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The Future of Indie Bookshops

November 30th, 2014 by Helen Griffin | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The Future of Indie Bookshops
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On Wednesday 19th November, in the Central Library in Edinburgh, SYP Scotland held a seminar discussing the future of Indie Bookshops. The panelists included representatives from four Independent Bookshops in Edinburgh: Gillian Robertson from Looking Glass Books, Elaine Henry from Word Power Books, Ian Macbeth from Golden Hare Books and Marie Moser from The Edinburgh Bookshop. Each representative spoke about what was next for them, what had changed over the last few years and what changes were still to come as independent booksellers adapt their business models in a bid to hold on to their share of the book market. The event was chaired by Peggy Hughes, Programme Director of the Dundee Literary Festival, Co-ordinator of the Dundee International Book Prize, and sundry other projects and publications at Literary Dundee. Peggy was also one of the judges for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards 2013 and a Trustee for Reel Arts. By night, Peggy is also the Programme Director of the West Port Book Festival and one third of Electric Bookshop.

 

 

 

The Independent Booksellers:

Looking Glass Books

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Looking Glass Books is a bookshop and café that was set up in Edinburgh’s Quartermile in 2012. Gillian Robertson explained that the bookshop was opened when the industry was already where it is now, and so they haven’t had to do a lot of adapting. Their strategies have been more focused on who they are, where they might go and how they might place themselves within the industry.

 

 

 

 

 

Word Power Books

Word Power Books

It has been 20 years since Elaine Henry cut the red ribbon to Word Power Books in West Nicolson Street. Even after their 20 year success, Elaine said that there are still people who come into the store and ask how long they have been open for. Sometimes thinking, ‘what are we doing wrong that people still don’t know our existence’, Elaine believes this to be one of the major challenges of being an independent bookseller. Independent bookshops are not one homogenous group, and Word Power Books is what Elaine would call a radical bookshop dedicated to supporting small presses and independent presses (although they would get anything in for their customers). Word Power Books also publish, having done 22 titles. Their latest book, The Liberty Tree, about the Scottish radical Thomas Muir, was a leading review in the Sunday Times. Elaine commented that this feat meant they had finally been given some recognition for what they do after 20 years in the business.

 

Golden Hare Books

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Golden Hare Books opened 3 years ago and is based in St. Stephen Street, Stockbridge. Ian Macbeth described the shop as having a curated feel, like many independent bookshops, distinguishing itself from larger chains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Edinburgh Bookshop

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The Edinburgh Bookshop, nestled at Holy Corner in Bruntsfield, was opened 7 years ago and bought by Marie Moser just 2 years ago. Since then Marie has benefited from a double turnover and successes such as winning the UK Children’s Bookseller 2014 and being named Scottish Independent Bookshop 2014. Discussing the obvious successes of her predecessor, Marie nonetheless talked about the importance of accepting what you are and what works for your customers rather than what you want to be or feel you should be. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out it was 15% of the book market, and although, as Marie acknowledged, ‘ it might be considered by some people to be a rubbish piece of writing, it was the biggest thing since Harry Potter’. Marie’s predecessor would not stock the book, telling people they would need to go across the road to Tesco. Marie’s position on this kind of mentality was simple: ‘As a small independent retailer you have to get off your high horse’.

Existing Relationships with Digital

When discussing independent bookshops’ relationship with digital, Marie challenged that as yet the world might be 50% digital but not everything in the world is digital. In Britain we buy physically half a million books a day, not E-books, physical books! That might be massively down on 20 years ago, but according to Marie, if you found any businessman who was setting up a business and you said to him you could sell him half a million units a day, could he honestly think that wasn’t one cracking business? In relation to social media, however,  Marie questioned the practical uses of Twitter. Although a tweeter herself, since Marie has come into the industry, her opinion has become more inclined to regard it as a platform for the way the industry talks to itself.

Continuing with this discussion, Peggy Hughes humorously compared being good at Twitter as like ‘being good at the egg and spoon’. Ian Macbeth also likened twitter to playing ‘Guitar Hero’, with links to articles and people’s opinions coming at you all the time, just like the coloured blocks in the game. Ian also felt that it was a platform where it was difficult to make your voice heard. Although he does tweet about events and interesting books that have come into his store, Ian believes that interpersonal links are far more important, with tools such as a mailing list being a much better way to keep in touch with your customers. Although many people do love a mailing list, in today’s digital age it may be seen as archaic. Overall, Ian felt that Facebook had less impact than Twitter but that mailing lists and store websites were much more significant tools for promotional activity from the standpoint of an independent bookseller.

In a rather different digital era, Elaine Henry first used microfiche to look up books. From stock-card indexing to today’s methods, Elaine has definitely seen first hand the rising demand for instant response. In terms of twitter Elaine said, ‘I don’t tweet because I just don’t have the time. This thing that you should be sending out three tweets a day, I just find it a challenge’. However, when informed by Peggy that she had been tweeted by Russell Brand, an astonished Elaine relented to find a positive outcome to the social media platform, laughing, ‘I guess sometimes Twitter can work to your advantage’.

Gillian Robertson also commented that she tweeted regularly, but was quick to point out that you can’t have blanket rules for every bookstore. Gillian did agree with Marie’s opinion that Twitter was a way in which the industry spoke to itself, but pointed out that it depends on whom you follow. Gillian follows local independent businesses and Edinburgh locals, which she believes, has been crucial to her success. ‘I don’t know if we would have been able to get off the ground without social media’.

Indie Bookshop VS. Amazon

Marie Moser was of the opinion that businesses could not be future proofed, claiming that in today’s day and age, ‘there is no room to be mediocre, if you are not interested and engaged you are not going to make money’. Marie’s basic view of digital was that it was a society and that Amazon was at the pinnacle of it.

Ian was quick to point out that it’s not just Amazon, it’s supermarkets, Waterstones, etc. Independent booksellers cannot match the discounts of these large retailers, and even if  they could, they wouldn’t want to. Ian’s theory is that if you can’t offer the same discounts you have to offer people something else. Amazon can never provide the same experience as bricks and mortar bookshops as they are selling on experience and Amazon is selling on instant gratification.

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Within Word Power Books they have leaflets exhibiting quotes such as ‘think before you click’ and ‘discounts don’t come for free’. Marie’s agreement with these slogans prompted her to challenge the role of the publisher, arguing that there is a danger the industry is losing sight of volume and bestsellers versus actually making profit, therefore illustrating the idea that any fool can sell something cheap. Marie commented  that when you let big chains heavily discount your lead title you devalue that brand and you devalue the years of work that the writer undertook to make the product. The fact that publishers should value what they sell was most evidently what offended Marie the most.

Marie also argued that publishers, as an industry, are letting retailers hammer down prices. If you were to ask the public if they wanted to buy products as cheap as they could, it is inevitable that they would say yes. The reality, according to Marie, is that this is not true or we wouldn’t have luxury brands; ‘We will buy what we think is a fair price for something nice’.

The seminar ended on the positive note that since 2009 there has been a resurgence of independent bookshops. According to all four of the independent booksellers, what we need to do is look at what is driving this; it may be a small movement, but it can have a big impact. Overall, for independent bookshops world domination is not on their agenda, however, they do not just want to survive, because that’s a low bar; they want to thrive, and as far as the seminar proved, Amazon is not going to stop them.

Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University

November 14th, 2014 by Sarah Boyd | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University
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Simon FrostAs an extra addition to the Visiting Speaker series, Dr Simon Frost, Senior Lecturer in English at Bournemouth University, came to talk to us about his current research project. Entitled ‘Private Gains and Retailed Literature: Pathways to a Sustainable-Economic Account of Reading‘ (though Frost pointed out that his subtitle keeps changing!), this ambitious project is being undertaken in association with John Smith’s, the higher-education bookseller familiar to most students for their on-campus shops.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr Frost’s project is quite a complex and, in some ways, esoteric one and that it is very much ongoing and developing, so at times it became a little difficult to take on all of the information he was conveying. The seven-and-a-half pages of notes I took during his presentation are testament to this! However, I’ll do my best to cover what he had to say.
First, Dr Frost outlined the aim of his project, to produce a defence of literature (the project is focused on fiction) in economic terms, rather than the cultural terms in which arguments for literature’s value are usually expressed. This was one of the trickier ideas to get our heads around but Frost put it in layman’s terms, saying that he’s trying to find out why a customer would choose to buy books, rather than booze! Essentially, his belief is that pointing to literature’s cultural importance does not mount a strong enough defence for the funding and resources allocated to it and that we require a discussion that engages with the economics of literature in sustainable terms or, in other words, attempts to discover what readers gain from the books they buy in more practical terms.
We then looked at the structure of Frost’s project, which is organised into three ‘threads’:
  • ‘theorisation’ – produce a model of how readers gain from books, bridging the literary and economic by investigating the idea that books meet intangible needs for readers.
  • ‘tuition’ – a number of students will be involved in the research for this project, particularly in compiling the results of an extensive survey, aiming for 750 completed surveys.
  • ‘professional practice’ – working in conjunction with John Smith’s, examine the shift from ‘bookseller’ to ‘book-based supplier of solutions’, in particular the move to provide new services based on outcomes/gains.

John Smith's BooksIn order to explain how he became involved with John Smith’s, Dr Frost gave us a potted pre-history of the current bookselling situation in Britain. John Smith’s has been around since 1751, so it has survived and responded to the major changes that have happened in the bookselling industry over the last several centuries, from the 1899 establishment of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) and its encouragement of dedicated bookstores, to the collapse of the Agreement in the 1990s which led to the downfall of almost all chain booksellers on the British High Street. More recently, the rise of online bookstores (themselves largely a result of the NBA’s collapse) has forced John Smith’s to rethink its business, as Amazon and its ilk have disrupted the traditional tutor-student-campus bookstore relationship. Their response has been to stop thinking of themselves as ‘booksellers’ at all and instead re-brand as a provider of solutions for students and Higher Education (HE) institutions. Indeed, their website is tagged as ‘John Smith’s Student Store’, with no reference to bookshops at all.

In effect, this has resulted in John Smith’s working with HE institutions to provide students with all the resources they need to successfully enter, negotiate and exit higher education. Their Stirling store, for instance, lists 15 departments, providing products from art supplies to bikes, mobile phones to university-branded clothing. They are no longer thinking about how they can sell the most books to students but about how they can meet all the needs that students might have, how they can become the main provider of solutions to students’ demands and problems (as well as aiding HE institutions to meet their outcomes). In this way, their rethinking of their business model fits neatly with Dr Frost’s project, as it relocates books as one part of a service that anticipates and provides everything that students will gain from appropriating. So, a copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is no longer just a tool for education and cultural influence but also a product that can be analysed and quantified in economic terms.

aspireFor the final part of his presentation, Dr Frost went into more detail about how the relationship between students, their HE institutions and this new incarnation of John Smith’s works. An essential part of this is the distribution of bursaries to students in England (introduced as a mitigating response to the raising of tuition fees). Universities receive a sum of money from the government and parcel this out to selected students in bursaries, often around £300, which are intended to widen opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds (and, ideally, to be spent on university-related goods and services, rather than down the pub, though we did have a discussion of whether or not the social environment provided by pubs – and cafes, equally expensive though perhaps less stigmatised – is a valuable part of the university experience!). John Smith’s have become involved in this process via their ‘Aspire‘ smartcard, which can be pre-loaded with the bursary money and limits what it can be spent on. This allows for a number of interesting features, from each card being tailored to its recipient’s needs, to facilitating data gathering and feedback to the institution. Of course, as several members of the class pointed out, this has some moral and legal implications, particularly with regards to privacy (the idea of tutors being able to keep tabs on whether you’ve purchased their reading list or not is more than a little Big Brother!) and this is an area that Dr Frost will be looking into as his study develops. At the moment, though, his main questions in this area are:

  1. Is the diversity of purchasing agency (i.e. those involved in the process of purchasing) now so great that it produces a break from the linear rational-choice model of purchasing?
  2. Do the limits imposed by the ‘Aspire’ model constitute an interruption of free will or free exchange? They limit the convertibility of one resource to another (the bursary can be turned into books or bikes but not beers) but do they also limit free choice? Such limits are common in the public world but how do they function in the semi-commercial and commercial spheres?
It was fascinating to hear about a project still in progress, with Dr Frost acknowledging that he is still in the process of gathering information and developing the theories and concepts that will form his ultimate conclusions. His observation that his ‘inner critic’ was working even as he spoke was one that I – and I’m sure most of us – identified with, but it’s reassuring to know that the pros suffer too. It was also great to feel that he was genuinely interested in our responses and in engaging in conversation with his audience – it’s always encouraging to feel that we’re being taken seriously by people already working! I’ll be interested to see the results of his project and how it shifts and develops as it progresses.

Revised Curriculum for the MLitt in Publishing Studies

April 1st, 2013 by SCIPC | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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BEFORE READING THIS POST, PLEASE CHECK THE DATE OF PUBLICATION. (The REAL curriculum is here. At least for now…)

 

The Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication has been at the vanguard of publishing education for over thirty years. It has a forward-thinking approach to publishing studies, and has continually delivered cutting-edge, professionally-oriented degrees which have prepared alumni to work in publishing and publishing-related companies around the world.

The publishing industry is now undergoing an extremely rapid rate of change. Digital technologies have meant that new business models and structures are radically reshaping the industry. As such, we have entirely revised the curriculum for our industry-leading MLitt in Publishing Studies. The new curriculum will be delivered from 2013-14, and we are proud to announce it here.

The revised programme will be structured as follows:

Semester 1

Amazon 1: This compulsory module investigates different market sectors, introduces concepts of publishing business, finance and intellectual property, and analyses current publishing trends and issues. It also explores job roles and publishing processes, equipping students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in an Amazon career.

Amazon 2: This compulsory module examines the processes by which publishing projects (including books, magazines, journals, and digital products) are conceptualised and created at Amazon. It explores the management of authors, intellectual property resources, and editorial workflow, including practical skills of project management and text preparation (copyediting and proofreading).

Amazon 3: This compulsory module introduces marketing theory and practical publishing examples in order to develop a range of strategies for effective promotion of publishing products, through traditional and digital media. The module also explores Amazon’s supply chain, distribution and sales management.

Arts Research Training: This compulsory module enhances students’ employability skills, professional social media, online writing and editing skills, and research methods and research project development. All elements of the module are specifically tailored towards or focused on Amazon.

Semester 2

Amazon 4: This compulsory module enables students to develop skills, understanding and aptitudes for digital (aka Amazon) publishing, its processes and products, including in compiling digital briefs, reviewing and evaluating digital products, management of social media and digital rights, understanding of e-business models and the digital economy, and deployment of analytics, keywords, SEO, metadata and XML.

Amazon 5: This compulsory module enables students to develop management and entrepreneurial skills crucial to publishing. Areas covered include strategic, operational, risk, financial and HR management. It also explores the global business of publishing, including growth strategies, murders and executions, legal tax avoidance, and inventing business models that at first glance make no sense whatsoever.

Internship at Amazon: This compulsory module enables students to undertake a work placement or internship at one of Amazon’s worldwide distribution centres, to incorporate their workplace learning through critical reflection on their and Amazon’s activities and processes.

Publishing, Literature and Society: This optional module explores the interactions between contemporary and historical publishing and society, approaching topics including authorship, readership and the literary marketplace, censorship, wartime publishing, and publishing and diversity (e.g. “not Amazon”). It enables students to develop a critical distance from Amazon.

Publishers’ Lunch (or, The Frankfurt School): This optional module will introduce students to the traditional, or legacy, model of publishing. It involves copious consumption of alcohol, face-to-face meetings and ‘gatekeeping’. Male students are in the majority on this module.

Summer

Dissertation: This is an intensive piece of research on a topic of Amazon’s choice, which is notionally approved by the Programme Director and student. Work extends over both semesters and into the summer.

Given our excellent industry contacts, we are confident that all students will, on successful completion of their programme, be placed at one of Amazon’s many international distribution centres (probably Dunfermline). In the very unlikely event that they are not immediately placed with Amazon or a sub-contracted company, less successful alumni still have ample opportunity to become authors via Amazon’s Kindle Direct programme, or act as highly valued unpaid prosumers in Amazon’s Kindle Directed scheme. Entrepreneurial alumni have the opportunity to develop Amazon-associated businesses and franchises which, should they survive the Kindle Dragon, will be examined by Amazon as acquisition targets.

Ms A. P. Rilfoule, the University’s Amazon Liaison Officer, commented that, ‘We’re very excited about delivering this new programme, which has been developed in close cooperation with our Industry Advisory Borg. Share the bold new future of publishing, writing, reading, and pretty much everything else: with Amazon, with us.’

“Ausgeliefert!“ – Subcontracted Work and Amazon

February 17th, 2013 by Eva Graf | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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Eva Graf, currently studying on the MLitt in Publishing Studies, reports on a recent documentary which focused on conditions for staff at Amazon distribution centres in Germany:

The documentary “Ausgeliefert!” (a play on words as “ausgeliefert” has two meanings in German: dispatched and at the mercy of someone/something) kindled a lot of discussion in the German media.

Aired by the television channel ARD, the film by Diana Löbl and Peter Onneken shows how subcontracted workers (immigrant workforce) are being exploited by Amazon and degraded by hired security services.

In the beginning a short sequence depicts a group of happy Spaniards on their way to Germany, presumably to a better future. Nevertheless, the joy does not last very long, a short email sent by Amazon informs the workers that they will not be employed by Amazon directly but a temporary employment agency. Around 5000 workers from all over Europe are hired on a temporary three month contract leading up to Christmas. Instead of the promised 1,500€ they will earn 12% less. Despite this they all sign the contract, written in German, working three months for less than originally promised, as it is better than being unemployed at home. A situation which plays in the hands of Amazon and the agencies, as desperate people are unlikely to complain about a 12% wage cut.

The contract workers are lodged in remote holiday facilities, which are nowhere near the distribution centres. The nearest shopping is also miles away. The commute to work is made by coaches, yet despite being hired by the company there is not enough seating capacity and the coaches are overcrowded on a regular basis. If the coach is not on time for the beginning of a shift the workers have to accept a wage cut. This is a regular occurrence. This is not the only problem that is connected with the long commute and the hired coaches. Most of the time there is only one bus per shift. If there is not enough work and the contract workers are sent home early they have to wait for hours to actually have a chance to return to the remote holiday facilities. No matter if it is cold or snowing, the workers are stuck at the distribution centre. Some try to make the best out of the situation and go to sleep on the canteen tables.

Perhaps sleeping on canteen tables is more relaxing than sleeping in the actual accommodation. Five or more strangers share a small bungalow. The rooms are hardly big enough to store personal things as the double beds take up most of the space. Complaining about the conditions is not tolerated. After Ms. X complained about the living conditions she was kicked out under the pretext that she supposedly had been drying her laundry illegally on the radiators. The security guards followed her to her new shelter and focused the headlights through her window for hours to intimidate and scare her, as well as to undoubtedly demonstrate their power and superior position.

Security in accommodation is provided by a company H.E.S.S., the abbreviation standing for Hensel European Security Services. Despite that abbreviation the name also has a historical association with Rudolf Hess, a henchman of Hitler. The omnipresent security guards radiate the vibe of a paramilitary group, wearing black uniforms, boots and military haircuts. Two guards are even seen wearing Thor Steinar jumpers, a brand connected to the radical right-wing scene and therefore banned in German football stadiums and the Parliament. Ironically Amazon stopped selling Thor Steinar clothes because of this connection in 2009.

Guards search the rooms in absence of the inhabitants, as “this is our house and therefore we make the rules. We are like the police here”. Quotes like this demonstrate the pressure the workers have to live and cope with. Power-hungry guards are not only searching the rooms in absence of the inhabitants, they are also checking bags on a regular basis. The workers are permitted to take away one single roll for breakfast. A breakfast which they pay for.

The documentary shows the dark side of the booming retail giant. To satisfy our Christmas orders promptly underpaid workers have to walk 17km per shift. Temporary employment agencies cart desperate people to the German distribution centres where they work gruelling shifts for little money. It is possible to argue that this is modern slave trade. The winner and benefactor in this system is Amazon, which saves money through the small wages, made through the agencies that hire the workers. There are numerous other players, including travel agencies who book the accommodation (“I don’t count in humans, I count in buses.”), the owners of the holiday facilities (“I can place seven in one bungalow, that means you can save some money and I can accommodate more”, or “Of course I’ll take Polish workers, they are not as dirty and drunk like others”), and of course the seedy security company.

How can Amazon not know what happens with the contract workers? During the filming the company refused to answer any queries made by the crew. Following the controversy after the documentary was aired in Germany, Amazon promised to look into incidents and said they were most likely isolated cases. The response to the documentary in the rest of Europe has not been as shocked, with this article in The Indendent newspaper being one of very few media responses to the incident in the UK. Even if the occurrences were isolated, cases like this cause a bad aftertaste which stays.

Fixed Prices for Books?

October 18th, 2012 by Eva Graf | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Fixed Prices for Books?
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In Germany, a fixed book price is a legal constraint which forces publishing houses to set a certain price, which is then legally binding for all retailers . As long as the original set price is not reversed, which can happen 18 months after the publication, or it is resold book retailers cannot change the price in any form or way. The main goals of this system are:
→ protecting books as a cultural asset
→ securing a great variety of titles
→ aid nationwide supply with books
A fixed price system was first introduced in 1888 and, despite its long tradition, there are certain new developments that need to be taken into consideration. The most evident modern example being ebooks and how they should be priced. According to the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (the German equivalent to the Publishers Assocation) they should have fixed prices because they mirror printed books in their attributes.
What made me think about the whole system was going into a bookshop in the UK and comparing the prices in store to those on Amazon. The newest Ken Follet title Winter of the World costs £10 in hardback, with the Kindle Version selling for only £5.99. Compare this to the German Hardcover, priced at 29.90€, and the Kindle Version, selling at 22.99€. this seems to be a very low price. I cannot decide which system is preferable. On the one hand I can buy books here for a great price, but I feel that the German system has its benefits too. Publishing houses give less discounts and therefore may generate a higher revenue, resulting in being able to plan their budget more accurately. From a professional point of view I can see the advantages of this system; however as a consumer I prefer the lower UK prices.
The topic of fixed prices versus free price setting is very interesting and has lots of room for discussions. There will undoubtedly be some friction in the German industry in the future, mainly due to ebook prices. Big players like Amazon and Apple will drive a hard bargain to establish low prices. This may lead to a more competitive market, similar to the UK market. Or the status quo will continue. Only time will tell.

Eva Graf

Faith, Hope and Charity

November 29th, 2011 by Helen_Lewis-Mcphee | Posted in Blog | 2 Comments
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Last week, the Booksellers Association hit out at charity shop booksellers, claiming that these retailers are afforded an unfair advantage in the industry. With certain exemptions from corporation tax, VAT and rates, and a staff comprising largely of volunteers, it is argued that charity shops benefit from a unique position within the trade with which less charitable independent retailers are finding it impossible to compete. The Bookseller reports an estimated 8000 such brigands are abusing this advantage, turning profits of close to £20 million from book sales alone.

With our independent and second hand booksellers in such dire straits, surely it’s time to call a halt to such blatant exploitation, and level the playing field a little? I mean, when those Goliaths of the online world Amazon first made noises about taking over their only real competitor, the Book Depository, it sparked national outcry and an OFT investigation at the implications this would have for fair competition within the trade. So why is it one rule for Amazon and another for Oxfam?

I do hope we’re not missing the point here.

BA chairman Peter More has accused Oxfam of “acting more like a business than a charity”, adding that this was “a concern”. A concern? Now, I’m as concerned as anyone else in the industry for the future of indie bookshops. When I have the time (and the money) to spend browsing their shelves, I like nothing better than to pass up the tempting discounts offered by Goliaths and supermarkets alike in support of our struggling book-retailing entrepreneurs. But I also choose to frequent my local charity shops, and I certainly won’t be made to feel guilty about it. I refuse to accept that charities turning a profit and conducting their businesses efficiently and professionally is a Bad Thing. Without their retail turnover, these charities wouldn’t be able to support their work against poverty, homelessness, animal cruelty, heart disease, and cancer, to which we are all indebted at some point in our lives.

When I go to an indie bookstore, I go there for the atmosphere, the ambiance, the whole experience associated with book buying that first attracted me to the industry as soon as I was old enough to spend my own pocket money. This is not the same reason I go into a charity shop. The customers who are spending their hard-earned pocket money and pensions in the charity shops are not the same ones abandoning their high-street independents in favour of a cheap read. And I believe I’m not the only person who feels this way. I have faith in the Great British bibliophile and their loyalty to local independent retailers.

Maybe we should be more concerned with the competition presented by the deep discounting and heavy marketing favoured by the chain stores, online retailers and supermarkets. Maybe, instead of lashing out at those businesses still turning a profit, booksellers could take a little more time minding their own. Maybe the indies should to take a leaf out of the charity shops’ books.

Helen Lewis-McPhee

James Daunt: Defender of the Bookshop

October 27th, 2011 by Katherine_Marshall | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on James Daunt: Defender of the Bookshop
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On the 6th October 2011, book retailer Waterstone’s ended its famous 3-for-2 offer, thereby signalling a new direction for the company under Managing Director, James Daunt.  The offer, described by some as “iconic”, will be replaced by a series of price discounts and promotions, designed to increase the flexibility of book buying in its stores.  Daunt has championed the new pricing strategy, proclaiming that it will provide customers with the opportunity to buy the book that they want, rather than focusing on the price.  He wants his shops to be “community hubs”, where people can browse for books in a pleasant environment without being bombarded by blunt and “irritating” offers.

Waterstone’s struggles have been well documented of late, but it remains to be seen whether this latest shift in strategy will herald a change in fortunes for the company.  However, it is not the only thing to change as Daunt steams ahead with his plans to revive the retailer.   The MD, who took up the post in June, is on a mission to transform the bookseller into a company capable of rivalling online giants such as the mighty Amazon.  In addition to ending the 3-for-2 offer, Daunt has indicated the possibility of introducing differential pricing in his stores (a controversial and slightly baffling concept) and Waterstone’s is also due to launch its very own e-reader in 2012.

Daunt’s vision of what a bookshop should be is, in many ways, commendable.  Unfortunately, the reality of the bookselling market today means that the MD’s traditional ideals risk falling on deaf ears as consumers increasingly value price over place of purchase.

Watch this space…

The 2011 Guardian and Observer Books Power 100

October 6th, 2011 by Helen_Lewis-Mcphee | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The 2011 Guardian and Observer Books Power 100
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Guardian and Observer Books Power 100 2011

When the Guardian and Observer first drew up their list of the publishing Top 50 in 2006, Richard and Judy Book Club creator Amanda Ross hit the top slot. The R&J format, based on Oprah Winfrey’s book club in the US, revolutionised the publishing industry, with their impact well documented across the publishing world. At the time, a title’s success often hung on the recommendation of these two TV celebrities, who spawned such stars as The Lovely Bones, My Sister’s Keeper, and The Cloud Atlas.

All change for the 2011 Power 100 list. Over the last five years, the digital revolution has totally changed the publishing landscape. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has the dubious honour of being named number one, with Larry Page (Google CEO) and Tim Cook (Apple) also occupying prestigious ranks (3 and 10). JK Rowling is straight in at number two, with the launch of her new Pottermore website due for early 2012. More than a fansite, Pottermore aims to deliver interactive reader experiences, and has, indeed, been shaped and re-designed based on the feedback of Beta users. What really strikes me about this is the way that Rowling has capitalised on the seemingly insatiable appetite of Potter fans worldwide for MORE. More content, more experience, and more involvement in the Potter world.

Which leads me to Number 100. A new entry. One of the most powerful players in the publishing industry to emerge in the last few years. You. No longer is the power monopolised by commissioning editors or even TV personalities. Through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and online forums, it’s the readers who are deciding what’s worth reading, and, even more alarmingly, sharing their opinions with their friends, fans, and followers in a way that’s impossible to control or even predict. Book reviews are no longer confined to the opinions of so-called (and questionably-incentivised) experts, tucked away in specialist columns or publications. We trust the judgement of our peers, not what some retailer tells us we want, and can choose from a seemingly infinite  selection of titles: frontlisters, backlisters, big hitters and hidden gems. We’re no longer satisfied with the one-size-fits-the-target-market method of publishing: we want an individual, tailor-made reading experience. And we want to talk about it. We’ll blog, tweet, rant on forums and tell the world through status updates. We’ll always have something to say.

And we’re not just talking about books. At time of writing the List has 144 associated tweets, 212 Facebook recommendations, and a comment stream that reads like an angry battle-of-the-bibliophiles. It doesn’t matter how much time, research, and discussion went into its compilation, every reader has an opinion, and an avenue through which to voice it. We won’t be told what to read/buy/think, and we’re not afraid to show it.

We’re the children of the digital revolution. And you won’t fool us.