Friday, 3 August 2012

Waterstones New Non-Events

I have received several courteous and reassuring emails from James Daunt.  Either he has been disingenuous in his communications with me, or he genuinely does not understand the nature of signings in bookshops for authors who do not have huge marketing machinery behind them.
He gave me his personal assurance that none of my events would be cancelled. Well, two have been cancelled this week, although I have also received three invitations to sign in other stores. Some of the events that are still being honoured are going ahead as agreed. Others have imposed a 90 minute limit. Why on earth would any author travel for an hour to spend 90 minutes in a book store where he might typically expect to sign a dozen books in that time? It is not worth anyone's while to hold an event like that. These events would only be viable for a well known author, who is heavily marketed, or a celebrity. Less well known authors will be forced to cancel any event that entails travelling any distance, and staying overnight.
Waterstones may claim they are not cancelling events, but they are making it impossible for authors to attend them.
Where we do turn up, can we seriously expect to be frog marched out of the store at the end of 90 minutes? How different all this is from the welcome bookshops  used to give authors! 
One of my local stores, where I have signed many times, told me yesterday, "We know we always sell loads when you're in store, but we're not sure if we're allowed to have any more events." Reality check, Waterstones, you are a SHOP. Why on earth would you want to reject a successful sales strategy? On what planet does that even begin to make sense? Only a planet that values celebrity over talent. Because this is not about improving sales figures.  People buy books by famous authors like J K Rowling and P D James regardless of whether they meet the authors. Their appearance in bookshops is essential, creating a much needed buzz about the stores, in a mutual promotion exercise.  But the real boost in sales comes from hard working dedicated authors who give up their time to mingle with customers, recommending books, including their own of course, and encouraging people to buy more books in physical stores. And those are the authors this new policy is excluding.
What can we do, other than stay at home building an online presence, and buy a kindle, or a kobo.

8 comments:

Val said...

I usually visit our small town's book shop. I love going in there, it is such a terrific place.

I agree, support your local bookstore!

Leigh Russell said...

Good for you, Val.

Guillaume said...

I will go for local bookstores now (if I can find any). What's the point of going to Waterstone's if it becomes a stationary? If they start selling chocolate bars, nothing will differenciate them from WH Smith!

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Leigh, I'm afraid this trend is unstoppable. I don't know about where you are, but nearly everyone here runs around with cell-phones, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, etc. They've embraced electronic gadgetry to the point they incessantly talk, text, play, read and view every moment they're awake. They can't even stand in a line without someone buzzing in their ear. I have no idea who they talk to hour after hour as they walk, work, eat, shop... and during every moment of their waking lives. At times I think they have another gadget at home that automatically calls them if their cell-phone is not in use longer than five minutes, and reads back past calls to them. :)

Then consider Twitter and Facebook. People will snap pictures and upload them to the world of what they eat for dinner, and describe every moment of their mundane lives as if anyone in their right mind would care. If they trip over a rock, they'll go 'Ow, I tripped on a rock' on Twitter, and then upload the picture of the rock on Facebook, all while giving a third party a blow by blow description of their pain on the phone. :)

I'm afraid our modern electronic age has swept by browsing in bookstores and author signings. The worst is yet to come.

Leigh Russell said...

There's a novella by E M Forster written in 1909 where people are completely dependent on a vast machine, barely able to use their limbs any more. People just lie in little pods pressing buttons for food etc. So far so good... but the story is called The Machine Stops.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Guillaume, it does seem as though all the stores are trying to be like a different chain. WH Smiths want to be post offices, Waterstones are selling more stationery, libraries are internet cafes, everywhere is turning into a coffee shop...

Anonymous said...

You have your facts entirely wrong. Staff were not told to cancel any events, it was just a general message about quality control when it came to signings. This actually seems to be case of staff misunderstanding the original message.

Leigh Russell said...

I do not usually publish anonymous comments but this one appears to come from Waterstones. Two of my events were cancelled. If you would like to see the emails I received, I'd happily show them to you if you would like to identify yourself! Copying and pasting, one reads "I will have to cancel your event booked for Saturday..." and the other, again copied and pasted, "As a result of this new direction I'm sorry to say that we have to cancel your event with us in the autumn." I may be entirely wrong in my opinions, but I can't agree that my "facts" are "entirely wrong." I am simply reporting what happened. Not sure what else to say, but thank you for commenting here.