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Angie Crawford

Guest Speaker: Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s

December 5th, 2016 by emma_morgan | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Guest Speaker: Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s
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There were pretty high expectations for the last guest speaker of the semester, given the brilliant, funny and interesting talks that we’ve been treated to over the weeks.  There was also a problem of attention, with the impending last presentation of the year looming.  Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s Scottish book buyer, had a great deal to contend with in keeping our attention and interest.  She managed it easily, bringing samples of AI sheets and review copies ranging from the elaborate and well-backed to the…simplistic.

As a group of students hoping to make careers in the industry in which Waterstone’s is a major player, her career history was both interesting and encouraging, to see the passion and enjoyment that can exist from a career in publishing.  It was particularly nice to hear that it was at the University of Stirling, at another guest lecture, that Angie Crawford, inspired by and drawn to the field of children’s publishing, decided on her future career.

Her career followed the progress of the publishing and bookselling industry on a grander scale, working in the now-defunct Dillons bookshops, as well as Ottakers.  She worked in the industry through the process of digitisation and improvements in organisation that this brought, and acquainted herself with the Scottish market, typified by smaller-scales and a more fragile market than the London-centric industry at large.  From this interesting and varied career, Angie seemed to draw certain messages and principles out that had helped her in each role, one of which was, crucially, the importance of knowing both the market and the people in it, the customers.

The priority that Waterstone’s place upon engaging with their customers, and ensuring a ‘culture of friendly and knowledgeable service’ is the heart of their success, and this has come with the reinvention that followed their near-collapse.  James Daunt’s independent-minded influence was, according to Crawford, both immediately felt and transformative, doing away with ‘identikit’ bookshops and encouraging – sometimes reluctant – bookshop managers to take the reins and individualise their shops to the local customer.  This shift in philosophy, which was accompanied by major process and organisational rethinking, changed Waterstone’s for the better.

Angie Crawford, comforting fearful of publishing students everywhere, admitted to feeling under-prepared and uncertain of her suitability for her role as ‘Scottish’ Commercial Manager.  She shared that her main qualification for the post seemed to be that she was Scottish, and thus, in the minds of the London-based bosses, knew Scottish publishing.  Her reaction to this?  Like any good publisher, she did her reading, familiarising herself with the titles that sold, the titles that were loved and the things that worked in Scotland which might not work elsewhere.  It seems that the Scottish love a good murder – perhaps because it’s fun to say with our accent! – and crime fiction is a reliable high performer across Scottish bookshops.  However, our love for crime fiction aside, Scottish is not a genre, and Crawford noted that while her colleagues were focused on fiction, non-fiction, sport, etc; her role requires her to look wider, and often work hard to create cohesion between titles that span genres and which can seem entirely distinct from one another.

Angie Crawford has the experience to make any lessons she has to impart worth listening to, and she was able to pull out some key pieces of advice that she learned in her time in the industry:

  • Good relationships are more important than great deals – Book buying is a negotiation, but it is a negotiation between partners, and it is essential that both parties walk away with a workable deal, and their trust in the other party intact.  A chain like Waterstone’s might have the leverage to push for a heavy discount, but if this price means the publisher can’t afford to print the books, no one wins.
  • Keep an eye on the future – All of publishing is a business of planning ahead, and Angie frequently mentioned that the process of buying involves forecasting – or fortune-telling – what books people are going to want months ahead of time.
  • Sometimes, you just know – Angie mentioned that occasionally, it was just the feel of a book that was important, whether it felt right in the hand, opened easily, etc;  it isn’t an exact science and intuition is essential.
  • Go with your gut, but prepare to be wrong – Book buying has an element of gambling about it, sometimes a bet placed on an unknown author pays off when the stock sells out quickly, and sometimes the books sit on the shelf (or in the stockroom) and  haunts you.  Ultimately, it seems that a certain amount of bad choices are inevitable, but a successful book buyer reacts quickly and doesn’t get discouraged.

by Emma Morgan