got the $40.
    Anyone who wants a book like this, knows what they go for.
    A line I used to use was, ‘Our discount is the same one you can get at the 7-11’.
    I am not doing well enough to offend people – but if I ever am, I intend to have a sign saying
    “Do not ask for a discount.
    First offence: 1 month ban.
    Second offence: Life ban.”

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