Archive for the ‘UK bookshops’ category

Marriage of Convenience

October 7th, 2013

In an interview this weekend for the Guardian, Managing Director of Waterstones James Daunt discussed his decision to stock the Amazon Kindle in stores across the country.

The decision came as part of a dramatic overhaul that Daunt has been carrying out at the retail chain since he was hired by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, after Mamut bought Waterstones from HMW two years ago.

In reply to those that have said that stocking Kindle tablets and e-readers is like ‘inviting the fox into the henhouse’ Daunt has said that he is merely ‘giving customers what they want’. He went on to write off concerns that book-buying customers might disappear completely once they have got hold of an e-reader, convinced that the market is reaching an equilibrium and that only a small minority will abandon print books altogether.

These comments, however, fail to address the matter from which criticism has stemmed. The issue is not whether Waterstones should remained focussed on print books, but rather whether Daunt is wise to allow Amazon to set a shop-front in their stores across the country.

In an article in the Bookseller this month it was reported that Amazon ‘control 79% of the e-book market in the UK’. It is a battle that, for the moment, they have won. And so they seek to tighten their strangle-hold on the physical book industry. Their purchase of Abe Books and The Book Depository, combined with the astonishingly low prices they are able to offer by not paying tax of any kind, has meant that they have already claimed great swathes of the book-buying public. Now, it seems, Daunt is determined to funnel those customers still dedicated to buying from the high street into Amazon’s ever-widening maw.

Once customers have bought a Kindle from Waterstones will they not be tempted to do all their shopping in one click, bundling their ebook and print books into the same basket? It is certainly true that – as Daunt mentions – many readers retain a strong tactile relationship to books. But are they going to continue to return to high street for them if they are being led by the hand from the stores that they frequent?

In the short run, it makes a lot of sense; Waterstones will make more money. But in the background Jeff Bezos will be lurking, keeping an eye on his enormous clock and rubbing his hands together with glee.



Pets and Books

October 4th, 2013

Contented Book dealers often have pets in their book shops or market stalls. Do you have or know of a domestic pet that stays with its owner in their shop, book room or warehouse? If so, take a photo and send it in – preferably with anecdotes!
Camden Lock Books has a three year old rescue dog who comes to the bookshop every Thursday morning. She is a mongrel that is a ‘collaboration’ -part collie, part black Labrador and part Alsatian. She arrived a year ago, having recently had a litter, via Dorset Dog Rescue, from a pound in Ireland where she had been scheduled for extermination.
She is surprisingly well socialised and adjusted (though somewhat food obsessed),  as you can find out if you come into the bookshop one Thursday for a meet and greet with her. In fact, she’s so affectionate that a tummy rub is in prospect for any dog lover who needs that special animal ‘fix’.

Yesterday a customer came to buy a book at the counter and said that Rosie had sold it to him- that it had felt so homely to see her  reclined on the bookshop floor that he felt compelled to make his purchase.

Cats are always choosy about where they sleep – but Rosie has a bed made for her behind the counter because she is sometimes too friendly, particularly if a customer is carrying their eat-out lunch in a bag with them.

New English Bookselling Idea

October 12th, 2011

What I’d like to see getting going is a celebration in England on every St George’s Day that involves all the women buying books as gifts for their menfolk, and all the men buying roses for their womenfolk. This is how the day (known as La Diada de Sant Jordi is celebrated in Barcelona where St. George is the Catalonian patron saint. It makes for a huge injection of adult interest in books in that region of Spain.
Does anyone agree that it sounds like a great celebration to adopt and introduce in England? Valentine’s Day is a single day marketing device that provides card & gift shops with an enormous financial uplift every year. I think bookshops and publishers could benefit from something similar.
If you like this idea & can promote it then please spread the word. If you know anyone else you think may like it please let them know.

Help Save Independent Bookshops

September 4th, 2011

There’s plenty of bookshops that have had to close down – there always have been. But, in the past, the reasons were retirement or increases in rent and rates. Nowadays there are three extra death blows to bookshops: Ereaders, supermarkets and Amazon . So devastating is the combination of these pressures that independent bookshops have ben forced to close but even colossal bookshop chains like Borders have collapsed and disappeared.
In France the government lauds independents:
their minister for culture is legislating for booksellers’ social charges to be cut and for a state mediator to be appointed to help them cope with digitisation.
You can help save independent bookshops in the UK by asking for the debate to take place in our country: do we want to save independent bookshops and are we prepared to legislate to support their survival?
We can lobby groups like 38 degrees asking them to push the survival of independent bookshops higher up the agenda.
Save independent bookshops and legislate to support their survival.
Bookshops are a small but significant plank of cultural life in UK. Ereaders, internet and supermarkets are forcing good independent bookshops out of business. Unless the government rules a cut in charges for bookshops, our country can look forward to a future without any bookshops left.

Book Reader vs. Book Owner?

June 11th, 2011

John Makinson, CEO of Penguin Group, in a Wall Street Journal q&a recently stated:

“There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book.

The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience.

As we [Penguin Books] add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience.”

So Penguin expects there to be a clear & growing division between ‘readers’ and ‘owners’ of books.  I think this distinction is somewhat artificial, but it does help justify their policy to enhance books & increase prices: books as collectables.


Bookshops, according to Penguin’s CEO’s suggestions, would seem to be in jeopardy unless they morph into heritage- type gift shops. Bookshop customers are expected to decline in numbers, so either they would need to be prepared to spend more or books would need to be more profitable to the bookshops.

These developments may not sit entirely comfortably with all booksellers- some may hesitate to pursue the path of purely objectifying more expensive books; most bookshops are likely to pursue a canny compromise: a  watchful strategy that will include stocking paperback books as basic entertainment & enlightenment, and also hardback books as valued possessions. Some independents will also encourage the e-buying public to use their bookshop websites [such as this one] to download digital content.

Future of Bookselling -loosely told in threee acts

June 3rd, 2011

[This article was written by Todd Sattersten]

1. “There are two kinds of companies–those that work to raise prices and those that work to lower them.”–Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of

On February 15, 2011, few were surprised by the news Borders had filed for bankruptcy. Bookstores around the country have been suffering from the same fate. A few days earlier, indie stalwart Powell’s Books, Portland, Ore., announced it was laying off 7% of its workforce. The regional bookseller Joseph-Beth Booksellers entered bankruptcy with nine stores and emerged with five stores, one of which is closing. In a search through retail obituaries, we’d find 18 bookstores closed, went bankrupt or were in search of a new owner since Borders entered bankruptcy in February.

Given the grim news, how can retail booksellers continue to stay in business? Empty bromides like “Work Harder!” and “Do Something Different!” fray the nerves of those working at bookstores around the country. Maybe things would be different if we could clearly see how to be different.

2. “CSV-5 has better throughput, but Cal-12 has better pavement. That is typical–Fairlanes roads emphasize getting you there, for Type A drivers, and Cruiseways emphasize the enjoyment of the ride for Type B drivers.”–Neal Stephenson in Snowcrash

Kevin Maney, the longtime technology writer for USA Today, has a theory that businesses have one of two options when they compete. The first option is to compete on convenience–make a simple-to-use product, make it widely available and charge the lowest possible price. Oreo cookies and Netflix come to mind.

The second option is to pursue fidelity: produce a high-resolution experience which the customer values for its uniqueness. My mother’s homemade Grand Champion chocolate chip cookies and Avatar in IMAX 3-D contrast well to convenient alternatives.

Maney says when Amazon launched the Kindle, it pursued the fidelity side of the continuum. In interviews at the time, Jeff Bezos talked about the importance of emulating the experience of reading a book–the size of the screen, the weight of the object. Bezos even mentioned that the product team studied the book’s vanilla-like scent and considered how to include that in the device. The entire approach left the market confused. Amazon was a company that for its entire existence had pursued one goal: using low prices, infinite shelf space and quick delivery to make buying things as convenient as possible.

With the introduction of Kindle 2 in 2009, Amazon reverted to its old message. “Books in 60 seconds” was the new tagline. Everything in Amazon’s marketing and PR since then has been about convenience. Each chance it gets, the retailer announces that e-book sales are overtaking some form of print book (using subjective statistics). Every week in the New York Times Book Review, its full-page ad opposite the week’s bestseller lists tells readers how easily they can download any of those titles from Amazon. Convenience has come in the form of lower and lower prices, most recent being the addition of an ad-supported Kindle that costs $114.

E-books and the myriad of devices people will use to read books play directly to the market of convenience, a market that retail storefronts selling “p-books” will never be able to properly satisfy.

3. “Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of a challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.”–A. David Schwartz (1938-2004)

The passing of Seattle bookseller Kim Ricketts caused me to reflect on what she accomplished and what it means to the retail segment of book publishing. Anyone in bookselling knows the story of Kim’s migration from the University of Washington bookstore to her own business creating events that sold books. I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of her efforts firsthand during the launch of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time in 2009. At corporate events, like the one I spoke at, as well as her other events, Kim brought together wonderful groups of people who shared curiosities and passions. And while it is important for me to pay tribute Kim and the business she built, it is even more important for all of us to understand what Kim Ricketts Book Events exemplifies for the future of bookselling.

Too few booksellers understand that the only strategic play for this entire retail segment is on the fidelity side of the continuum. Kim understood this in spades. Her popular Cooks & Books events attracted the country’s top chefs to share a meal and tell stories to those gathered from the foodie community of Seattle. Each attendee went home with latest cookbook from that celebrity and wonderful memories. For that privilege, attendees paid two to four times the cover price of the book.

800-CEO-READ, the book retailer in Milwaukee where I spent six years, is a niche player with its specialty in business books, but that fails to explain fully its different approach to fidelity. While the book retail distribution system is designed to get a single book into the hands of an individual, selling one book at a time, 800-CEO-READ sells tens or hundreds of books at a time to organizations that use books for meetings, training or large industry events. While the revenue and the margins are markedly better, these orders generate a different set of costs–including a call center to manage the requirements of corporate sales to a shipping department that understands global logistics. It is hard to call this bookselling by standards we are all familiar with.

In its flagship City of Books location, Powell’s Books has created a Disneyland-like destination–I don’t mean in the costumed characters sense (though you can get a green-screened photo of yourself in front of the store printed on a T-shirt). The store stocks more than a million new and used copies of books, more than in any Barnes & Noble. Like Ameoba Records in Hollywood, Calif., Powell’s has created a high definition experience that makes the store a destination for any book lover.


Kevin Maney offers a final caution. Trying to offer both convenience and fidelity is a strategic mirage and will lead customers to wonder why they need your products. Starbucks doesn’t want to admit that as a 17,000 store global chain it is a convenience play (and the reason VIA “Ready Brew” is successful is because of that). The U.S. Postal Service, which lost $2.6 billion in the first quarter, lives in the dying space between the next-day fidelity of FedEx and the convenience of text messages. Do we need to talk about 35mm film?

Booksellers need to realize that Amazon is not their competition; convenience is. Retail booksellers need to provide higher fidelity experiences for their customers and answer the question: “What can I do better?” Or put another way: the book is the start, and not the end to the experience customers want to have.

Todd Sattersten is the founder of BizBookLab, a company that identifies, develops, and launches business books around the world. He lives in Portland, Ore.

Is running an independent bookshop the right thing?

May 6th, 2011

My bookshop is, like all other bookshops, likely to suffer massively from the fatal coincidence:

  • a retail spending downturn
  • increasing online competition from Amazon
  • technology shift of e-readers & tablets

Are there things our bookshop can now offer more widely?                                                                                                                     Do we provide a premium service?                                                                                                                                                                     Are there products or services we can provide at lower cost?
Is it being done in the right place, with the right people and resources, to the right audience and delivered in the right way?
In other words, what could be our market breaker ?

We must become that if we can.