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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


How to Get a Trade Discount, in Six Easy Lessons

[Editor’s note: For more on trade discounts, see our related article Trade Discounts: Good For One and All.]

NOTE: These are pitched to the “first-time askers” — those of you who would like to request a dealer discount from a fellow bookseller who you’ve never bought from before, and who is a complete stranger to you.

Lesson 1. Ask directly. Take the time to seek out the seller’s email address, and send a direct message. (It’s acceptable, for the sake of convenience, to make such inquiries through certain websites — e.g. AbeBooks, with its very handy “Ask Bookseller a Question” link — but it’s slightly classier, at least in my opinion, to take such incipient transactions completely “outside the room” of the third-party aggregate-listing sites.)

Lesson 2. Ask politely. One thing to always keep in mind is that a trade discount is a courtesy and a privilege, not a “right.” You should be upfront about being a bookseller, but strive to avoid any sense of entitlement: you are asking for a discount, not expecting or demanding one. It can also help to state what your own policy is, as some dealers put a lot of weight on the “reciprocal” aspects of discounting.

Lesson 3. Be clear. Know what you want going in, and make your needs and desires crystal-clear to the seller. If your purchase is contingent upon a discount, say so; otherwise, state that you will buy the book (i.e. at the listed price) even if there is no discount forthcoming. (The term “firm order” is useful, but alas not always understood.)

Lesson 4. Offer payment in as many forms as you’re able. PayPal is quickest and easiest these days, but if you’re willing to send a check or use a credit card, mention those as other options — you can state your own preference if you have one, but always make it clear that it’s the seller’s prerogative to choose whatever payment method he finds most amenable. The sticky point comes with credit card use. It’s considered “bad form” by some dealers to offer to pay for a discounted purchase with a credit card — which then costs the seller a little bit more, in terms of fees — but on the other hand, many sellers don’t mind. (Interestingly, the same objection is rarely voiced with regard to PayPal, although their transaction fees are roughly comparable.) My suggestion is to only offer credit card payment as a secondary option, perhaps even with an apologetic caveat attached (i.e. “if it’s acceptable,” or something like that).

Lesson 5. Be grateful (if the answer is “yes”). See “privilege,” in Lesson 2, above. And remember what your mother told you: say “thank you.”

Lesson 6. Be graceful (no matter what the answer is). Here’s the tricky one, because sometimes the answer is either “no” or a “yes” that you might find wanting (i.e., only 10%). You should always proceed with the transaction (or not), based on your earlier statements to the seller, but resist the temptation to challenge or question his policy. Remember that when all is said and done, we each have the right to determine our own business practices — and with regard to “courtesy” (Lesson 2, above) …. well, haven’t you noticed by now that not everybody in the world is courteous? Ultimately, I believe that a bookseller does himself a lot more harm than good by adopting a restrictive or distinctly ungenerous trade discount policy: nobody ever gained a customer (or a friend within the trade) by refusing a discount. But the cost to you is minimal: a dollop of disappointment on a single deal, but a piece of knowledge for the future. It’ll save you the trouble of asking again, for one thing, and you’ll also have the potential satisfaction of “taking your business elsewhere.” So who’s the loser, in that scenario?

As a couple of real-world examples of how to put Lessons 1 through 4 into practice, here are sample “inquiry letters” as used by fellow IOBAn Brian Cassidy and myself:

Brian’s letter

Version 1; when he intends to make the purchase, discount or no:

Hello. My name is Brian Cassidy and I am a book dealer in the Washington DC area. I am interested in [book title/description]. Could you please confirm availability and forward a total price for a direct sale, including shipping and discount, if offered (I offer terms up to 20%, reciprocal)? I am happy to pay via your preferred method. Thank you in advance.

Version 2; when purchase is dependent upon availability of discount:

Hello. My name is Brian Cassidy and I am a book dealer in the Washington DC area. I am interested in [book title/description], but before deciding would like to know if you offer a dealer discount on direct sales. I offer terms up to 20%, reciprocal. And I am happy to pay via your preferred method. Thank you in advance.

My letter (purchase not dependent on discount):

Dear [bookseller’s name]:

I would like to buy your book [title/author + seller’s inventory number, if known], listed at $__ on [whatever site]. This is a firm order; any available trade discount will be greatly appreciated, but I’ll buy the book either way. Please confirm availability and advise the total amount due, inclusive of shipping (Media Mail is fine), and I’ll forward payment promptly. I am happy to pay with whatever method you prefer: PayPal, check or credit card. Many thanks for your attention to this order.

Howard Prouty

ReadInk 2261 W. 21st St. Los Angeles, CA 90018 ABAA | ILAB | IOBA

Please note the importance, in my opinion, of a fully-featured signature: personal name, business name, mailing address, website, and professional affiliations. One thing this inquiry should do beyond question — especially if you are approaching a seller to whom you are likely a complete stranger — is to establish your bona fides right at the outset. If I were inquiring of another dealer here in California, I would also add my resale permit number.




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