As the loonie dives, book prices hold steady
It's a good time for Canadians to buy books, even as the Canadian dollar has hit its lowest level in three years, because the prices on book jackets were set when the loonie was roughly on par with the U.S. dollar.
Canadian publishers were criticized last year for not adjusting book prices quickly enough when the Canadian dollar hit par. At the time, the Collected Works bookstore in downtown Ottawa was one of the first to sell books at the lower American price. But the store's co-owner, Christopher Smith said on Thursday, as the dollar started to drop again, that offer has to end. "We said we really can't continue this model of par pricing, because we'll just go out of business," Smith said. The dollar's now fallen to below 80 cents US, but again the price on the book jacket doesn't reflect that.
Prices are set and printed months before the books hit the shelves. That means that right now, books are a bargain," Smith said. "Like Neal Stephenson's new novel Anathem, it's $29.95 US, and it's $31.95 Canadian. But, if I went at today's [currency] rate, it should be $39.95 Canadian. That's a 10-buck difference. That's another book," Smith said.
As a retailer, Smith said, he's not the one taking the hit for that price difference. "I'm glad that I'm not a publisher," he said. Harper Collins Canada publishes the Stephenson book. The publisher's CEO, David Kent, watches the exchange rate every day, because most of the books it sells are imports from the United States.
"We import 75 per cent of the books we sell," he said. "The difficulty for us is, when we adjust price, you won’t see it on books in the stores for a month in advance ... right now U.S. books are a tremendous bargain, priced less than they would be in the U.S.," Kent said.
"This is the perfect storm [for us]. Consumers not rushing out, the value of our dollar just dropped. So basically, we have a double whammy. The only thing we can do is look at our costs. The last thing in the world I want to do is put someone out of work."
If prices go up, Kent said, it won't be on the book jackets until the new year, after the busiest book-selling season.
Last year in December, I posted a vent about how the difference between Canadian and US book prices were so bad, the US publishers were making all the profits and the Canadians were being gouged. At that time, the Canadian dollar and the US dollar were at parity - they were both (more or less) the same value. And it stayed that for the most of this year.
But in the last 2 months, the Canadian dollar has dropped in value so much and so quickly, that the book prices are still lagging behind. Canadians can buy books at US prices even through the Canadian dollar is NOT currently at equal value with the US dollar.