Saturday, 28 January 2012

There is no such thing as an even playing field

and don’t be fooled into believing that because you can publish your own eBooks and paper books that the publishing world is a fully open utopia for all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The large publishers in the UK – the Random Houses and Harper Collins of this world – still have the whole world neatly sewn up. From monopolising reviews in our national papers to having the financial clout to swamp our stores with their content. Its a capitalist democracy and that is their right. 

The real issue though is the roadblocks put in place to stop smaller publishers making ingress into that territory. What few bookstores remain in the UK seem less and less interested in supporting new publishers. In fact in my experience there is only one major book chain prepared to work with new publishers and new authors and that is Waterstones.

As a publisher we know our duty to fully support any activity we have with the stores we work with. After all, the investment we as a publisher put into a single book signing is often well into hundreds of pounds of hard earned money in a shrinking market.

This is why we are happy and proud of the support of stores like Waterstones and more than a little disappointed by the reaction of chains such as WHS and Foyles.

Caffeine Nights is never going to have books in ASDA for a £1, nor are we going to have books in the £3.99 range, this is not our business model nor is it the market we feel is supportable. However there is a space for our books in all decent book stores which attract readers who know the value of great entertaining books at a fair price.

I have spent hours being bounced around various buyers in WHS trying to organise a simple local book signing and I understand their position of having to make decisions about titles. But the reality is that events such as local book signings bring fresh blood into stores and if handled correctly by the publisher, the store and importantly, the author, then they can and should be the beginning of a great working relationship. 

Waterstones absolutely get this. WHS and Foyles do not. With such limited outlets for small publishers it is a shame that these vital avenues are being closed. As a publisher we have a duty to our authors to support their hard work and get their work noticed, be that through reviews, book signings or any other activity we can manage.

As a publisher our investment and risk is actually higher than that of the store…much higher. The store will fight for a large wholesale % a good proportion of which is well deserved for their work and support, the rest, well, you can’t blame them for trying to get to boost their profits. They however have the benefit of ‘sale or return’ thus reducing their exposure, another financial burden publishers have to bear.

It seems odd to me that there is not a model in place for small publishers to work more efficiently and profitably with retail outlets. Though the answer is clearly that in the scheme of things we don’t really matter that much when compared to the big boys. The fight goes on…

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why Foyles will Not ‘Abide with Me’

AWM COVEROccasionally life throws up disappointments. Some huge, some small. Sometimes the smallest of disappointments can be the most frustrating, especially if decisions are made “on instinct” with no real basis or foundation. Today Foyles “England's legendary bookseller” in Stratford decided “on instinct” not to have a book signing with Ian Ayris. It’s doubtful that they will stock the book. True, this is entirely their decision and their right. What disappoints is this decision was made from the store in Charing Cross, a million miles from Ian’s heartland and the hub of Ian’s excellent debut novel, Abide with Me, which is set in London’s East End. Stratford is the perfect place for a book signing where the demography is right, the support is right and the media would be a friendly ally. The decision today shows that Foyles are not interested in the real people of Stratford and the surrounding area. If they really want to know about the area I urge them to read Abide with Me. It may do more for their sales than they know.

Maybe Foyles are only interested in the new money in the area. Maybe they are only interested in the Olympics and what it can do for the area. Much like all successive governments.

I dare say even the present incumbents in power would be happy to sweep away the past, the history. Hence the Marathon route will avoid exposing how the shameful neglect of the area is still written large in towns like Aldgate, Bow, Stratford, Forest Gate, East Ham, Manor Park, Poplar, Limehouse, Hackney, Stoke Newington.

My ‘gut instinct’ is that the real people in these areas will continue to be the forgotten people. People who rarely are given the break they need. Foyles will need to be in the East End a few more decades to gain a real understanding of the area, so today’s decision from Charing Cross can maybe be understood.

It would have been great to have a signing in Stratford. For Ian, yes and for me as the publisher of Ian’s book. I was born in Forest Gate, schooled and lived in Stratford. Ian and I understand what it takes to make people notice you.

So thank you Foyles for your understanding and your instinct.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Dropped Apostrophe But What Does It Really Mean

Waterstones logo

waterstones logon

Waterstone’s has become Waterstones, the change is hardly perceptible but behind it there is a canny move by James Daunt to erase the past and Tim Waterstone to boot.

The bookseller rather confusingly is reverting to the original Baskerville typeface dispensing with the last rebrand which saw it adopt a lower case ‘w’ within the logo.  “Waterstones is an iconic brand deserving of a capital W,” said Mr Daunt, but obviously not an apostrophe.

The irony of course is for a major book chain to adopt a grammatically incorrect form of spelling of it’s (note the apostrophe) name. There is a real brouhaha stirring up in the world of apostrophe pedants but as rather correctly pointed out if MacDonald’s and Sainsbury’s can get it right why can’t Waterstone’s.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph there is more to this than English grammar. Mr Daunt clearly want to stamp his own mark on the book chain. I can’t help but think though in this case he may have been misadvised. An apostrophe so it seems, is a simple thing in a complex world.