Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 14 March 2013

eBooks - The New Champagne

Inflation is measured by comparing the relative rise in prices over time, and in the UK - probably in most developed nations - that is achieved by monitoring a representative shopping bag of products.  It's a pretty big shop, mind, with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) monitoring 700 products in 150 UK locations every week.  That way they get a good general impression on how prices are varying and whether the distribution is even or skewed by region.  The prices reflect staple diet items, energy prices and consumer products.  Some of these items will increase in price year on year, without fail, certainly that's how energy looks from this laptop, and other items will fluctuate.  Consumer products are probably cheaper in real terms now than ever before, especially when you consider the bangs per buck we get.

The shopping basket varies over time - every year the ONS takes stock of what is representative of the buying public and if they discover something is falling out of favour, they dump it.  Anything that has reached a degree of maturity in the buying public's conciousness then it is considered for inclusion.

Only a few years ago the VHS tapes that had seemed so revolutionary when first launched, then such a staple of daily life in previous years, was dropped.  The hard drive recorder had taken it out.  Last year, eReaders and tablet computers entered the list for the first time, as I reported here.  I felt it was a good move last year and the last 12 months have vindicated the decision as these devices are firmly mainstream consumer products now.

And now it seems they've included eBooks, which is a vindication of the way the eBook market is maturing and almost certainly the first time I can honestly say I've contributed directly to the Retail Price Index.  I'm not sure how they intend to monitor the eBook prices - I don't know if you've noticed but there's a lot of price movement going on - mainstream publishers finally smelling the coffee and starting to discount their books, leveraged by the likes of Amazon and its Deal of the Day offers.  Independents like myself play around with the sale price of books as we try to find out how much, or little, you guys want to pay, but it's fairly certain most of use will undercut the big boys every time.

So the ONS may find that eBooks, like eReaders and tablet computers, will drive their part of the inflation numbers down.  Forming one 700th of the basket, I'm sure they won't skew the figures too much.

Of course, for eBooks to find themselves on the ONS shopping list something had to go.  One of the items that has fallen out of favour in recent years is champagne, the tipple associated with celebrations.  Surprisingly it has taken five years of credit crunching for the drink to fall off the list, just when the markets are showing real signs of recovery.  But interestingly I can think of two professions that historically made a habit of celebrating with champagne - the first, of course being the money market men who seem to have bounced back with nary a scar, because the rest of us are taking the paper cuts for them - and the other being the traditional publishing world with its exclusive book launch parties.

Now that books are launched routinely from the author's home, the writer raising a glass of their favourite tipple to themselves, it seems that champagne is now losing sales left, right and centre.  The party may be a little less lavish, but the company is great and the reading public aren't being asked to fund grape growers any more.


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