Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Waterstones Ends the 3 For 2 promotion

After more than a decade, Waterstones is bringing an end to its famous 3 for 2 promotion.

Apparently the new managing director James Daunt believes that a 3 for 2 promotion goes against the grain of what bookselling is all about, and that price should never be the dominating factor.

I have mixed emotions about the end to this promotion. On the one hand, it means I'm less likely to pick up random authors. I'm less likely to buy the whole of the Booker/Orange Prize shortlist. I'm less likely to buy a whole bundle of books at once.

On the other hand, I won't be stuck with all those 'No 3' books that you spent almost an hour trying to find in the store, and didn't *really* want but felt like you should get your money's worth. I might see more parity in the publishers that are able to sell books and less of a focus on those who can afford the 3 for 2 table displays.

I will be interested in seeing what new pricing structures/promotional displays will be pursued by Waterstones in the future. I would love to see an end to the £7.99 or £8.99 pricing on novels. I'm not a stupid consumer. I'm not fooled by the 99p into thinking I'm paying less than £8 or £9! Just put a nice round number on the pricing. I would be interested to see novels selling for £5 - I would feel like that was a relatively disposable amount and might take a chance on new authors at that pricing level.

I would really like to see themed promotions all around the stores - such as the display that Den Patrick is doing in Blackwells in London. I think that one type of promotion that Waterstones should push forward is the 'If you like X author, then you'll like Y..." For me, this fits into the new ethos that is being highlighted by James Daunt. It allows new authors to be spotlighted, it allows Waterstones employees to demonstrate knowledge and champion books that they have enjoyed. And it means that people buying books can be guided towards novels that they might enjoy, rather than running the gauntlet of the 3 for 2's and hoping for the best!

What are your thoughts on the end of this promotion? Positive or negative? Were there any authors you discovered thanks to the 3 for 2 promotion?


  1. I actually totally agree with the decision. Instead of treating authors and books like commodities to be sold in bulk to customers willing to pony up the dough to get 3 for will be really nice to see authors and books being treated as art again. "This book is good, so it is worth buying".

    I agree with you they ought to install some new marketing pushes.

    My fave thing they do in Canada at Chapters and Indigo (where we have 4 for 3 deal in most summers) is actually the Staff Recommend Table, most stores have one and there's usually a sticker with names of store clerks who enjoyed it enough to list it as a curent fave. That's how I found SHADOW OF THE WIND by Zafon....simply because the sticker on the cover was overloaded with names of staff.

  2. I've still got the long thumbnail that any seasoned Waterstones' book seller had to grow to de-sticker the 3for2 offers (and often resticker the same book a few weeks later).

  3. Hopefully the Waterstones staff will be a bit better informed than the ones at Borders. I once took a biro to a promo label in our local Borders that said "Like Robin Hobb? Get 3 of his books for the price of 2". His?

    Uh, yeah. That would be Robin Hobb whose real name is Margaret Ogden, and whose gender is quite plain from her bio inside the books that were on sale. It's not like she hides behind a male pseudonym, becaues AFAIK Robin is more commonly a girl's name in the US.

  4. As an author I've benefited from 3 for 2 promotion at Waterstone's several times. Even so, I've mixed feelings about seeing it go. Yes, it helped boost some lesser known names - although this effect was diluted by the sheer number of titles that came to be included (usually more than could be fitted onto the all-important tables). But on the other hand, the arbitrariness of the selection process was always terrifying, especially given the singular importance of the Waterstone's chain. And there is undoubtedly a whiff of the commodity about shouting "Buy two - get one free!"
    I suspect most sales/marketing departments will be a little nervous at this development nonetheless. The 3 for 2 gave them something achievable to aim at, an avenue for raising the profile of lesser-known authors that didn't involve vast expense or the vagueries of the Internet. With the loss of so many review pages, such avenues have been closing at alarming speed.
    It remains to be seen whether this move will increase the range of titles being bought, or diminish it. This, for me, will be the acid test.

  5. I never really picked up on the 3 for 2 offer, good as it was. I always ended up finding the book(s) I wanted somewhere else that was cheaper. I'm hoping that the new promotions that they will run can justify the withdrawal of the 3 for 2. I much prefer the idea of themed promotions (I'm thinking steampunk novels would make a nice one).

  6. Price "shouldn't" be a factor in bookselling, but perhaps what they're not considering is that price is very often a factor in bookBUYING. It's often really easy to say stuff like that when one has money to throw around. There have been plenty of books that I've bought solely because they seemed remotely interesting and were on a sale table, and it's not uncommon that I end up enjoying them. I might have passed them over otherwise. I'm more likely to take chances on books that could go either way when I can get them on sale. And during the times where I've had precious little money to spare, finding out that I could get 3 books for the price of 2 (or some other equivalent deal in another bookstore) is pretty much a light in the darkness.

    I can see how some people could dislike that it turns an author's work into a commodity, but, to be blunt, so does sticking a price tag on them in the first place.