The article, which is dated May 17th states that Waterstones have begun selling selected titles online at above the recommended retail price, echoing the spoof predictions made by those wonderful people at the Big Green Bookshop for 2008 (a promotion of 50 percent on was mentioned, I seem to recall) albeit a year late. This is despite the fact that most of these titles can be purchased at lower prices at other retailers such as Borders and Amazon. Many of these items appear to be maps rather than books, which do not have RRP's actually printed on them, and allowing Waterstones to more easily get away with this. The publishers concerned claimed that Waterstones had not informed them of this move.
A spokesperson for Waterstones said "Waterstone's reviews its prices on a regular basis and we aim to offer the best range of titles on the high street, with a huge amount of them discounted or available as part of a promotion at any one time. We have changed the prices on a very limited number of products and are now looking at how customers respond to the changes within the context of wider promotional activity."
An unnamed employee (and several others have since joined in the debate) claimed that Waterstones were actually doing this to protect their profits, in the face of high discounting on faster selling products, and it was and is in fact, a form of price fixing, but that as usual, the consumer would have the final say.
The thing about RRP's is the word recommended - it means just that - a recommended price, which is not set in stone, Waterstones are then at perfect liberty to charge what they want, if the market allows them to. If you think about this for a moment, if they were not allowed to change RRP's then they would not be allowed to discount at all, this was always a good get out for me when customers used to complain about wrong price labels in my old job, although of course when you mentioned this they inevitably did ask for a discount. I then offered the product at the price they thought it should be at rather than the higher price on the actual label, meaning that everyone was a winner - not that they saw it that way ...
If this is in response to high levels of discounting, then it only serves to highlight the sheer stupidity of this system, but perhaps more importantly, it also serves to show both retailers and consumers that there is a dark side to this - that some products will need to be hiked up in order to compensate for this. Does the consumer lose out - no I don't think they do, as they get more products at lower prices than ever before - they are as always free to go elsewhere if they do not wish to pay these higher prices. It may not be convenient to do so, but it is not convenient for authors to have their royalties slashed either by discounting - we just have to put up with it. It will be good news for the independents who may suddenly find themselves in the position of being able to undercut the chains, just for a change.