Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Daunting Time for Waterstones

What the heck is going on at Waterstones. This month we have had wholesale management clearouts and rumours abound about Waterstones ending book signing events for small publishers with the focus concentrating on…you’ve guessed it, the big six. One has to wonder what is coming next in what seems like a meltdown at Waterstones.

One thing is for sure is that these changes do nothing more than consolidate the position of the big six and handicap even further the small guys who are struggling to make a living. By the way Mr Daunt, these are the guys who have week in and week out brought custom and sales to Waterstones on a regular basis with non-discounted books. I should know because we are one of those little guys who have worked tirelessly up until now with the help of some very supportive staff at Waterstones branches the length and breadth of the country. We enjoy in-store book signings. They are a great way for authors to meet new readers and fans. We always support these signings with good local and regional PR to ensure that readers in the area are aware of the event. Sure, not every event is a success but many are. We make new friends, we broaden the reach of our books and we build demand for them. Now if the message from Waterstones is true this may all be coming to an end.

A spokesperson for Waterstones head office said: “We are reviewing the experience that we offer our customers and are moving away from open-ended, handselling events and asking shops to focus on well rounded event programmes that are more engaging in the long term.” The spokesperson added: “The intention is not to immediately cancel events, or to shut anyone out but over time shops might want to adjust the format of certain events and rebalance the activity that they have planned."

And I know what will happen; confusion in its messaging will filter down to branch level ending in many signings being cancelled or simply not arranged. Managers are already confused over ordering titles, now it seems this directive will add further to the murk descending on the once great book chain.

What needs to happen is clear and unequivocal directives from Daunt & Co, not this mish-mash of whispers filtered out from head office. With so many changes, instant resignations of the ‘was he pushed or did he fall’ variety at director and manager level, and bizarre decisions (Amazon springs to mind) at operational level you have to wonder if Daunt is executing a clear master plan or playing euphemistic piƱata, aiming wildly at everything but with a blindfold on.

I for one am beginning to become worried by what is happening at Waterstones.


u.v.ray. said...

It doesn't affect me. Personally, I have boycotted this book chain until they have re-installed the apostrophe in their name.

Miles Allen said...

Completely agree on this. I self-published my first book 18 months ago and have enjoyed the support of Waterstones with county book signings, which usually ended up far above the most of any book sold on the day. The stores in the main are very supportive and I've even been asked back three times with my forth bs in dec.

I can understand that authors who don't interact well with customers can bring the wrong experience when visiting a store and so, yes, some kind of filtering guideline should be provided to staff to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I even think that Waterstones in fact should turn this on its head and have a specifically designed programme for local author events in-store that a) puts a good face on the chain and b) raises their profile and brings people into the stores. A Saturday morning recurring event would be something for people to get into the habit with.

They have a virtual monopoly on bookstores in the UK now, and they are wasting a wonderful market position by supporting the opposite culture with an on-line competitor-giant, but also restricting their grand opportunity to maximise the visitor experience within a ton a floor space.

It would make far more sense to remove rare-selling books from the shelves with a touch-screen ordering system in store backed up with a rapid same-day/next-UK free delivery service, and then max out the freed up space with interactive experiences such as book signings that competitors like Amazon cannot compete with.

Happy to discuss, Mr Daunt.