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Waterstone’s

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

Danny Frew, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17

October 13th, 2016 by danny_frew | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Danny Frew, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17
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dpsmall

I’m sure that most can easily relate to the feeling of standing on the precipice of change, of being faced with a crucial choice and not quite being confident in taking a leap of faith.

 

That was very much my mindset in the two years that followed my graduation from the University of Strathclyde’s B.A. in English. I was sure that I wanted to continue my studies, but was not completely sure in which manner I should go about capitalizing on my academic experience while also attempting to develop new skills. I quietly pondered this problem for the next two years.

 

Thankfully this wasn’t necessarily a doom-and-gloom tale of post-graduate malaise – or at least not in its entirety. The interim between my studies afforded me some interesting professional development opportunities. I managed to gain an invaluable introduction to bookselling with Waterstones, proficiency in arts administration and content management with Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and thereafter honed my commercial acumen in a lengthy stay as sheet music buyer for Blackwell’s South Bridge store.

 

In each of these roles I was lucky enough to be working within literary environments in which my personal interests were considered to be useful attributes. I grew to appreciate how multifaceted the literary sector is and particularly just how demanding the business of bookselling can be.

 

Having been so exposed to the inner-workings of the bookselling industry and having been made responsible for developing relationships with publishing contacts, I suppose that it was only natural that I would begin to consider what employment in the publishing industry may be like. This thought germinated and I began to seriously consider postgraduate study.

 

In surveying my options, the MLitt at the University of Stirling became a clear front runner. The course was well marketed. There was an international reputation to take note of, an impressive body of published research, and of course a gorgeous campus to revel in. Yet, most important was that the course placed a strong focus on vocational training. Issues of employability were central to my decision making process and so after deducing this I was not only reassured about the MLitt – I was sold.

 

Now having entered the fourth week of course, I’m pleased to announce that I am more confident than ever in my decision to embark on this particular course. I consistently feel challenged and engaged and I am delighting in the chance to explore the fields of design and production. I am particularly interested in how the physical book will continue to adapt to the expansion of the digital landscape and in which ways traditional binding and printing techniques may be repurposed so as to affirm literary heritage.

 

The return to academia is already proving to be a challenge, but I’m ready for the battle. I know that I will graduate with industry savvy and find myself ready to enter the workplace.

 

Post-graduation I intend to seek permanent employment in the U.S.

 

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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…