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Many years ago a friend of mine was doing some marketing work for Coke. Despite already being the World’s Favourite Drink, its ambition is almost Bond-villain sinister. When a family sees that the milk in its fridge is shortly to run out, it has observed, they make sure to replace it before they ever go without. The Coca-Cola Company genuinely will not be satisfied until you do the same with Coke, and its executives are childishly baffled that most people (bar the Beckhams) don’t already. [1]

I was reminded of this last week when talking to someone who had overheard a conversation. (This, obviously, is a chain of attribution that I would not expect to stand up in a court of law but, as my source had no reason to lie, for now it’s good enough for the court of me.) He had heard two senior managers from Oxfam talking about their expanding bookshop chain—that’s the bookshops that don’t pay for their stock, pay little or no rates and secure high-street locations—and one of them said cheerfully that it was Oxfam’s ambition to put every other second-hand bookshop out of business. With its inbuilt advantages over actual booksellers, it just could.

Were that ever to happen, it would lead to the kind of monopoly that makes the OFT start sniffing around—but what the hell are charity execs doing thinking like Coke in the first place?

[1] “If you received your fructose only from vegetables and fruits (where it originates) as most people did a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams per day—a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical adolescent gets from sweetened drinks.” [Huffington Post]


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:32 am (UTC)
How about telling Coke to bring down the pH a bit? I want a fizzy drink that isn't acidic.

Hang on, Coke would probably go too far and solve the morning tea habit plus allergies problems as well by inventing "Coke milk"....

Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:48 am (UTC)
If memory serves, the 'water' they launched a few years ago (something beginning with D, I think - it was a huge flop) was reconstituted milk
Feb. 22nd, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)
It was called Dasani and was essentially tap water
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
you're right: same company, wrong drink - the one I'm thinking about is Vio. From the Guardian last July:

"It may not quite sound the real thing but consumers are being asked to decide whether milk goes better with sparkling water, cane sugar and fruit flavouring.

Coca-Cola is trialling a new carbonated "vibrancy" drink and it will depend on Americans' tastebuds whether other countries experience what the company claims is "a refreshing sensory experience".

The soft drinks giant has so far launched its new Vio products only in New York, but milk-based products are popular in Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Japan."

Feb. 22nd, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC)
I think fizzy drinks are acidic by definition. I've pretty much not read a chemistry book since I did my A levels years ago but it's water with carbon dioxide dissolved in it. That's an acid.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, I know. Couldn't they buffer it somewhat?
Feb. 22nd, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
I don't know. Might that not stop it working?
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
What, the fizz? No idea.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
Even drinks like kombucha or water kefir are acid, which is why they're fizzy.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
Is it Oxfam that have centralised their book collection to make sure that nothing goes on the shelf for less than market rates?

Which seems to miss the point of why anyone goes into a charity shop.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
If they think they can sell second hand books at market rates when the existing book market is so utterly b0rked that people like Borders can't turn a profit, they're basically exploring the gun>foot interface in new and exciting ways.

Not that it will cost them much to realise it is an idea made of fail. But I hate the idea of them attacking one of the few types of shop that is still run by someone who loves their job and is quite exciting to go into.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
I have worked as a regular volunteer at Oxfam bookshops for about 8 years now. FYI, to the best of my knowledge:

a) Oxfam do not have a centralised book collection (though they do pass books on to other Oxfam shops in the same area, and I believe there is a warehouse for getting new Oxfam shops started) nor a centralised pricing scale/policy (though area managers can and do issue guidelines)

b) recent books are always sold cheaper than the new price - otherwise nobody would buy them, obviously! (Um, of course, if you've ever been in an Oxfam shop you will know this already.)

c) second-hand/out-of-print books are priced to sell (a book sitting there on the shelf not getting sold is costing Oxfam money). That doesn't mean they're priced at the lowest number they can think of: it means they're priced at the highest amount that they think will allow it to sell within a reasonable amount of time (woah, hang on, that's like economics or something isn't it?).

d) Prices are determined by trained-but-non-expert volunteers. In the absence of a Big Definitive Book Of How Much Every Book Will Sell For, they check prices based on, y'know, what the book is selling for elsewhere. If a book is on Amazon for £0.01, then there's probably no point selling it for more than about £2.50 (you'd pay that for postage; people pay for the convenience of having the book now rather than ordering online and waiting; some people would actually prefer their money to go to Oxfam rather than to Amazon, & can afford to pay a slight premium to support that); but conversely, why should Oxfam sell a book for 99p when all copies of it on eBay/ABE/Amazon start at £45 - if Oxfam can get, say, £30 for it, isn't that a good thing? Or do you think Oxfam should be sacrificing its donations to help support other second-hand booksellers?)

Thankfully ultraruby has already answered the question of what the point of a charity (and by extension a charity shop) is. Charity shops aren't there to let you get something for nothing; that's what skip-diving is for.

Right, infodump over, sorry if it came across too ranty.

(NB independently of all this it may very well also be true that some of Oxfam's chief execs are power-hungry bastards!)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
Charity Execs think like Coke (or model their behaviour and aims on those of Cokish people) because they believe it's their duty to maximise income for the charity. Oxfam doesn't exist to sell books cheaply or to look after the book market in general - it exists to alleviate the effects of famine and poverty in the developing world. If selling books in a cutthroat sort of way to people in the UK that can afford to buy them and do so willingly helps Oxfam to get money to do good works then, the argument goes, it's surely worth it.

I think sometimes the perception of charities is that they should be extra good in all directions, where actually what they're required to do is do the best they can toward their aims. Hence loads of charities have rubbish employment practices, are badly run, are incredibly opportunistic in terms of mergers and contract grabbing etc and get away with it for along time because a.) they operate under the invisible blanket of nice and b.) in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter all that much as long as they're delivering - just as with business, public sector agencies etc.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
I agree - a charity exists to further its aims rather than help the market it sells to.

But, this is not just about the consumer. It makes me feel uneasy that a charity is using the generosity of donors to put other people out of business. If donors realised that their goodwill was being used to destroy a business or help destroy their struggling high street, they might think twice.

Glad that Oxfam is not the only charity with Bookshops. Maybe we should start a charity bookstore that only funds local projects and out-compete Oxfam's business strategy, and dog them like Zizzi dogs Pizza Express. You know what I mean.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:50 am (UTC)
Yes, I definitely think it's a bad strategy for Oxfam in terms of PR. People that give to (and buy from) Oxfam shops do so not only because it's easy and cheap and because of the overall end cause but because of that inherent belief in charity's general 'niceness'. If it gets out (as clearly it already is starting to) that the Oxfam bookshops are working to some sort of Starbucks model of market domination, i.e that they're not as nice as they might seem, then I reckon they might see donations drop and additional questions asked.

(It makes me wonder, actually, how the development of the 'Traid' Oxfam brand for fancier/designer clothes than are usually sold in its shops has affected independently owned boutiques. One would hope that there is a difference between what each shop would get and sell - i.e I'd separate out my great books and clothes to sell cheaply to a boutique/bookstore and my not-as-great ones to give to charity, but maybe not.)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Shareholder thinking is endemic in society. Because no one remembers why they're doing anything, they're just stumbling and hoping they're stumbling upwards.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Actually a lot of them are just like that. I did voluntary work at the offices of *big charity you would have heard of* and they had an entire floor of people with brand new Macs snooping on other charities to see how well their fundraising was going and if they could steal the ideas.

I hate the Oxfam book shops. Stupidly overpriced and never anything particularly interesting anyway.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
(Plus, Coke could never be one of those must-never-run-out-of things, because it isn't used in the making of TEA, or to wipe ones rear.)
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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