Saturday, 9 February 2013

Open Letter to Mr. Daunt & Mr. Husain


Dear Sirs,

The world of publishing is listening to you but are you listening to publishers? Caffeine Nights Publishing has been one of the greatest supporters of Waterstones since we began selling books. We know the importance of it as an entity not only in the high street but in the community in general. The same cannot be said of Foyles but they do play an important part in the overall picture of book selling in the UK.

However, it is clear that you are both only transfixed with dealing with ‘the big five’. Your whole business model is suffering because you have become transfixed in a relationship which drives your business, offering you no flexibility to trade with smaller publishers.

Yes, Caffeine Nights is a small publisher and we only offer thousands of pounds to your turnover not millions. I do wonder though if a book for book or like for like study would show who actually gives you greater profit per title if you allowed us to play on a level playing field. By this I mean allowing us to trade directly with you. When we do manage to do this I know that you earn over £3.15 clear profit per copy on an £8.99 sale. This is a much great margin of profit than we as a publisher makes and even more so when we pay our authors 30% royalty on net sales. Yet still you refuse to trade direct on most occasions, preferring to use and pay for an unnecessary middleman (Gardners or Bertrams) to slow the ordering procedure and significantly cut your profit margin. Yet still we hear you bleat about the margins being offered by publishers. I honestly recommend you look at the arrangements you have with your distribution channel before playing the downtrodden retailer.

For over three years we have been trying to talk with Waterstones to get them to make an arrangement with Ingrams to allow direct distribution of our books to their stores rather than through Gardners who take over 20% of the margin for doing little but delaying the delivery of book from store to consumer.

Now Waterstones is closing the door to one of the few channels small publishers have to actually get our books and our authors in their stores by banning book signings from ‘unknown’ authors. Tell me Mr. Daunt how do you expect new talent to become known? Apparently, if we cannot guarantee selling 80 copies on a book event the stores won’t have ‘unknown’ authors. They will of course be delighted if we have an evening launch where we invite people to come and buy the books. Seriously, why would we do that and give you 35% when we could hold that sort of event anywhere and keep the profit margin or pass it on to the reader?

Waterstones and Foyles both need to seriously look at what they mean by being a store for the community if they are not prepared to work with small publishers whose authors work, live, play and buy books in that very community.

Mr. Daunt says he will have Waterstones in profit in two years. If he is not prepared to work with small publishers I say good luck with that and good luck with the future of community literacy and entertainment. Our response has been to actually cut the price of our books on our website ( stripping out the margin we used to offer Waterstones and Foyles and passing the saving back to the reader. All this does is enhance the online offering taking more readers away from the high street. It is a move we have resisted for over three years because we wanted a level paying field between the web and the high street. 

Mr. Daunt’s response, effectively banning small publishers like Caffeine Nights from its stores, has left us no option which is why from today all of our paperback books are available from our website for £5.99 instead of £8.99. We know no other website or book store can offer our books at this price, so in effect it is a move which will have some impact on them (albeit very minimal). The future is clearly written on the wall Mr. Daunt and Mr. Husain, and its not a pretty one. The truth is, without your participation and forward thinking in working with small publishers, you are doing yourselves and your customers a major disservice. Online will survive and flourish but the days may be numbered for book shops in the high street, which I think is incredibly sad. However, if you are not prepared to listen to small publishers as well as the big five then no amount of oil or gas money will save you.

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