Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Waterstones

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.

You can find links to the discussions on facebook and twitter on http://leighrussell.co.uk
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15 comments:

Chris Stovell said...

Well said. What a shame if Waterstones has no place for the little guys in future.

John Cowton said...

I wholeheartedly disagree with Waterstones revised policy on book signings. Readers want to meet their authors and where better than their local book store. Yes I have a kindle crammed with eBooks,but I have bought a lot more printed books this year than I have downloaded for my Kindle. If a reader knows that a writer (albeit not on Waterstones A-list) is available to chat and sign a book, there is more likelihood that Waterstones will get the sale of the printed book rather than an eBook on-line elsewhere.
I have been to many book signings, and writers are most the most approachable people to chat to, (yourself included Leigh on two occasions).
I have always supported Waterstones, and sadly it has closed down in my home town. It would be foolhardy to turn away such a large resource of writers.
How often do they think they can get a big name writer to attend everyone of their branches, once a week, month or year?

Leigh Russell said...

It's symptomatic of modern society, Chris, to exclude little people. Of course bookshops have to be commercially viable (like that's been the case in recent years - on some occasions my presence has doubled revenue in small stores for the day). But a value has to be placed on books, authors, people, all things that make a civilisation more than an anthill on a larger scale, and bookshops, like theatre, should be champions of these values.

Leigh Russell said...

As a Z-list author, I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed meeting me, John. Hope to see you again in a bookshop! Perhaps I should write a bad sex book, change my name to Jaime Oliver, have a boob job and a face transplant and a personality change in a mad endeavour to become an A-lister - but I'm too busy writing.

Niki V said...

Personally, I hate in-store signings, both as an author and reader browsing a store. They're excruciating. I hate to be interrupted and sold to when I'm trying to browse. One of my great pleasures in life is quietly browsing in physical bookshops and not being interrupted! I'm not all convinced this enhances the experience for the majority of readers. I hate doing it to other people, too, as a writer, and, after I realised what they entailed, I turned down these opportunities every time. It's not nearly worth the time and effort it takes. I'm not at all surprised that shoppers have complained, personally. That said, I think any rule Waterstones (or any other bookseller) have should apply across the board, rather than singling out small publishers. I suppose what they're trying to do is keep hold of the big name signings like Katie Price where people are queuing out of the shop to get their books signed.

Leigh Russell said...

I quite agree, Niki, not all authors enjoy spending time in bookshops. I've never found it embarrasing but I don't talk to customers unless they first express an interest in talking to me. Many are there looking for a specific book, in a hurry, and the last thing they want is to be delayed. At the same time, in the nicest way, I don't want to waste my time with someone who isn't interested in talking to me. Many of us are invited back to all the stores we sign at and have only positive feedback from customers. It's sadly a case that a few overenthusiastic (narcissistic?) authors are not genuinely in store to support the bookshop but solely to try and sell their own books. That is part of it, of course, but could be achieved far more easily on line. My own books sell in 10s of 1,000s on kindle but I'm passionate about physical bookshops. One rule doesn't fit all and we are increasingly treated as though it does, in every area of society. Thanks for joining in the discussion. It's great to have different view points expressed.

Niki V said...

To be fair, I love being in physical bookshops if it's a properly arranged event, where people have chosen to come. I arrange my own book launches in local shops, as well as anything organised by my publisher. And I've done quite a lot of reading/signing combinations. It's the wandering around, or even stuck on a chair, in store signings that I can't stand.

It's interesting that your facebook post elicited comments that were all positive about authors in store. I also commented on this today and got responses from a lot of people saying they hated being approached like this. I guess it just goes to show that we tend to befriend people with similar views, facebook helps us see their posts more often (presumably because we've liked them before) and, potentially, we're more likely, generally, to respond to something when we broadly agree with it. It's interesting...

Leigh Russell said...

There have been a few negative comments on my fb page which is fine. This has moved on from being about my personal experience. It has opened out into a debate about Waterstones policy, and there should be different views expressed, although the overwhelming response online - not just to my facebook page - is one of disappointment at the exclusion of lesser known authors in favour of exclusively big names. To be fair my involvement started with just a passing comment about my disappointment at having an event cancelled by a store where I had previously signed and been invited back several times. I'm surprised at the volume of responses. My page is usually fairly quiet. As for people choosing to come - everyone who comes into a bookshop chooses to be there. We just need more of them! It's great that you can attract an audience to an in store reading, and I'd urge you to do more, as the bookshops need authors like you. But a lot of us who are not that well known love to be in store supporting sales too, and it's my view that the bookshops need us. You're free to disagree but that's my view. I'd really hate to lose Waterstones, like Borders. That hurt.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

All good points, but many of the brick and mortar bookstores are already gone in my area of the world. The one left doesn't do anything as far as book signings, Book signings for authors other than the NYT's bestseller list is not for the faint of heart. I've seen those lonely tables in the past with a pile of books, and a glazed eyed author who had expected more.

Leigh Russell said...

You're sadly right, Bernard, but we have to keep fighting to preserve the bookshops that remain. I have to say I have no expectations when I visit a store -and I hate to see an empty bookshop! But at least my visits do boost turnover for a day at least. I wish more authors would do the same, although I gather some author visits haven't been going too well - and there have even allegedly been complaints about some over enthusiastic self-published authors in stores. Not helpful!
Good to hear from you.

Guillaume said...

This is simply an apalling policy from Waterstones. The chain used to be my favourite, not only in the UK, but of all the ones I knew. Now I find them unimaginative, timorous and downright moronic. Events with authors, big and small, are beneficial for everyone: it gives exposure to authors, it makes the readers discover new or unknown talents, it boosts sales (and not only for the authors at the event), it is also a community gathering. It creates a sense of belonging: this is our local book shop (even though it is a chain), the people working there a local, the guest authors also discover a community, etc.

What's next? Taking the less successful titles and the forgotten classics off the shelves? Stick to sell cooking books? Turn Waterstones into a stationary chain? Actually, that is already happening.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, it is worrying, Guillaume. Let's hope they review their policies. But sadly I think some stores sell more stationery than books these days.

Leigh Russell said...

To the anonymous person who thought Death Bed had only sold 200 copies on kindle - 200 is the ranking figure, i.e. 200th out of all the books on kindle. Reaching the number 1 spot doesn't mean 1 book sold! Dead End was in the Top 50 Bestsellers for 2011, reaching number 20. That was 20th out of all books on sale on kindle in 2011. Yes, that means 10s of 1,000s of copies. It's not a phoney claim - I'd be pretty daft to make up figures that can be researched and verified. It's all out there, in the public domain. I hope that reassures you. I didn't publish your comment, not because it was inaccurate, but because it was anonymous. Thank you for your time, and for encouraging me to clarify the amazon ratings system for you. And yes, all of my books have reached number 1 in detective categories on amazon. They really have sold more than 10 or so each!

Anonymous said...

It really is just a measure to protect our customers from being hassled by self-published hustlers.

Leigh Russell said...

I don't usually post anonymous comments but this clearly comes from someone at Waterstones so I'm happy to publish it. But the argument really isn't convincing. Why exclude credible established authors keen to spend time in bookshops because some 'hustlers' have used Waterstones to promote their self-published books? The conclusion is so obvious, and so many people are saying it, that I won't go on. But words like discriminating and judgement spring to mind. Among others. But thank you for commenting. Open debate is always good.