State Of Independents http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk optinions free from chains Tue, 03 Oct 2017 11:07:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 OVERCOMING AUTHORS’ RETICENCE. OR, HOW TO MAKE BOOKSHOPS LOVE YOU AND YOUR BOOK http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/10/overcoming-authors-reticence-or-how-to-make-bookshops-love-you-and-your-book/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/10/overcoming-authors-reticence-or-how-to-make-bookshops-love-you-and-your-book/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2011 10:59:21 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=59 A couple of weeks ago I was deeply honoured to be asked to join a panel at the Society of Authors in Scotland to discuss ways in which authors could promote themselves and how it was nothing to be frightened of.  Unlike my fellow panel members the wonderful Peggy Hughes from the Scottish Poetry Library and the...

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A couple of weeks ago I was deeply honoured to be asked to join a panel at the Society of Authors in Scotland to discuss ways in which authors could promote themselves and how it was nothing to be frightened of.  Unlike my fellow panel members the wonderful Peggy Hughes from the Scottish Poetry Library and the equally wonderful Colin Fraser of Anon poetry magazine and social media expert, I’m not able to speak intelligently off-the-cuff so I had a prepared talk for my ten minute slot.  Some peope have asked about it and so here’s a tidied up version…

Good morning. I’m delighted to have been asked to join you today to talk about how authors can promote themselves to bookshops. It’s a sad fact that just as publishers’ lists are shrinking, so are budgets for marketing and promotion and so are the teams of sales reps who tell bookshops about new titles. It is essential that authors are willing to market their books to some degree, whether on-line or in person. And I do know that that’s hard for some people – being a writer is about having time and space and solitude and when your book comes out you’re suddenly expected to become an extrovert willing to talk about all aspects of writing and your life as well as the actual book and to devote time to blogging and Tweeting and maintaining your Facebook page etc.

I do sympathise with anyone who is horrified by the prospect of promoting themselves to bookshops and readers but I’m here today to tell you what bookshops need from you in order to sell your book and to share a few of the awful encounters I’ve had with authors – names have been changed to protect the guilty though, so don’t worry. What you have to bear in mind, more than anything, is that finding good books to sell is as essential for bookshops as breathing is to you and I and that we need to work together to do that.

Publishers big and small have fewer reps out on the road talking to booksellers and I know that there will be thousands of books that simply pass under my radar, so we need authors to bring their books to our attention. One of my raisons d’etre is to discover great books – it’s a wonderful feeling to have someone come back to the shop to tell me that the book I pressed into their hand changed their lives. It’s why I’m a bookseller.

Lovely books and lovely authors make bookselling a great way to make a living. And books and their authors are not inseparable – there are books that I only take one copy of or ignore altogether because the author is vile and there are books whose authors are so talented and charming that we take multiple copies and put them face-out, on the table, in the window etc. We’ve often joked about having a Lovely-O-Meter and where authors sit along it, but joking aside, being nice gets you an awfully long way. Never, ever forget that, whether you’re the top of the best-seller charts or just dreaming of when you can give up your day job to write full-time.  I know that I have a reputation myself for being fairly sharp-tongued at times but many people will tell you that I’m quite nice really and always willing to chat to people about their books and to see whether it’s a title that could work in our shop.

So, why would I choose your book? Roughly 135,000 books are published in the UK each year. My shop stocks around 3,500 titles, depending on the time of year. Even if we ignore the truly awful books that are published, that still means that I don’t have space for all the books that are worth stocking. Therefore, I have to be really picky. Every single title in our shop is hand-picked. I know my customers and their tastes and I’m always looking for lesser-known titles to surprise them with. Books that are half-price in the supermarkets or cheap-as-chips on Amazon aren’t, with some exceptions, particularly attractive to me. My customers typically buy a lot of books but few buy exclusively from me and so my stock has to be unpredictable, comforting, challenging, entertaining, quirky and reliably high quality. And I like to be able to recommend books that they may not have seen elsewhere. But my aim is to sell books – if I can’t sell a book then it isn’t worth wasting space in the shop on it and I don’t stock books just to be nice to writers. It’s a harsh economic world out there and every book in the shop has to earn its place on the shelf.

A good example of the mid-list, not-especially-well-known book that I love to stock is Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray. This book was read and enjoyed by a bookseller friend of mine, who hand-sold it to a mutual friend of ours, who in turn passed it onto me, telling me how much she loved it. I read it and I’m now selling it to masses of our customers. That I mentioned on Twitter how much I was enjoying it and Tiffany popped up to say hi didn’t hurt. She was friendly but not pushy and that’s nice. It’s a mid-list title, by a fairly new author, from a small publisher, Portobello, and although they have an excellent sales team, it had passed me by. It’s a lovely novel but without a hefty publicity budget to buy space in promotions or advertising it was dependent on word-of-mouth to build awareness. If you extrapolate the sales seen in our bookshop and my friend’s bookshop and can replicate that across say 50 bookshops, that could be around 1,000 or so sales in a year. And our shop’s best-selling fiction title has sold over a hundred copies since it came out in February. Imagine that extrapolated across a few dozen shops…

If you’re a mid-list author you need to befriend your local bookshop because if your publisher isn’t paying for you to be in promotions, your book will be shelved in the back of big bookshops or languishing on Amazon where it will be relying on people going to look specifically for it. Or you’re relying that their ‘you might like this’ algorithms are working in your favour. Given the random stuff they’ve suggested to me, I wouldn’t place too much hope on that.

When you befriend one bookshop you befriend many, because booksellers are among the gossipiest people on earth. We love to talk about books – after all, none of us are in this game for the money or the glamour – and when we get together we talk about books we’ve loved, books we’ve hated, books that that came out of left-field and pleasantly surprised us and authors who’ve been a joy or a disaster to work with. Seriously, when it comes to the last of those, half a dozen of us can spend a riotously cheery hour and several glasses of wine swapping horror stories.

So, how do you make a bookshop love you and your book? How do you give your book a chance to make our hearts sing and how do you establish yourself on the Lovely-O-Meter? I should point out that I’m not speaking for all booksellers, just myself. Although I think many of my points would be echoed by others…

Firstly, tell us about your book. But not a couple of weeks before Christmas when I am running around like a headless chicken; not when I’ve got a shopful of customers and never, ever on a Saturday because I’m just too busy selling books. Drop a copy of your book off, marked for my attention, and if you want it back, enclose a padded envelope with enough stamps. I don’t like having to keep lots of books hanging around as we don’t have the space so if there’s no envelope I will assume that you don’t want it back and it will end up in the charity box or the recycling bin.

I’m actually quite a nice person and I know how much you love your book and how proud of it you are and I don’t want to trample on your dreams. However, when you ask me what I thought and I say something vague about it not really being right for our market or whatever, please understand that I might be trying to let you down gently. Of course, it might just be that I don’t think your book’s right for our customers so don’t over-analyse it.

Don’t tell me that you know better than I what my customers want to read. Especially if you’re not actually one of our customers.

Don’t nag me. My husband and our accountant will tell you that doesn’t work. I have a business to run, I am busy and I have a to be read pile by my bed that looks like one of Waterstone’s unlamented 3 for 2 tables. There’s some fantastic stuff in there that I’m looking forward to reading and some stuff that’s probably dross. But if you ask us to consider your book and drop one off, I will read as much of it as possible and if I like it then I’ll order it in. If you really want to know what I thought, emailing is hugely preferable to ringing me or rocking up at the shop. If I didn’t like the book then the latter two put me on the spot a bit and I would rather tell you the bad news by email rather than face to face. You’ll look downcast and I’ll feel as though I’ve kicked a puppy and that’s not nice for either of us. Just because you haven’t heard from me doesn’t mean that I didn’t like your book though – it might well have been ordered and be just waiting for the right customer.

Don’t pitch your book to me on Twitter or Facebook or our blog or wherever. Be professional – send me information and don’t harrass me.

Love your local bookshop. Don’t do all your shopping on Amazon or wherever and then try to play up the fact that you love our shop so much and you’ve written a book that you think I should stock. If you buy a book now and again and are friendly and chatty then when you tell me about your book I’m already predisposed to give it a go.

Don’t do what one author did recently when he called in on a Saturday and wanted to talk to me about his new novel.  His wife cheerfully pointed out that they’d never been in before because they lived in the New Town. I live in Stockbridge and those of you that know Edinburgh will know that the cross-town ride on the number 23 isn’t the most arduous of journeys. Geography alone is not a reason for me to stock your book. Being local and an occasional customer will ensure that I at least read it though. No-one is too big to concern themselves with their local bookshop – you can ask some of my customers who have sales most writers only dream of.

And when you make it big, and if your work is good then I hope you do, remember the people at the independent bookshops who championed your work. They are the people who made sure that the big old world out there actually read your book by actually putting it into people’s hands and telling them how good it was.

If you were at my talk you’ll see that I’ve tweaked this a little just to make it more coherent for those who weren’t at the conference.  I hope it’s of interest/useful and thank you to everyone who has said such nice things about my talk.

You might also find this blog post I wrote a couple of years ago about how not to sell your book to a bookshop interesting.  Almost all of it is completely true although it will take wine or chocolate to persuade me to tell you which bits…

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WORLD BOOK NIGHT 2011 – REALLY A BIT RUBBISH. http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/10/world-book-night-2011-really-a-bit-rubbish/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/10/world-book-night-2011-really-a-bit-rubbish/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2011 10:55:39 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=55 Way back when, several weeks before World Book Night (remember that?) I, along with many other booksellers and interested parties such as authors and publishers, raised concerns that, in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, it might not be in the best interests of the trade to give away a million books. In...

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Way back when, several weeks before World Book Night (remember that?) I, along with many other booksellers and interested parties such as authors and publishers, raised concerns that, in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, it might not be in the best interests of the trade to give away a million books. In an attempt to keep this post as concise as possible, I’m not going to re-state my criticisms, but do follow the link to that blog post if you want to refresh your memory.

Many of us felt that however much we agreed with the essence of World Book Night; that it was to be a celebration of reading and the joy of books, it would be damaging to the book trade at a point in the economic cycle where we needed to be promoting the idea of book-buying – after all, we might be cutting back on holidays and socialising and shoe-shopping but a book is comparatively cheap at about the same price as a cinema ticket and yet has the potential to be life-changing. Much as I love a new pair of shoes, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that even a new pair of Manolos could change my life.

When I first wrote about our concerns re World Book Night I was unprepared for the opprobrium that was unleashed – although I was far from a lone voice, those of us who were sceptical about WBN were derided as narrow-minded, reactionary, grumpy or even anti-reading. Suggesting that giving away so much product would actually devalue books and that it gave ammunition to the idea that authors were unreasonable to expect to be paid for their work, was seen as almost heretical. The organisers continually dismissed our concerns as the moaning of a small but vocal minority but the support that us naysayers received was significant – I received dozens and dozens of emails from authors, publishers, retailers and readers agreeing that I was right to be concerned.  There was also a lot of criticism from givers hurled at those of us who queried the wisdom of giving away so much stock although that was to be expected – but our argument was with this as a trade initiative and not with those who had really imaginative and worthwhile plans to distribute the books.

In the end, having made my own suggestions as to how World Book Night could be improved for next year and having become quite tired of discussing it, I decided to keep my own counsel and see what happened.  Jamie Byng had enthused to me about how this was going to be an annual event but one which would in future involve and take into account the concerns of booksellers. Although I – and many others – feared that the book trade would see a fall in sales following WBN and worried about the implications for many of us who were trying to cope with trading through a recession, I really hoped that we sceptics were wrong.  I had my fingers crossed so tight that they squeaked that we wouldn’t see a fall in sales following the distribution of the free books, that the much-hyped evening of book programming on BB2 (two documentaries and a showing of the recent film of Brideshead Revisited) would indeed stimulate the masses to rush out and visit libraries and bookshops.  I didn’t want to be right but I did want booksellers to be listened to and not marginalised and had every hope that this would be the case if it was to run in 2012.

Sales figures however were what would define the success or otherwise of World Book Night.  Although The Bookseller gushed about a boost in sales for the books featured in WBN this was not experienced across the wider market.  Way before book sales figures were released by Nielsen Bookscan which collects data from most retailers – around 90% of all books sold are recorded by Bookscan – I knew that sales were down in our shop. Sales in the week immediately after WBN were almost 30% down on the previous week. Over subsequent weeks, we’ve managed to pull this back, but it’s hard not to assume there’s a link between a drop in sales and a few thousand free books being dumped into our local area.  Other booksellers told me of similar drops in sales in their shops.  Later, Bookscan released figures showing that UK bookshops saw takings of £103 million in the four weeks to 2nd April; some £8.98 million less than the same period in 2010 and the worst March since 2005.  Volume sales were down 12.2% to 14.2 million.  At the same time, the Office of National Statistics released figures showing that overall retail sales in March 2011 were 1.3% UP on March 2010, contrasting with the experience of bookshops.

It gives me no pleasure to be right and to have called it correctly, but I can’t see any factor other than WBN that could have triggered these sharp falls, especially given that the figures for the wider retail sector were comparatively positive.  But sales figures are what WBN has to be judged on and they aren’t good.  So it depresses me to see that another World Book Night is planned for 2012.

I’m pleased that former Foyles marketing manager Julia Kingsford is taking over as chief executive; I have every faith that she will organise things better than the chaos that was this year’s event. However, I was promised that booksellers’ concerns would be listened to and was hopeful that we would see a mechanism introduced to promote sales. But it seems that that was just an attempt to shut the dissenters up rather than a genuine attempt to listen to our concerns and try to work with us. It has to be pointed out though that the press release outlining next year’s scheme wasn’t exactly met with excitement – the Bookseller article received a dozen or so comments, mostly from this year’s givers and a search on Google news for “World Book Night 2012” shows that the story was only picked up by the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Hardly setting the world on fire.

What is planned for next year is little better than this year’s effort – an edition of 25 Shakespeare sonnets will be despatched to 10 million households but bookshops will be able to stock a special £9.99 hardback edition. I do question whether Shakespeare is the right choice to appeal to such a large number of people, and I’m curious as to how these 10 million households will be selected. I’d also be surprised if that edition is very popular in bookshops given that the country’s going to be knee-deep in the free paperback edition.  But other than that, it’s nothing new – book groups will be asked to suggest books; top 100 will be announced and the 25 selected titles announced later. As far as we know at the moment, there will be no incentive to encourage customers into bookshops other than with this hardback edition of the sonnets (which is mere tokenism), no commitment to promoting new writers and nothing has been said about how the distribution process will be improved to avoid bookshops having to double as parcel depots.

We came up with a number of suggestions as to how next year’s project could be run, and Nicola Morgan suggested (and did an amazing job of promoting in such a short space of time) an alternative or complement to World Book Night based more on the Spanish tradition of men giving women a rose and women giving a book. Despite that though, and despite all the other suggestions made by other people in the discussions on this blog and Nicola’s, no-one at World Book Night has listened and the fervent promises of consultation and wanting to listen to booksellers and authors have been empty.

So. We’ve come up with a better plan. One which can promote an unlimited range of authors; will give away masses of books without publishers having to pay for additional print costs; doesn’t require any public funding; won’t require authors to forgo royalties and can include absolutely any in-print title; which will draw customers into bookshops; which can give away a virtually unlimited number of books and which is – importantly – local and sustainable and inclusive.  It also has the possibility of becoming truly global without losing sight of those three factors although if it’s just our bookshop involved that’s fine.

My next blog post – probably in a day or two, have to sort some coding on a website out first – will tell all, but until then think about the book you would choose to give away…

NB: To clarify, World Book DAY is different and I’m a huge supporter of that – it introduces children to books by introducing them to short novels/long short stories by marvellous writers and really promotes sales of books by those authors. For the children who choose not to read one of the free WBD books, they can use their voucher to get £1 off any other book. Those who criticise booksellers as being mean-spirited when they’re less than ethusiastic about WBN are clearly ignorant of the fact that we pay for the World Book Day books, we organise schools events and that £1 discount is given by us out of our takings, not reimbursed by anyone. And we don’t mind – partly because any initiative to get children reading is worth supporting, but also because, from a business point-of-view, there is an obvious benefit in introducing children and their parents/carers to the fun experience that is visiting a bookshop.

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THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING…? http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/09/the-future-of-publishing/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/09/the-future-of-publishing/#respond Sun, 18 Sep 2011 10:55:56 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=57 Yesterday I went to the Society of Authors in Scotland’s conference – I was actually honoured enough to be one of their guest speakers but more of that another time.  One of the presentations was from a number of industry experts sharing their thoughts on the way ahead for publishing.  One was Marion Sinclair, CEO...

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Yesterday I went to the Society of Authors in Scotland’s conference – I was actually honoured enough to be one of their guest speakers but more of that another time.  One of the presentations was from a number of industry experts sharing their thoughts on the way ahead for publishing.  One was Marion Sinclair, CEO of Publishing Scotland, one was agent Jenny Brown and one was Bob McDevitt, head honcho at Hachette Scotland.

Bob linked to the video below during his presentation and I think it’s a great way of summing up the misconceptions that some aspects of the trade have about the future of publishing and indeed the book itself.  My experience of young people is that they still care, still think and still engage with books.  And this reinforced my feelings of optimism.  Enjoy.

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THE GREAT BIG BOOK SWAP – READ IT, LOVE IT, SHARE IT http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/05/the-great-big-book-swap-read-it-love-it-share-it/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/05/the-great-big-book-swap-read-it-love-it-share-it/#respond Wed, 04 May 2011 10:53:18 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=53 Although we have been highly critical of World Book Night, we do agree with the essence of it – that it’s about sharing great books and celebrating the joy of reading.  However, bookshops were marginalised and booksales declined across the trade in the wake of this giveaway in March and whatever happens next year I’m fairly certain I don’t...

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Although we have been highly critical of World Book Night, we do agree with the essence of it – that it’s about sharing great books and celebrating the joy of reading.  However, bookshops were marginalised and booksales declined across the trade in the wake of this giveaway in March and whatever happens next year I’m fairly certain I don’t want to be involved as it would have to change on an instrinsic level for me to have confidence that it was going to be good for the trade as a whole.

Given all this, we started thinking about the alternatives and realised that it was possible to do something different; to hold an event which combines the admirable aim of sharing books and extending the reading community with promoting bookshops and the work done by authors and publishers.  An event which isn’t about top-down decision-making but about the grassroots; where any book can be included without authors and publishers losing out and where bookshops can be responsive to the needs and tastes of their customers and communities.  And which – especially important in a recession – is actually about the business of selling books.  Because if we don’t sell books then authors won’t write them and publishers will be even more reliant on celeb biographies and a handful of big-name best-sellers.

So. Here’s the plan…

We held a book swap a couple of weeks ago and it was a great success* – around 50 or so people and some fantastic guest speakers.  For The Great Big Book Swap we’re going to hold a bigger one at a venue in Edinburgh with around 200-250 ticket-holders.   We’ll be asking them to bring a book and we’ll have two or three guest authors, just like we did the other week.   We’re going to need a venue that has a good PA, a bar and space for people to mingle and swap books in between the discussions with our special guests, and seating so that all those people can listen to our guests.  We want the bookswap to be just as much fun as our other ones – just bigger. I’m hoping that we can get sponsorship to cover the cost of the venue or – ideally – that we can secure somewhere free of charge on the basis that the bar takings should be healthy.  If you think you can help with a venue in Edinburgh, do get in touch.

However, instead of the ticket price covering the cost of the venue, wine and nibbles, we’re going to put all of that into a fund.   We’re going to use that money to buy books to give away to people who maybe don’t read or don’t read much.  Maybe they’ve never got into the habit, maybe they don’t have a bookshop or library nearby.  To clarify – we will make no profit on the books we give away – if we raise £1000 that’s £1000 of books at trade price we’ll be giving away.  The bit that makes this worth doing from a commercial point of view is that we’ll hopefully get some positive publicity and widen our customer base.  And it’s a really worthwhile thing to be doing – I fo have my altruistic moments you know!

We’re going to find these groups by asking our customers and others in our community to suggest them and we’re going to find out what they want to read.  For example, if we have books going to a nursing home we’ll find out what sort of things the residents like reading or watching on tv and, in conjunction with the staff, we’ll put together a selection that we think will appeal.  We’re also going to provide a range of books so that they can swap between themselves, rather than carpet-bomb the place with dozens of copies of the same book.  When people buy their tickets for the bookswap, there will be the option for them to add a donation which will buy more books for us to give away.  Tickets will probably be around £7.50: add another £2.50 (this morning’s latte was less than that) and that’s almost another book paid for.

As we’ll be purchasing the books from publishers and our wholesalers, authors will receive their normal royalties and because we’re not asking publishers to contribute we can choose books from the tiniest indie publisher without them losing out.  And we’re including readers in a meaningful way – we want readers to suggest recipients for the books and to help us give them out if they can.  It’s a project which really can include everyone involved in books whether reader, author or any of the people between.

So far, so good.  We’re putting on a great evening’s entertainment for booklovers and potentially giving away thousands of pounds worth of books in an attempt to spread the joy of reading.  We’re making sure that authors and publishers don’t lose out so it’s sustainable. So what’s in it for us as a bookshop?  Hopefully, we’ll generate a fair bit of positive publicity for the shop and it will enable us to point out that there is a viable, and in our opinions, better alternative to World Book Night.

But obviously we’ll be hoping to see some increase in our customer base so we’ll be including in the back of each book we give away two stickers.  One will list ten titles that we really love and we’ll try to make sure that there’s something there to appeal to everyone.  The other sticker will mean that – up to a certain date a few weeks hence – the recipient of that book can bring it to the shop and buy any of those ten books at a 50% discount.  We can do that because we’ll be buying large quantities of those titles and the publishers will almost certainly be willing to support us in terms of the discounts they offer us.  I’ve already had undertakings that they’ll help with that from some of the publishers’ reps that we see.

We might not see many of the books we give away back in the shop – if we donate some to a prison, it’s less probable that the inmates will be popping by – but if and when the recipients do visit, it’s a great opportunity for us to show how good our service is and hopefully to make an impression that will ensure that that new customer becomes a regular customer.

Simple isn’t it?  According to the Booksellers Association website, there are around 1000 independent bookshops in the UK.  If half take part and gives away an average of 500 books (I’m working that out as 250 people at the book swap event paying £7.50 per ticket) then that’s a quarter of a million books.   And every additional £20 that is donated equals another 5 books that can be given away.

It may just be that The Edinburgh Bookshop is the only participant in this project and that’s fine.  But because each event is being run by an individual bookshop, it’s scalable and could be adopted as a model nationally or even internationally – nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see bookswaps and giveaways of this type happening far and wide.  And let’s do it on the same day for maximum exposure – how does Saturday 3rd March 2012 sound?   It’s a good time for retailers as we’ll have had time to recover after the Christmas rush and comes at a time when trade can feel a bit slow.

We’re not making any claims of being a global movement; we’re talking about local bookshops and their communities of readers reaching out to the wider community.  It’s local, sustainable and inclusive and can fulfil those criteria whether it’s just our bookshop that does this or many.  And it can make a real difference – imagine if even half the independent bookshops in the country took part…

Why not visit The Great Big Book Swap site and sign up to the mailing list so that we can keep you informed?  Likewise if you’re a bookshop or an author who’d like to be involved.

* We’re holding our next Edinburgh Bookshop Book Swap on 31st May

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WORLD BOOK NIGHT 2012 – SUGGESTIONS http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-2012-suggestions/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-2012-suggestions/#respond Mon, 14 Feb 2011 10:46:36 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=41 Imagine a project to promote reading which provided entertainment for readers; tempted non-readers to dip their toes into literary waters; emphasised the importance and joy of libraries; encouraged more people to venture into bookshops; boosted the income of publishers, authors and booksellers and made sure that books and the wonders that they hold were something...

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Imagine a project to promote reading which provided entertainment for readers; tempted non-readers to dip their toes into literary waters; emphasised the importance and joy of libraries; encouraged more people to venture into bookshops; boosted the income of publishers, authors and booksellers and made sure that books and the wonders that they hold were something everyone was talking about without alienating a single element of the book trade. Imagine if that project could get millions of people sampling books they might never have known about or heard of and borrowing them from the library or buying them in a bookshop – buying them at a discount too, so that they could dip their toes still further into the magic of language and the power of story-telling for less than the price of a packet of fags. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Since I voiced some criticisms of World Book Night, I’ve been accused of being overly cynical, angst-ridden, negative and all sorts of other things – though mainly by people whose livelihoods aren’t threatened by giving away £9 million of stock it has to be said. However, I’ve also had dozens of emails from authors and booksellers who are worried about disappearing royalties and profits. After all, the Society of Authors has found that the average earnings of authors is about £7k per annum so to see a precedent being set for giving away content is disconcerting at the very least for them. It seems to be unique to the book and music industry – I don’t remember anyone expecting surgeons or bus drivers to provide their services for free.

Actually, I’m not a negative person – mostly I’m fairly cheerful and I do have a strong streak of optimism (we run our own business and wouldn’t get by without that). I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself fluffy but I’m generally pretty enthusiastic about new ideas, which is why I’ve been working up an idea of my own. After all, it’s easy to criticise but it’s important to make suggestions as to how things could be better. Although we were vehemently opposed to the ‘bookaholism’ notion, we did make some suggestions that were later adopted by the Booksellers Association in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association.

Firstly though, before I explain the cunning plan, we need to look at what a free sample is. When I was in the supermarket a couple of days ago, at the deli counter they had a plate of little biscuits with dollops of pate on them. Nearby were whole packets of that pate. Obviously, the idea was that shoppers would try a little and buy a packet. Giving customers a whole packet of it as they walked through the door wouldn’t have increased sales, except possibly of the little biscuits to spread the pate on, but I don’t suppose that was what they were trying to promote.

A sample is a lure, a taster to tempt the consumer to purchase (or in the case of library books, borrow) the whole thing. That’s one of the reasons why World Book Day works for children – they can exchange the voucher that they all receive for one of the books and discover a new author or a new story by one of their existing favourite writers. For authors to be selected, it can be a massive boost to their sales as children, having enjoyed one book often want to buy more. And the contribution from authors is comparatively small – it isn’t a full length novel that they’re forgoing the royalties on and although they might not get royalties for this WBD title they will usually see a subsequent uplift in sales of their other books.

So, here’s The Edinburgh Bookshop’s proposal for World Book Night 2012. Instead of producing special editions of 25 different books, the first chapter or so of the same number could be included in an anthology. This would be cheaper to print – economies of scale being a wonderful thing – and less complicated to distribute.

Although the printers of this year’s book are producing it for just the cost of the materials, that can still be a hefty amount for small publishers to find. With our suggestion the cost of taking part would be lower – assuming the printers have enough spare capacity to produce the book again for just the cost of the materials, publishers would only have to pay part of the costs. I can’t guess at what that might be as so far no-one’s given me any examples of what this year’s costs are but obviously it would be much lower. That would mean that the project would be open to a wider number of publishers – poetry from Salt for example as well as Faber. It might be possible to include some non-fiction too as there are plenty of people who don’t read novels but do read history or biography.

One could include a wider range of authors because you haven’t got to choose books that you think will generate enough interest to warrant printing 40,000 copies. So that makes it possible to include debut and lesser-known authors. For example, our best-selling fiction author is Per Petterson who, despite winning the IMPAC prize, isn’t that well-known – it would be great to include the beginning of Out Stealing Horses, a book which has won over so many people who’ve bought it from us. And what about a classic or two – everyone knows the first line of A Tale of Two Cities and the inclusion of the whole first chapter might prompt a few people to rediscover – or discover for the first time – Dickens. Each excerpt could be introduced by a page with a bit of blurb and maybe few suggestions along the “if you like this, you might also like…” line.  Or maybe a megastar author or celebrity introducing the books that they love. It’s doubtful that even the most poorly-paid author would object to a sample of their work being included – it’s clearly a marketing opportunity with massive potential.

However, it is being organised by the book trade and all of us, whether authors, publishers or booksellers need to turn a profit. Simply giving away samples of great books isn’t going to boost sales and get more people reading; it’s important to get the recipients of these anthologies into libraries and bookshops. So, in the back of each book we could include a voucher entitling the reader to buy any of the books included at half-price, with publishers and wholesalers ensuring that the discounts provided to bookshops enabled them to sell the books that cheaply without making a loss – obviously everyone has to chip in something and I’m sure that booksellers would have no problem covering the associated costs such as staffing, storage, display, card payment fees etc. And there should be some information about libraries – maybe publishers could donate some copies to libraries so that the books are available for borrowers or to be reserved. Authors also benefit from that through PLR payments.

Now, that we have our lovely book, with a fantastic cover design using the names of these authors so there’s something to attract as wide a range of people as possible and a good strapline, we have to distribute it.

Well, because we haven’t alienated anyone, bookshops will be happy to give it away, with in-store events and other promotions. Authors too, would be delighted to join in, even the ones who are currently expressing disquiet because of concerns re devaluing their work, because we’d be raising the profile of books generally and – crucially – encouraging people to buy them or visit libraries. I’m sure many of this year’s ‘givers’ (such a hideous noun, nearly as vile as the phrase ‘it’s a big ask’!) would be keen to take part again and because it’s not as specific as each of them finding 48 people to give the same book to, it would make it easier to give out. Libraries would doubtless want to give it away, people could give it away outside tube stations, on buses, outside football grounds and at rugby matches, in pubs, at hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, petrol stations, shopping centres, nightclubs, supermarkets… there really are no limits.

World Book Night 2011 is a great idea with a number of significant flaws; with some work it could become a scheme which didn’t limit itself to book-loving people giving books to other book-lovers. Because for all the people who plan to try to pass the books on to people who wouldn’t normally read there will be at least as many who – like the customer in our shop on Saturday – simply plan to give the books to their family and friends.

With some revisions to the scheme, it would be possible to get this book into the hands of so many more people than the one million planned recipients of this year’s books. We could show readers and non-readers alike the amazing breadth of work out there whilst at the same time supporting a library service currently threatened by huge cuts, authors who are constantly seeing their income eroded, and publishers and booksellers who are trying to keep going through the worst recession for two generations. It would be sustainable enough to grow into a genuinely World Book Night and to become an annual celebration of literature in all its forms.

Do let me know what you think…

I’m sorry this was so long – if you got this far, thank you for sticking with me!

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BOOKWORM IN THE SCOTSMAN, 12.2.11 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/bookworm-in-the-scotsman-12-2-11/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/bookworm-in-the-scotsman-12-2-11/#respond Sun, 13 Feb 2011 10:48:03 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=43 This was in The Scotsman’s book supplement at the weekend.  I’d post a link but can’t find it on their website…

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This was in The Scotsman’s book supplement at the weekend.  I’d post a link but can’t find it on their website…

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WORLD BOOK NIGHT – AM I ALONE? NOT SO MUCH… http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-am-i-alone-not-so-much/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-am-i-alone-not-so-much/#respond Thu, 10 Feb 2011 10:50:09 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=46 In the last few weeks, I’ve been told quite often that I’m wrong to be worried about World Book Night and the giving away of £9 million of stock.  I’ve been told that it doesn’t further devalue the book as a purchase; that it doesn’t reinforce the notion that authors should work for free; that...

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In the last few weeks, I’ve been told quite often that I’m wrong to be worried about World Book Night and the giving away of £9 million of stock.  I’ve been told that it doesn’t further devalue the book as a purchase; that it doesn’t reinforce the notion that authors should work for free; that it doesn’t give the impression that booksellers are shored up by private incomes and don’t need to actually see cash in the till at the end of the day; and that it is EXACTLY the sort of project that will help to ensure prosperous futures for booksellers, publishers and authors alike.

But – with a few exceptions – I haven’t been told this by people at the frontline of the booktrade.  I’ve been told this mainly by the Booksellers Association.  And told this in an incredibly patronising manner when I queried whether this was something they should be upporting and raising my own worries about the future implications of WBN.

So, aware that it might just be me and that I was missing something, I emailed half a dozen booksellers who I know and respect and asked what they thought.  In the main they shared my uneasiness. One agreed with me but took comfort in the fact that the list of books were the sort “chosen by people who read for people who read and by the middle class for the middle class. I’m going to hope that it doesn’t impact on sales as these are exactly the sort of Guardian readers who see shopping local and in ‘real’ shops as a political movement”.  Which is very true and one which probably (I hope) applies to our shop in leafy south Edinburgh as well.

Another – more forthright – bookseller said: “my main issue is that it is such a tremendous missed opportunity.   Byng et al are great at getting the publicity, but the idea itself is only marginally better than the … ‘bookaholic’ wank.”  Yes, ‘bookaholism‘ – remember that?  It was kicked into the long grass after the trade made it clear what a lousy idea that was…That same bookseller was fairly blunt in his views of the BA too and I have to agree.

Someone else, after making the point that WBN seems to promote the idea that it doesn’t really cost anything to write, publish or retail a book and that they’re not really worth paying for, said: “At best, it seems like some kind of industry-wide loss leader / giant marketing campaign which might be perfectly normal business practice for the chains and large publishers, but unfortunately it’s not really something I can afford my customers to become accustomed to just yet … but at worst, it seems to be cutting me and my shop out of the book scene in the town completely – why bother with the bookshop when WBN / publishers are giving the books away free?”

Others had similar thoughts although a couple did say that they would have a think about how they could get involved if they thought it might get some new people through the shop doors but they didn’t seem to think that was likely, given that it seems to be mostly about readers giving books to other readers rather than trying to recruit more people to the joy of reading.  These are not head-in-the-sand, Luddites who are negative about every new initiative that is mooted.  These are knowledgeable, experienced booksellers who are regularly lauded as some of the best in the country.  People with years of experience as booksellers but also – crucially – as people who run their own businesses.

So, having established that I am far from alone in the trade in my worries, I started asking our reps what responses to WBN they were hearing as they travelled highways and byways bringing news of forthcoming titles.  Without exception they told me that my feelings seemed to be universal among independent booksellers and that even in the chains the response was generally negative and at best disinterested.

And that’s before we even get to the comments on my last blog post where the pro-WBN lobby were so spectacularly outnumbered by the anti-WBN brigade.  And the emails I’ve received from publishers, booksellers, readers and authors in the last couple of days almost all of which agreed that WBN is pure folly.  That Amazon will have even more books priced at 1 penny by 6th March and that many books will end up languishing in boxes, undonated, as suggested by Tim and The Bigooner, is highly likely.

We are not stupid and nor are we mean-spirited – we give a lot of books to charities, we run book groups for adults and children, take authors to schools and The Edinburgh Bookshop will soon be launching our big new charity project.  and like us, most booksellers I know also run a shedload of charity and not-for-profit activities.

But we still don’t see why giving away so much stock is the best way to spread the love of good books and to promote reading.  And we don’t like being condescended to by our own trade body, or publishing lackeys who have no idea of the stress and responsibility of running your own business and can’t even begin to comprehend the fury some of us feel at being screwed over in this way.  Publishers, booksellers, authors and readers have a symbiotic relationship and to alienate booksellers by effectively cutting them out of the supply chain is foolish.  We all need each other.

Next blog post – how World Book Night could have been run in way which would promote reading, promote book sales and to reach even more people

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WORLD BOOK NIGHT – MISGUIDED AND MISJUDGED? http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-fail/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2011/02/world-book-night-fail/#respond Tue, 08 Feb 2011 10:44:54 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=38 As you know (or may not – it’s amazing the number of people who haven’t heard of this most trumpeted event), 5th March has been declared World Book Night, emanating from an idea put forward by Jamie Byng of Canongate.  Even the title is hubristic – there is nothing global about the project.  20,000 ‘givers’ have...

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As you know (or may not – it’s amazing the number of people who haven’t heard of this most trumpeted event), 5th March has been declared World Book Night, emanating from an idea put forward by Jamie Byng of Canongate.  Even the title is hubristic – there is nothing global about the project.  20,000 ‘givers’ have been selected to each give away 48 copies of one of the 25 “carefully selected” titles.  That’s one million books (about £9 million of stock at retail) being given away in one night – assuming it works as intended.  One million books flooding a struggling book trade; one million copies of books which make up a good part of many bookshops’ sales (David Nicholl’s One Day; Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson; Fingersmith by Sarah Waters to name a few); one million books being given away, further reinforcing the notion that we’re all there to provide a public service and that authors, publishers and booksellers don’t deserve or need to make a living.

The public (those who are aware of it) think it’s a great idea and quite understandably so – it’s getting something for free and we all love a freebie, especially some of the book bloggers who’ve been so breathlessly excited about WBN.  Less excited are some authors – the writers of the 25 selected books will not receive royalties and given that most authors earn a very small income from their writing it sets a worrying precedent for those further down the ladder from these best-sellers.

Much less excited too are booksellers: while some are cautiously positive, most of the people I’ve spoken to are horrified; when we’re already being undercut by supermarkets who can wrestle bigger discounts from publishers and Amazon and Tesco etc are even selling books as loss-leaders, to further erode our market and the perceived value of books is foolish in the extreme.  And that’s the problem: not that this will necessarily undermine sales but that it’s another way of eroding the public’s perception of the value – and cost – of books.  As one hugely well-respected bookseller said to me “people will think that if the trade can afford to give away so much, our margins must be enormous and our profits vast…”.  It’s hard to think of another industry which has given so much product away.  Or indeed one which would want to.

When I contacted the Booksellers Association – our trade body – and raised my concerns I was very patronisingly put in my place.  That I don’t see the wonder of Jamie Byng’s grand idea is down to the fact that I’m a Luddite and a flat-earther who refuses to appreciate the amazing surge in reading that will result from World Book Night.  A surge which is unproven, unresearched and even the Hon Jamie – a man of many ideas, some genius and others utterly ridiculous – can only claim that “everything in my experience and instincts say its [sic] going to do something really amazing for books”.  I’m not a fan of market research – much of it has a flawed methodology and makes unjustified claims (although that’s probably because I come from an academic background where every assertion has to be have substance), but surely before the booktrade gives away £9 million of stock there should have been some sort of research?  I’m finding hard to see how the instincts of Jamie’s intestines should be grounds for this sort of giveaway.

Tim Godfray, Chief Executive of the BA, tells me that the BA Council see World Book Night as an opportunity for bookshops to “Reboot their Reading Communities”.  WTF?  That’s one of the problems with projects like this – slogans that at best mean nothing and at worst are merely spin intended to distract from the poor thinking behind them.  He also pointed out to me that booksellers are not being asked to make any financial contribution, implying that that means we’re not entitled to any opinion.  Which is wrong – the activities of the BA are funded by subs paid by members and so the time he and the rest of the staff are spending on this is in fact funded by booksellers and we should be able to question whether this is the best use of their time and our money.

Tim informed me that most of the funding, whether in kind or in cold hard cash, is coming from publishers and others in the trade.  That publishers are happy to forgo such a chunk of profit on some of their best-selling books is indeed surprising, but given the discounting they indulge in, endlessly eroding profit in the quest to sell just a few more books in the supermarkets, even if it’s at a loss, logic does seem to be in short supply in the boardrooms.  And I suspect that in order to get these books printed for free, the printers have tied those publishers into contracts regarding the amount of business they’ll put their way in the next few years, thereby covering their costs.  I’d be amazed if that’s not the case.  And of course, the authors concerned are losing out.  Those whose books have been chosen might be selling enough to not miss the royalties – authors such as Lee Child, Marian Keyes and Margaret Atwood are probably not too fussed and have no doubt been spun a line about how this giveaway will do (completely unquantified and unknown) wonders for their backlist sales.  But for many authors WBN merely reinforces the public’s suspicion that all authors are minted and can afford to work for free and that they certainly shouldn’t expect to get paid.

World Book Night means that booksellers, already working hard to make customers realise why indies don’t discount in the same way and why Amazon can afford to knock our cookbooks at less than half price (because they don’t have to have shops, or trained staff etc) will have to work even harder now to reinforce the idea that there is a cost involved in producing and selling books.  After all, if you’re a punter and there is a charity shop full of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that were given away aren’t you going to wonder why Muriel Spark’s other books are being sold at £8.99 in the bookshop up the road?

Next blog post – Not just me – reactions from others in the trade

Blog post after that – how this could have been done in a way that promoted reading AND book sales

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DON’T LET BOOKS BE MARGINALISED – SAVE BOOKSTART http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2010/12/243/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2010/12/243/#respond Sun, 26 Dec 2010 10:43:11 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=36 I could write a great deal here about the need to encourage in children the habit of reading for pleasure and the need to help parents to start reading with their children.  There is masses to say about the folly of government plans to remove funding from the brilliant Bookstart scheme which has since 1992 (interestingly set...

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I could write a great deal here about the need to encourage in children the habit of reading for pleasure and the need to help parents to start reading with their children.  There is masses to say about the folly of government plans to remove funding from the brilliant Bookstart scheme which has since 1992 (interestingly set up under a Tory administration like the one which now seeks to remove it) given books to all children at three key points before they start school with subsequent schemes later in their school careers.  Fantastic books by leading authors and illustrators accompanied by advice for parents on how to get into the habit of reading with their children because an awful lot of parents aren’t readers themselves and don’t know how to start with their children.

An army of Bookstart coordinators run activities such as reading groups in community centres, promote library membership, advise childminders and nurseries and generally work tirelessly to build on the basic premise of giving children their very own books from an early age.  And the inclusive nature of the scheme which gives books to all pre-schoolers rather than just those who are means-tested or specially selected by some other means as needing additional help promotes the idea of reading as an activity for everyone.  It doesn’t feel like charity or ‘intervention’ and thus has no stigma.

My own experience with young people who haven’t developed the habit of reading possibly points up the need for the Bookstart scheme rather well.

I have a PGCE and worked for some time with teenagers who were drifting into further education following undistinguished school careers.  This was in the mid to late ’90s and these teenagers were too old to have benefitted from Bookstart.  The common factor that linked all of them was that they didn’t read for pleasure.  I found that if I could get them to start reading it helped their attainment levels in the subjects they were studying.  What they read might not have been directly related to their courses but it was part of a process that made visiting the college library less of a chore, helped them to realise that the knowledge it held could help them to achieve the jobs and careers that they aspired to but which they felt were impossible to grasp, that books were not dusty and irrelevant.  Would they have passed more exams if they and their parents or carers had benefitted from Bookstart?  Maybe not.  But it wouldn’t have hindered them and it might have improved their attainment levels.

It is not over-dramatic to say that losing Bookstart would be a tragedy.  Books can change lives.  Establishing and maintaining the habit of reading can dramatically alter the life chances of children and young people.  Books are one of the foundation stones of our culture and to erode the importance of reading will undoubtedly undermine much of our country’s literary, artistic, scientific and business standing.

That picture book about a penguin or a patchwork elephant or a cat or a digger is the beginning of an imaginative adventure which can change lives. Don’t let that adventure be stifled at the very beginning.  Bookstart’s £13 million of funding is the equivalent of a second-class stamp for every person in the country.  Not even peanuts; cheaper than peanuts.

You can sign the petition to keep Bookstart’s funding here.  Please do.

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RIGHTS AND COPYRIGHT http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2010/11/rights-and-copyright/ http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/2010/11/rights-and-copyright/#respond Fri, 19 Nov 2010 10:41:07 +0000 http://www.stateofindependents.co.uk/?p=34 This is a post for the lovely Jane Smith’s Copyright Day (she writes How Publishing Really Works, but I’m sure you know that already). As both publishers and booksellers we get a lot of books (or to be frank, “books”) that people would like us either to publish or sell. The quality varies (understatement), but what I find...

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This is a post for the lovely Jane Smith’s Copyright Day (she writes How Publishing Really Works, but I’m sure you know that already).

As both publishers and booksellers we get a lot of books (or to be frank, “books”) that people would like us either to publish or sell. The quality varies (understatement), but what I find most astonishing is that sometimes I open a book to find that it seems….familiar. There’s a fine line between “influenced by” and “flagrant breach of copyright”, and it’s one I obviously see differently to the person who sent me a near-perfect rendition of a Spike Milligan poem. Copyright has been a controversial issue in the sphere of printed books – the Ian McEwan debacle and the numerous Harry Potter trials spring to mind – but social media and self-publishing has knotted it into a morass of confusion.

People have written whole books on this subject, but it strikes me that a number of salient points seem clear:

1.       Whilst there is no copyright on ideas, as soon as you write something down, it’s yours, and no one else should be able to use it without permission;

2.       Unless someone else has already written it down, obviously;

3.       In which case: if you didn’t know that someone else had written it first, then tough, the copyright still isn’t yours;

4.       There are some exceptions, such as fair use;

5.       If you are going to send me a picture book with really, really ugly illustrations, at least make sure you aren’t sullying Spike Milligan’s poetry in the process.

The reaction to Judith Griggs and Cooks Source has been extraordinarily vitriolic and I think it’s partly because of the unspoken recognition that writing is both personal and powerful. I am neither a novelist nor poet, but even in this blog post I am writing down part of myself – this is what I think, and my writing testifies to that. No one else should be able to steal it, or twist my words into something I didn’t intend. Authors have spurred political movements; made and destroyed figureheads; put into words that feeling you have always had but never knew how to describe, and the law acknowledges their achievement, courage and right to be compensated when their work is reproduced by someone else. Copyright recognises that writing has value, and for that, I am grateful.

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