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…

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