Thursday 30 August 2012


Still love bookshops...

Saturday 18 August 2012

What Price Bookshops?

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of print books. I have been posting recently about Waterstones' new events policy which threatens to further undermine struggling sales. Waterstones are right to host more high profile celebrity ticketed evening events. They should be doing all they can to create more of a buzz about bookshops.  But it is authors who are happy to spend time in bookshops who make a difference to sales figures. Customers buy books by celebrities and a few big names regardless of events in the stores. Inviting such authors into bookshops won't increase sales in the store. Many readers will bring books for signing with them - often books they have bought online.
There will be more discussion about Waterstones' new deal to sell kindles in their stores. Amazon  report that sales of ebooks (excluding free downloads) already outstrip their online sales of print books 114 to 100. It took 4 years for this to happen in the US. In the UK it has taken 2 years for sales of e-books to overtake sales of print books.
My own books sell far more lucratively as e-books than print books. Am I clinging to a bygone era in my passion to support physical bookshops? Do they matter to modern culture?
Waterstones is no longer financially self-supporting, our only remaining chain of bookshops surviving thanks to Russian billionaire Mamut.
Perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. After all, Shakespeare needed his patron. But it's a sobering thought that the whole of Waterstones was bailed out for £53 million - far less than some clubs pay for their top footballers.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Who cares about books anyway?

When James Daunt described amazon as “the enemy”, and “a ruthless money-making devil” perhaps the book loving world was na├»ve in rushing to characterise him as a champion of physical books, battling against the mighty power of kindle.
“Like any good retailer, he is really just interested in what people want”, one of his supporters claims.  Really? Has he listened to what customers are saying in Waterstones, as I have done on over thirty separate occasions so far this year? Has he visited the High Street and appreciated the frustrations – and genuine fear – in the stores. The chain has reinstated strict Head Office control of discounts. One store manager described a visit from a regional manager as “like a school ofsted” another told me they were “told off” for having books displayed in “the wrong place”. Daunt says “We shouldn’t dictate” to the stores. What does he mean by that, I wonder?
Despite assurances there would be no more store closures, Luton have lost their Waterstones, as have Tiverton and recently Epsom. John Betjeman famously wrote of Slough:
        It's not their fault they do not know
        The birdsong from the radio,
        It's not their fault they often go
        To Maidenhead

Betjeman regretted writing the poem, intended as a protest against 850 factories being built in Slough.  But the Waterstones in Slough has closed – as has the one in Maidenhead. Betjeman describes England’s industrialised towns as a taste of “Hell”. Strongly worded – as is Daunt’s description of amazon as a “devil”.
Daunt has now made a deal with amazon, and introduced a misguided events policy, stopping successful signings that gave sales a significant boost, and attracted customers into stores for an experience they cannot get online – face to face meetings with favourite authors.  In a move reminiscent of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Daunt seems to be overseeing a desperate rush to commit suicide.
Daunt is a public school educated Cambridge graduate, and an ex-banker. He may be a book lover, but he is first and foremost a businessman. While it is easy to criticise him for overseeing the demise of our last surviving major bookshop chain, he is not responsible for the world we live in.
The real problem Waterstones faces is that it is not supported by sales. If Mamut withdrew his £53 million sponsorship, the chain would fold overnight.
However much we bleat about mistaken policies from the top – and I have done my share - the reality is that readers are not buying print books on a scale that makes physical bookshops viable. James Daunt apparently hastening the demise of physical bookshops as we know them is a demonstration of his business acumen. As with politicians, we get the bookshop MDs we deserve.
Ray Bradbury was writing in a different era when he said: “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them.
Perhaps the end of the physical bookshops is irrelevant.  E-books are encouraging more people to read. Maybe the sea change doesn't matter. But let’s at least be clear and open about what is taking place, so that no one is surprised when Waterstones change from a bookshop to a kindle store.
And if we don’t want that to happen, we have to react before it is too late. Daunt is impotent to halt the flood of e-books, and has made a sound business decision to swim with the amazon tide. Only readers can buck the trend. Stop buying books in charity shops. Buy a book in a bookshop today. Buy another one tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Consider books when working out what you can afford to spend this month. Sacrifice one bottle of wine, one packet of cigarettes, one hairdo, to buy a book. And buy a book for a friend, while you still can.
Or are we all saving up to buy kindles for Christmas?

Friday 10 August 2012

A Day at the Olympics

A day off from writing, books and bookshops - one of my wonderful daughters took me to the Olympics! Here are a few of the many highlights.
The Olympic Park was beautifully laid out, and we met many sports fans from all around the world: Russia, Japan, Pakistan, Jamaica as well as all over Europe:

Not forgetting supporters of Team GB!

We had a great view from where we were sitting

I  wanted to share a photo of Usein Bolt running, but he was too fast, and I was too excited! Here he is with one of his gold medals.

Another highlight was meeting Chris Hoy - the most successful British Olympian ever!

And finally thanks to the wonderful police, and all the volunteers, who made the day run so smoothly for everyone.

Monday 6 August 2012

print book and e-book - partnership or competition?

In the light of recent news about e-books on amazon (see post below) can anyone tell me why Waterstones is complicit in the disappearance of the printed book?
Nothing is ever achieved by being defeatist. Trends are not inevitable.
With passion and hard work, the printed book can survive alongside its electronic partner - yes, partner, not competitor. Why not, when ebooks are attracting more people to read? Waterstones have a responsibility to readers and authors who want to see them come out fighting in defense of physical books. There is no one else who can do this on a significant scale (with no disrespect intended to the fantastic dedicated smaller chains and independent bookshops).
Read about "Waterstones Faulty Logic" on Book2Book ( site)
Think about stores like Ottakars, morphed into Waterstones. Think about Borders, morphed into Primark. Then think.
And in the meantime, two of my titles are on offer on amazon kindle, one on the Summer Kindle Reading Marathon.
Most sales of my books are online. I have nothing to gain from the survival of bookshops, but I passionately believe that we all have a lot to lose.

Sunday 5 August 2012

The rise of e-books have announced that readers are paying to download more e-books than print books, paperbacks and hardbacks combined. For every 100 print book sales, there are 114 downloads. It took 2 years for e-books to overtake print books, a turning point that took 4 years in the USA.

Is this sane?

Why would anyone (in his right mind) bother to devote so much time and energy to boosting his own ego by adulating himself under multiple false identities?
The time would surely be better spent working to improve the writing he publishes under his own name.
The more I think about it, the stupider it seems. Work on your own writing, whatever your real name is, and get yourself some genuine admirers. If you can't, maybe it's time to stop writing?

Saturday 4 August 2012

Congratulations Team GB

How inspiring to see dedicated athletes competing for the joy and honour of excelling at their sport.

It's not all bad

On a more positive note:
I had a lovely day at Waterstones today. It's fantastic when bookshops and authors work together. If you live in Walthamstow, go and visit your local bookshop and support them!

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.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


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
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