Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's a Scramble!

So what do the papers have to say today about the scramble for the new Harry Potter?

Predictably there were fans queuing for hours outside all the stores still selling the book before the mad grab began at 7.01 a.m Malaysian time.

And there were some rather ugly scenes.

Borders at the Curve had a larger crush of people than anticipated. One disabled man reported yelling and threats, and had to be rescued from the pushing and shoving by bookshop staff when the shutters were lifted. Potter fans fans surged forward regardless, eager kids egged on by their (kiasu?) parents even before the shutters were fully lifted.

At Borders at Berjaya Times Square fans broke into a frenzy when they saw a staff member with a door key and almost broke down the door.

There was some discord too at Kinokuniya where thirteen Potter fans who streamed in as soon as the building opened at 5.15 a.m. found another ten people in the queue ahead of them at the bookshop. (So where did they hide all night, ah? In the toilet?) When the store opened, some 400 people surged forward and one girl was injured (but got a free copy of the book). (Eternal Wanderer gives an eye witness account.)

The hypermarkets, of course did a brisk trade but each branch had only limited stock to offer the public. (How could they have known about the pullout by the other bookstores?) Carrefour Mid Valley sold almost half its stock of the book in just 45 minutes and only enough copies to last until 10 a.m. Most of the other hypermarkets had sold out by the end of the day. But of course the book was used as a loss leader to tempt folk to do their grocery shopping at the same time.

Take a look at this Wiki page on Harry potter and the Deadly Hallows - but only if you don't mind, or can ignore the spoilers - to read about the worldwide price wars over this book, because in fact what happened here is symptomatic of a global threat to book retail.

Says the NST:
In Ipoh Tesco enjoyed roaring sales, thanks to walk-in customers who rewarded the hypermarket for the cheaper price by purchasing other goods.
Many were not happy with the protest by the other bookshops who seen by many as the boo-hiss villains when they are the victims of (to put it kindly) opportunistic business practices ... but of course just try telling that to the kids.

As Popular Bookstores executive director Lim Lee Ngoh says:
What are books to a hypermarket? For bookstores, that’s all we have.
Representatives from the four will be meeting sole distributor Penguin books next week to resolve the pricing dispute.

You can read more about loss leaders in publishing here. It's good to remember this:
Loss leaders are a fact of life, but don’t forget that your bookseller supports you all year round. If you don’t support them, you may find they are not there next time you need them.
Especially as our bookshops are already under threat.

Postscript (1):

Madcap Machinist posted a link to this article in the Sunday Independent which reveals that the amount from each books sale going to the publisher is £10.74 a copy. That's RM75.37.

Of course other costs are incurred for our books - warehousing, shipping, transport, advertising. This means that by selling the book at RM 69.90 the hypermarkets are making a substantial loss on each copy they sell to undercut the booksellers. Fill in all the dots yourselves.

I disagree with Machinist though when he says the shops should have continued to sell the book. At some point a stand has to be made.

And although it sounds a real joke, the only way independent booksellers around the world can avoid making a loss on selling the book is to buy from the supermarkets/hypermarkets, which they sell on for the same price in their own stores just to make customers happy.

Postscript (2):

From an article by Manjit Kaur just added on the Star website:
The Malaysia Bookseller Association's 100-odd members nationwide will meet next week to decide their next course of action over the Harry Potter price war that has erupted here.

"The worst case scenario would be to return the books to the publisher," said its president Cheah Thye Wee. ...

... They said they were protesting the "indiscriminate price discount," adding that it was not fair of distributor Penguin Books to "allow hypermarkets to sell such a popular book when they are not in the book business."

... Penguin Singapore and Malaysia managing director Eddy Teo said the hypermarkets would incur losses by selling the novel at a cheaper price, pointing out that their purchase price was actually higher.

He said there would be no replenishment on top of the opening order due to unavailability of stocks and the British publisher of the novel, Bloomsbury, had no plans for reprints now.

Cheah said his association was shocked and disappointed with the price under-cutting of the seventh and final book in British author J.K. Rowling's bestselling series.

Hypermarkets should be giving discounts on milk power, rice and other necessities that benefited a larger population of the country, and not use bestsellers to attract customers to their outlets, he said on Saturday.

He said those in the business had waited for two years for the book to be released, and it would have been understandable if the hypermarkets sold the book for RM69.90 a year later, but to do so on the day of its launch was "ridiculous."

He strongly supported the decision of the four major bookstore chains to not sell the book.

"We will stand by them," he added.
The Malaysian news even made the International Herald Tribune.

Postscript (3):

Kervin does a very good job of explaining the economics. Glad someone gets it!

(Photo scanned from NST shows the crush in Tesco Mutiara Damansara)


gnute said...

My god. The last time I read of such things happening was when crowds crushed the glass door to McDonald's to get hold of Hello Kitty toys. Anyone else remember that? :S

Anonymous said...

Malaysians are an interesting specie for an anthropological study. I wish they would exhibit the same fervour for literary fiction? Nah, I don't think so, that's asking too much.

bibliobibuli said...

is this what you are thinking of gnute?

any store with this kind of promotion has to think carefully about customer and staff safety ..

anon - an anthropological study would be very interesting

Tunku Halim said...

Mob mentality is alive and well. Let's all follow the crowd . . .

Anonymous said...

funny how we're not as fervent when it comes to politics or human rights.

about the disabled customer, well i see this kind of thing happening every day on the trains. no one will give way to a disabled person. i had first-hand experience of this as well, when i had to use crutches for a couple of weeks. no one let me through first, and very few people offered me their seats.


bibliobibuli said...

funny how we're not as fervent when it comes to politics or human rights.

haha for me this is a relatively safe subject. if i started blogging about social issues or religion or the environment i think i'd get deported. i'm a total bloody anarchist ... except when it comes to books.

Madcap Machinist said...

Noticed this at the bottom of the wiki page: "The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows wiped more than $310m from the stock value of Bloomsbury, Rowling's publisher, as investors believed the publisher had lost their most significant product."

... and followed the link to a very interesting article in the The Independent for the tale of Bloomsbury's dotcom-bubble-esque fortunes.

Anyway, it's got a hard figure for anyone curious about how much the retail price of the book goes to the publisher: 10.79 out of the cover price of 17.99 (pounds).

Nuri said...

Hehe, I was among those 400 potter fans at Kinokuniya yesterday morning! Went there with my brother and sister to see how crazy everything was (pre-ordered my copy ages ago).

It was fun, in spite of the craziness. I was the 45th person to enter Kino (they counted five-by-five). My sis and I knew some people ahead so we completed their group of a perfect five instead of walking down to number 200-something.

On the issue of book prices, I'm silent. I'm fairly faithful to Kinokuniya, wouldn't have bought HP anywhere else.

Anonymous said...


thats not a very nice thing to do, cutting the queue.


YTSL said...

"Malaysians are an interesting specie for an anthropological study."

There *have* been several anthropological studies on Malaysians -- but, as far as I know, none on Malaysians and Harry Potter or even books in general! ;b

So...sorry to hear about the Harry Potter price war in Malaysia. (I've been out of the country for close to three months now.) Just hope that Harry Potter fans in Malaysia do manage to get their hands of a copy of the latest book and soon.

Poppadumdum said...

Yeah, Nuri - cutting queue. Not something Harry Potter would have done now, would he? Feel proud of yourself? All that literacy and still no common courtesy? Mother never taught you anything? Points deducted!

Anonymous said...

What bothers me most about all these reports is how everyone wants to be the first.

Is it really so important to be the first in line - at Tesco, Borders, wherever - by staying over from Friday evening, or heading there at 4 - 5 am, or trampling over other human beings in a mad rush once the doors open?

Just for a book that most definitely will not be sold out because the bookstores have already taken into account the demand for such a book.

That bugs me the most - the lack of common sense.

animah said...

Viz, Poppadumdum,
Perhaps Nuri asked the 150 people in front of her whether she could cut queue. Perhaps they all said yes. Otherwise she would not have proudly admitted to such uncivilised behaviour.

Chet said...

Actually, she didn't cut queue. She joined a group of friends already in the queue, and they let her.

animah said...

Chet, if I was standing behind her friends, I would be upset, as would the 150 people behind me.

I have been invited to "join friends" in queues - if it is long, I decline because I can imagine how those who've waited so long must feel. If it is short, I ask those behind my friends. Normally they are so pleasantly surprised at being asked, they say yes.
In cutting traffic, which I try to avoid, I give a friendly wave, then say for the driver letting me in, "God bless you and may you have a lovely day where everything goes smoothly for you." Sounds corny but its just about spreading good vibes around. And traffic wise I let people cut in front of me, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Greenbottle said...

one new yorker review (29/5/2006) of da vinci code moview cheekily referred to those people who go bonkers over the da vinci code book with the "technical term" lemmings.

applies very well to these potter people.

while anthropological study on these breed of lemmings would be instructive and interesting, i think the more urgent need is to do a clinical study why these seemingly perfectly sane people succumb to this kind of hype on a mere kiddie book. i think there's some kind of clinical and mental aberration somehow. i think they are probably retarded.

The Eternal Wanderer said...

I, too, was one of those who waited outside Kino for the book. I've related my experience over at my blog page.

All I can say is, I wasn't happy with security. They shouldn't have let people in without adequately checking and opening the doors first! As the people behind could not wait for the door to open, they pushed and shoved at the people at the front to an extend they couldn't get to open the door and everyone in front ended up pushed against the glass doors. One section of the glass door came dangerously close to collapsing!

I was among those who got trampled on, falling over the people in front of me and having people dangerously leaping over me. I was so angry that I abandoned all heart to run and just made sure people around me were safe before I walked up.

I ended up being No. 279. They were still counting 5 by 5.

And, I've finished the book. Still stand by my belief that Rowling's just an okay writer but one with a great attention to detail and story. It managed to keep me riveted from page to page with a few good twists and sad deaths.

Anonymous said...

"haha for me this is a relatively safe subject. if i started blogging about social issues or religion or the environment i think i'd get deported."

I dunno, people blog about social issues all the time and never suffer from anything much (otherwise it'd be all over the blogs.) I write stuff that's critical of the environment , and I'm still here.

gnute said...

Yes, Sharon, that is the Hello Kitty story I'm referring to but it also happened in Johore if I'm not wrong. It's strange, even though I keep reminding myself to stop expecting people to be sane, I still expect some measure of decency. And Malaysians have lost all sense of decency.

KayKay said...

Cutting queue, mob mentality, lining up hours before the event; The Hello Kitty phenomenon was cited as a previous example, but we have had an even more recent occurrence of this lemming like behaviour, although it's one only followers of South Indian Cinema would be aware of; people went on a rampage when the screening of a movie by a famous South Indian actor was delayed due to technical glitches. Glasses were smashed, fights erupted, a manager was beaten up and parts of a cinema in Klang even burnt!
All for the thrill of catching a first day screening when waiting a mere week (like I did) would have ensured the purchase of ample tickets in good seats amidst a modest queue.
It's like the book greed you and I succumb to every so often Sharon.
How many times have we taxed an already burdened credit card buying a freshly published work of a must-read-author in the first week when it would still be on shelves 12 months down the line and priced far more modestly as a paperback? Only difference is, ours is a sudden heat-of-the moment impulse, Potties have had theirs stoked over months of feverish build up.
They've been teased, fingered,stroked and caressed to fever pitch excitement, their wands hard, primed and ready. As any man will tell you, all that build up needs SOME release!

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - i think they are probably retarded. aiyoh lah you lah.

eternal wanderer - thanks for the tip off about your account - great photos too

anon - people blog about social issues all the time and never suffer from anything much yeah lah but me foreigner lah. soon get deported if i tell the world what i really think about things!! haha

kaykay - v nicely put!

How many times have we taxed an already burdened credit card buying a freshly published work of a must-read-author in the first week when it would still be on shelves 12 months down the line and priced far more modestly as a paperback?

far far too often lah!

Nuri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nuri said...

Didn't think my cutting in would be that big of a deal. =P

Nobody behind me complained or anything and everyone was pretty much lining up by the group instead of individual anyways.

In reply however: my literacy has nothing to do with my sense of courtesy, I don't think my behaviour was uncivilized (so much as it was a little naughty) and although my mother found what I did rather cheeky, she didn't encourage it.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody behind me complained or anything and everyone was pretty much lining up by the group instead of individual anyways."

thats cos u havent met ME in a queue yet.


eyeris said...

Frankly speaking, I have no idea why anyone would want to LINE UP at bloody 5am in the morning or jostle and fight just to buy the book; when you can stroll in after 2pm and still be able to pick a book off the shelf or the numerous stacks of them around Kino....

Chet said...

It's all a result of the pre release publicity. From the looks of it, very successful publicity.

I walked into Popular Ikano earlier this evening and right inside the entrance was a white board with various newspaper clippings (including one in Chinese) and the heading "Not Available for Sale Here". For once, I couldn't take a picture because there was a guard standing right next to the entrance.

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Well, Eyeris, for me, I just like to be caught up in the excitement of the moment...the atmosphere...seeing the excited, anxious faces of everyone there, talking with friends and strangers alike about what will happen in the books and what we hope will happen... I've been going for HP book launch for three books in a row already and the excitement just gets better and better.

For me, being Potterhead, this represents the last chance to be caught up in the excitement and I am quite sure many others who were there so early felt the same way I did.

You've given up on the series, I wouldn't expect you to understand really.

I'm sure you'll probably do the same if Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb and Terry Brooks' new books were given the same treatment as every new Harry Potter books in Malaysia.

Poppadumdum said...

If the hypermarkets REALLY want to play martyrs and TRULY benefit us poor consumers, then sell EVERYTHING below costs fact, start by selling ALL books below costs, to allow all Malaysians the chance to read...

Poppadumdum said...

And Nuri, I agree with the other commentator - meet me in a queue where I see you cutting, and I'll let you have an earful.

bibliobibuli said...

perleeease loosen up on nuri, you guys ... i think she should have got the message lah. if you shout at her much more she won't come back and talk ...

eyeris said...

eternal wanderer: Gaiman and Hobbs, maybe. Brooks... forget it. hahaha.

I suppose the 'Potterhead' business can be compared with the whole Star Wars fanatism - where even though the prequel movies were pretty much crap, people (me indluded) still went out and joined all those fan gatherings and events just 'for the atmosphere'. heh.

I love having the chance to geek out, don't you? hehe.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of sad to think that this sort of excitement is something which will not happen to any author or book for the next hundred years or so. I may see many decades pass me by and never see an actual price war caused by a single book ever again. And it will be many, many, many years until someone's book causes a line outside a bookstore :(.


Nuri said...

Me? I'm persistent as an insect. No real offense taken. I will, however, think twice before stepping in front of any of you in a line. ;-)