I don’t know if this is a trend started by Waterstones but it seems to have spread to independent book retailers. Recently we talked to an independent book shop in Welwyn (there is only one) about a Welwyn author whose book we have launched to see if we could arrange a book signing event. We have had some really nice coverage in the local newspaper and the promise of more if we have an event in the store. Negotiations took over three weeks to try to arrange a simple book signing. Remember this is in a local store in the town where the author lives. 3 weeks. I rang at the beginning of the week to see what was happening to be greeted by – “Oh, did no one contact you...” followed by an awkward silence, “...the owner has said no. He didn’t give a reason...sorry”
Now, here’s the thing. We were going to supply all the books directly to the store to maximise the stores revenue from the event – which would be £3.15 per book from an £8.99 sale. Not bad for providing a bit of space. Oh, but you are thinking not bad for you either making £5.84 per book sale. Let’s break that down. Printing cost £3.28 per unit leaving £2.56, minus shipping and handling coats, publicity and marketing costs, author royalty at 30% leaving us with a little over £1.30. Less than half of what the book shop would gain just for hosting the event with no risk to them whatsoever.
When stores no longer wish to support authors from their own community and make easy money you have to wonder what their purpose or future will be. I can tell you that you don’t need rose tinted spectacles or even Google glasses to see that the disconnect between stores, their customer base and publishers is leading only one way and that is with the shutters permanently down and the ‘To Let’ sign hanging outside the store written in large red lettering.
Too many book retailers sit around bleating "oh woe is me, eBooks are killing book retail". If retailers do not wake up and I mean wake up quickly it will be too late. As a publisher of paper and eBooks we are adapting to the ever-changing marketplace to survive and grow - and grow without brick and mortar shops. We want to work with them. They are too ignorant, blind or filled with their own hubris to realise we can actually work without them. I love book stores and want our books and authors to engage with them and their (dwindling) customer base and grow that into something healthy which engages the local communities around them. They want easy sales without effort...or so it seems.
I believe the recent news of management restructure inside Waterstones stores may herald some hope for a new engagement with publishers and author – I certainly hope so. As for the independents, with this sort of blinkered response I can only guess as to what lay ahead and it ain’t good.