Thursday, 7 March 2013

Why things need to change with Booksellers before its too late

Iain Dale founder of Biteback Publishing has roasted our High St booksellers and online giants Amazon ( and I totally agree with what he has to say.

Waterstones has become almost impossible to deal with especially for book events. London branches have become a no-go zone with store managers demanding authors sell 80 books in 3 hours. It’s fine if you are a big publisher with a line of celebrity authors but Waterstones must live in the real world and realise we can add value and much needed revenue to stores. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get unknown, up and coming talent into the stores. They have started demanding that we hold launch events there instead, getting the authors to invite all their friends for an evening event, conveniently when the store is closed to actual customers. Why on earth would we want to do that and sacrifice a large percentage of sales when a local room above a pub would equally serve that purpose and not steal half the sales?

WHS are even harder to deal with. It’s no wonder publishers are turning to the Internet as the main source of sales. But as Iain points out things are not all rosy here either for publishers or their authors. Amazon has too much power. We surrender 80% to Audible (an Amazon owned company). Just in case you think you didn’t read it right they take 80% of net for every audiobook they sell for us. They do drop to a very generous 75% once you meet certain criteria, giving the publisher a few pennies back for all the investment in producing an audiobook. Amazon’s stranglehold on ebook pricing, especially subsidising ebooks and selling them at 20p to match Sony’s equally mad promotion is harming the industry, just as much as the large publishers do by virtually giving away it’s over run stock to supermarkets. Readers are being constantly reinforced with the idea that paper books cost nothing to produce so ebooks must be worth even less. Value is intrinsically linked with perception.

Waterstones and WHS need to realise that many of its problems stem from its association with the cartel of publisher known collectively as the big five, or is it four or three these days…who knows. Either way they have the whole game stitched up. People will say that talk like this is biting the hand that feeds but occasionally that hand needs to be bitten to make it wake up before it’s too late. If Waterstones and WHS were to collapse tomorrow I would be devastated as I genuinely think there is a place and a need for them on the high street. I just feel that they have lost their way despite James Daunt’s somewhat strange methods of operating. I have already been planning life without Waterstones and WHS through necessity brought about by their restrictive trading methods. So while I will be sad if they went the way of so many of our well-known high street stores, the impact for us will not be anywhere near as harsh as it will be for the big five. Will I be sorry though…that’s a different question.

Rigged charts; rigged sales charts; promotions pushing celebrity TV personalities favourite reads where a publisher’s only criteria for selection is coughing £25K to get a book on the list; leading book award competitions where publishers have to pay £10k out of the prize money if they win…it goes on and on and all the time the reader is being conned and cajoled into believing talent rises to the top.

Congratulations Mr Dale for saying what you have said far more eloquently than I have. I applaud you.

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