Waterstones recently announced a change in their policy, effectively excluding all but the ‘big names’ from in store events. There is no doubt Waterstones are missing a trick if they fail to harness the dedication of authors who are passionate about supporting physical bookstores.
Waterstones should be hosting a whole variety of events. Of course they should offer ticketed discussions by panels of famous authors, which will increase media interest and help to build a much needed buzz about the bookshops. But it is a mistake to believe these events will impact hugely on sales of books. Fans who attend these events will already be buying their favourite authors’ books – some will even buy them online and bring them along for signing in the store.
Where sales clearly do receive a boost is from a group of hard working lesser known authors who are passionate about the physical bookshops, build good relations with booksellers and their local community, know how to approach readers, and are prepared to dedicate their time to enhance customers’ in store experience. I have spoken to thousands of readers at many stores who were thrilled to have an opportunity to talk to a ‘real’ author. Crucially, this gave them an experience they couldn’t have online. To worry about whether or not they bought my own books – some do, some don’t – completely misses the point.
Already many readers are browsing the bookshops to make choices of titles to download. Thousands of readers in the bookshops ask if my books are on kindle. I reply that they are, and selling in their tens of thousands, but we have to support the bookshops - or we all know what will happen. Waterstones policy of reducing author presence in the stores will not help them survive.
Ironically, in my discussion with a member of the events team at Waterstone’s head office today, a lady told me she wished Waterstones could afford to employ more staff to talk to customers. There are many authors who would love to do just that at informal signing events. They boost the store’s sales for the day – vital for less busy stores - customers enjoy an experience they cannot access online, and the author sells a decent number of their own books in exchange for their time. Everyone wins.
When I posted about my disappointment with the new policy on facebook, I was amazed by the barrage of responses my comments provoked. Of 200 or so comments, not one supported Waterstones new policy. I had a similar reaction on twitter. So great was the sudden furore that I was contacted by a journalist from The Bookseller wanting to quote me.
I hope to have an opportunity to meet James Daunt to talk face to face. Bookshops are not my business. They are his. But I share his passion for physical bookshops and I worry about the future impact of his new events policy.