Friday, June 09, 2006

Overbooking...

I became aware of the effect that a rising or falling Canadian dollar could have on my life pretty young. Yes, there were a couple of trips to Florida which had parents grumbling about how they were getting murdered on the exchange rates. But I was mostly aware of it - surprise, surprise - through comic books.

One bright and sunny morning I went to the local corner store to see if there were any new comics in. It was there that I discovered that the prices had gone up...but only in Canada. It was still 50 cents US, but it now cost 60 cents to buy a comic in Canada, which I thought was pretty darn unfair. This was a trend that continued for years with the gap between the US price and the Canadian prices steadily increasing.

It pissed me off. It pissed off a lot of comic book collectors, especially since the companies seem to react awfully quick to jack up the prices in Canada when the exchange rate grew between the two countries, and awfully slow when the rate shrank.

I understand people in England have similar gripes.

It's why I found Link in the Toronto Star about the book expo this weekend interesting. Obvious a lot of Canadians are getting pretty damn upset about the difference in exchange rates, especially since the price differential is becoming grotesque. Book sellers are getting it full blast. Hopefully they're passing it on to the publishers.

I enjoy the excuses, by the way, that companies didn't see the soaring Canadian dollar a year ago. Maybe, but you certainly had an idea it was coming. It was still around 80 cents or more and the exchange rate they're charging is a damn bit more than that.

How bad is it? I took a look at three recent hardcovers I bought - Fall of Knight by Peter David, A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore and Jpod by Douglas Coupland. All retail for $24.95 US. Using a 10% exchange rate, they ought to cost about $27.50 Canadian. Hell, ever using a 20% exchange rate, they ought to cost about $30.

Fall of Knight and A Dirty Job both cost $32.95. Jpod is $34.95.

Yes, I get a discount through Chapters, which is the only reason I bought the books. If they were actually that much, I doubt I would have bought them. But still, there is a definite "we're getting gypped here" vibe. And again, funny how it takes a long time for the publishers to react when the exchange rate is shrinking than when it is falling.

Comic books, just for the record, are getting the same amount of flack. There was a recent interview with Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada who said that price relief was coming "soon" for Canadian collectors. We'll see. I imagine it won't happen until the fall either, which is lull period in the comic industry after a busy summer.

Yes, it's business and I should get use to it. But that still doesn't mean I have to like it. Furthermore, it's only going ot change on new editions. I imagine the same outrageous price difference is going to remain on books published over the last year or so, but are still sitting on shelves. So the screwing is good for many more months to come.

And, you know I have a lot of stuff I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Might be time for me to take a bit of a break from buying new reading material for a couple of months. If we all did that, I wonder if the prices would magically drop a bit faster?

4 comments:

His Nibs said...

I will defer to a publishing industry economist, but I suspect that the difference between the marked prices (UN and CAN) is only partially an exchange rate difference. Canada is a smaller market, has increased transport costs, and has higher printing costs if the volume is published domestically.

This would be a good question for a business journalist to ask of some publishing houses.

Still, we can take solace that 99 cent iTunes gives Canucks a purchasing advantage.

regards, cat`

colette said...

Or you could just start buying locally published books until the prices drop. That's a thought--there's some Wayne Johnston stuff I haven't read yet.

I confess that just two days I ordered something (other than a book) online for the very first time and it was a completely ridiculous item--mascara. Ordinary old drugstore brand mascara, which unfortunately they stopped shipping to Canada (sob!)four years ago but still manufacture and sell in the US. The excellent exchange rate finally made me do it.

(Where are new pictures of the puppies, dammit!)

towniebastard said...

Corey, I don't think transport costs play a part. I know some publishing is done in Canada. For example, a large chunk of comic books are printing in Quebec. The reason? The favourable exchange rate. Most of the last Harry Potter book for Canada was printed here. Not to mention I think our pulp and paper industry is larger.

So no, I really think the exchange rate is the major reason.

And Colette, you'll get puppies later today.

His Nibs said...

I did some quick and dirty research on this, and found some articles of note:

A recent CBC story reports that publishers use the exchange rate and then add 10% for 'handling costs'.

This is not just industry practice - it's the law. At the federal Department of Justice web site we find the Book Importation Regulations (under the Copyright Act). But this is only for imported books.

The same story is at CTV, and the
Toronto Star
. An economics blog discusses it here.

Canadian SF/Fantasy author Dave Duncan (who lives in Calgary) wrote about this on SF Canada. Here's the relevant portion, as that site doesn't archive stories well.

"Every time I contemplate buying a book I look at the two prices and my wallet screams “Ripoff!” I suspect most Canadian buyers react that way. It must hurt sales to some extent. So I always complain about prices, just on principle. This time my long-suffering editor, Liz Gorinsky, spelled out the problem for me in more detail than I have seen before. Here’s the story.

Canada’s cultural protectionist policies survived the free trade treaty. Tor is not allowed to sell its books directly to bookstores, but has to work through a Canadian distributor. That adds a middleman, who wants to make a profit, and the book is deliberately priced higher to protect Canadian producers. Furthermore, the price depends on something called the “grid” which is an agreement between publisher and distributor, renegotiated every few seasons. In any case, prices are set a long time before release and can never be quite in step with reality. I confess I can recall how a falling Canadian dollar used to help us. Now the loon flies high and we suffer.

So it’s not the publisher’s fault and if there is malice involved, it does not lie south of the Great Undefended Border. I am all in favour of supporting Canadian culture. I would rather have somebody else pay for it, that’s all."